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Builders and developers can’t escape scrutiny when confronted with government investigations, workplace accidents, dissatisfied customers and employee complaints.

Reputation in the construction field is a crucial business quality. It’s paramount to ensure a sufficient risk management strategy is in place, and enhanced media exposure means non-traditional risk management actions are needed to prepare for and respond to challenges.

Handling Reputation-Damaging Allegations

Preparation is key. Many attacks are related to disputes, claims and litigation—either before, during or after the dispute arises. Risk management strategies differ depending on the issues and the phase of the dispute that underlies the attack.
  • Before litigation. It’s essential to anticipate potential claims before they surface. What issues are likely to emerge? Construction defects, employee disputes and construction site injuries are practically inevitable. Before breaking ground, a firm could face opposition to the project by neighbors or slow-growth advocates. In addition, the company must work with the local community to build its reputation before a reputation-damaging issue occurs.
  • During litigation. Working with lawyers and a crisis PR strategist is important to ensure the business can respond appropriately and doesn’t impair the proceedings or legal strategy. Attorneys and PR strategists should work hand in hand to meet the same goal.
  • After litigation. The key to managing the firm’s reputation is how the company communicates with the public, the business community and customers following litigation. Regardless of whether the business won or lost from a legal perspective, consider how constituents will perceive the results of the lawsuit.
Executing a Crisis PR Strategy

Whether a business is protecting its reputation in a courthouse or in the court of public opinion, it must take preemptive action and have a plan.
  • Get out in front of the issue. Those who adopt a wait-and-see approach risk losing everything. The choice is simple: Get out in front and maintain control or fall behind and be controlled.
  • Communicate. Silence or an information void invites speculation and rumors, not to mention the impression of guilt. There’s always something to say or do to make a situation better, especially if there has been a threat to safety.
  • Perception is reality. Different people have different perceptions of the same event, and each person’s perception is his or her reality. How an issue is perceived depends on how facts are presented and on the company’s credibility.
Maintaining Attorney-Client Privilege

It is critical to ensure the company’s communication strategies fall within attorney-client privilege. 

To do so, engage the PR strategist through an attorney or law firm.

Copy the lawyer on all email and written communications with the PR strategist and make sure all written communications begin with “Privileged and Confidential—Attorney/Client Privilege.” Furthermore, ensure these communications are made within a small group of people who are instructed not to disburse any unapproved written communication.

Some lawyers prefer participating in all forms of client communication, including email, phone calls and in-person meetings. This should be clearly discussed and determined before the crisis and during each step of the response. 

Brenda Radmacher is a partner and counsel in the construction and real estate departments of Wood, Smith, Henning & Berman LLP. Eden Gillott Bowe is a crisis PR specialist and author of “A Lawyer’s Guide to Crisis PR” and “A Board Member’s Guide to Crisis PR.” For more information, email bradmacher@wshblaw.com or eden@gillottcommunications.com

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