Lessons from the Jury Box: How a PR Campaign is Like a Legal Case

Ariel Burch Novak

I’ve always been fascinated by the judicial system, but my knowledge hadn’t extended much further than episodes of Law & Order: SVU and Serial. Until I was chosen for Jury Duty. While I initially dreaded getting selected, I ended up really enjoying the opportunity to participate and learn firsthand how a trial unfolds.

During one of the many sidebar conversations between the lawyers and judge I got to thinking about the similarities between a legal case and a PR campaign. As anyone who listened to Serial knows, trials can be very complicated and involve a lot of variables – that’s why both a trial and PR campaign involve a lot of preparation and require on-point messaging. Both have a similar end goal – convincing the jury (or in the case of PR, the consumer/end-user) to believe in our message over the competition.

Here are how those similarities extend into the tactics of both a trial and a PR campaign.

Prepare, Prepare, Prepare

The trial was a showcase in the importance of preparation. The jury selection process took two days, in which the judge and lawyers from both sides had the opportunity to ask a series of questions of potential jurors to eliminate any bias. Similarly, a big part of the success of any PR campaign relies on a solid groundwork of preparation – gathering market intelligence, identifying the top-tier media and influencers to target, and beginning the message development process. Here are a few tips for laying a solid groundwork for your PR program:

  • Do your research – Spend time understanding your client’s market, its challenges and its competition.
  • Benchmark for success – The time you put in now will be vital at the end of the campaign, month or quarter, when you measure your success. Take a look at key baseline metrics across all channels.
  • Don’t be afraid to be bold – When you’re putting a plan together, put your best ideas forward even if they’re a little beyond your comfort zone. It’s better to be bold than boring.

Messaging Matters

The goal of the lawyers for the plaintiff and the defense were the same – convince the jury that their side is right. As jurors, we’re told to remain impartial and take in all the evidence. But, over the course of the trial, I noticed that the defense lawyer’s arguments were much more convincing than the other’s. Why? His message remained consistent – every witness he questioned added another piece to the story he was trying to tell. The plaintiff’s lawyer told a compelling argument during the opening statements, but then never had witnesses to back it up. In the end, we ruled in favor of the defendant.

A consistent, strong, message is key to a successful PR campaign as well. I view the lawyer’s role as similar to that of a PR pro, who works to convince their audience that their company is relevant. Each company spokesperson (whether the CEO, the marketing director, or a customer) should offer another perspective on the same over-arching message. This is why we media train clients before a big launch, and why we put so much effort into briefing background materials that describe a particular reporter’s style and which questions she may ask– to ensure the spokesperson is prepared and on-message.

How can you make sure your messaging is on track? There are two things to keep in mind:

  • Clarity – Develop a clear, concise message that gets your point across.
  • Consistency – Maintain that message across all channels (whether press releases, blog posts or Tweets) and make sure all spokespeople are prepared to stay on message.

As I work with clients to develop PR campaigns, I’ll be looking back on the Jury Duty experience and thinking of how I can make the final verdict in my clients’ favor.

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