Once you hear the phrase ‘legal review’, you are usually in for a tiresome experience. Do we need it at all?

Once in several days a PR person working at a Western-facing agency is guaranteed to come across a very stern request to ‘approve smth through legal’, ‘submit smth for legal review’, ‘expect feedback from legal re smth’, especially when you customer is a multinational, multibillion tech innovator listed on NASDAQ. It makes you wonder sometimes why a three-paragraph joke of a press release requires three solid days to get processed for further rewrites, corrections, or clarifications. It might get you enraged at the scrupulous word-by-word analysis of an English text which will never see the light in English anyway. It will definitely make you send apologetic emails to top media influencers in need of an urgent commentary: sorry, folks, not this time. So, why does this ‘Legal’ make your life so miserable sometimes? Why do we need it at all?

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I gather this very question may sound scandalous to my European or American peers who years ago embraced this reality and organically imbibed the fact of the ‘Legal’ constantly lurking somewhere around. For a Russian PR person, sometimes representing a curious hybrid of Western ‘ordnung’ and Eastern ‘savvy’, the ‘constant vigilance’ attitude at first seemed annoying and unnecessary. Russian PR/marketing industry is much younger than that of the Western world (yes, Mad Men took place in ‘60s, after all!) and is still set to go through tectonic processes which should ultimately (I hope!) forge it into a mature industry. A token of a Russian national character, a bit of controversy and epatage conveyed by the industry speakers when delivering sales or press presentations is welcomed by Russian media who consider local Russian spokespeople ‘bold’, ‘restless’, ‘engaging’, and, ultimately, very appealing and newsworthy. No wonder extremely cautious and ‘watery’ (the closest I can get to this Russian word in English) speeches delivered by C-level executives from US or Europe (including so many ‘leadership’-s, ‘unique’-s, ‘value’-s, ‘vision’-s you can easily play Bingo with them) usually leave Russian media disappointed. Obviously, there are consequences for us as PR people, and in our hearts we truly wish it changed over time.

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Our Legal vis-à-vis also have their reasons, though. Online media fight for the crown of the fastest-delivering news source, and social networks eliminated many established intermediary layers between corporate leadership and the public. If you are still not seeing how fast a critical situation in communication might evolve, here’s the list of words that made history:

  • Elon Musk of Tesla Motors twitted that the company would launch a new product outside of the automotive domain, which made its stock skyrocket $3.5 in a matter of minutes and consequently made Tesla Motors $1 bln richer.
  • In March 2015, an unnamed trader at a stock exchange read a tweet by a Wall Street Journal reporter about Intel’s intention to acquire another chipmaker, Altera, and decided to act fast before the stock closed and the actual publication in WSJ was out. Whereas the negotiations between Intel and Altera are still in progress, this trader got $2.4 mln for a $110K option in several minutes.
  • In April Selerity, an analytical company, published a news on Twitter’s fiscal quarter performance with the reported revenue being $21 mln less than previously expected. It turned out that the report went live earlier than intended, due to lax non-disclosure procedures at Twitter, which was the reason why the company lost $5 bln in a snap.

He who has information has the power. The media reached the level where they are the true power influencing the life and well-being of mega-corporations. A careless hint given to the reporter might end up in him going to your less constrained competitor who would gladly offer a deeper insight (about you, as well).

This reality and many other opportunities and dangers posed by media interaction were among the hottest topics discussed during a recent media training held by EAST SIDE for the local management of Gemalto, a global leader in digital security. The opportunity to comprehend the nature of the local media and to attend a real TV interview drill was, among other reasons, the way to find a perfect standing point between the infinite pool of media opportunities and the restrictions imposed by the Legal. A serious talk with a conscious top-notch business reporter constantly luring out exclusive strategic and financial information can be essentially held in a way that makes both parties satisfied, but, as a rule, it is an endless whack-a-mole game. I believe we managed to successfully prepare our trainees for any kind of situations they might encounter.

While going with them through the usual ‘dos-and-donts’ routine, I once again thought about the responsibility a truly global company and innovator has to bear when going public. As soon as the legacy of “rocky ‘90s” style of business is gone, Russian companies who talk to the press will see the benefit in being backed up by the ‘Legal’ folks watching your every step, and this gap between Russian ‘boldness’

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and Western ‘cautiousness’ will then narrow a bit more. Consequently, Russian media relations specialists will get their deserved reverence as a company’s strategic asset and not back-office personnel it is seen like now. So, as for now, I would take a stand and say to my Russian peers: don’t hate the Legal.

By Valeria Titova

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