David: Hey, welcome to another edition of the Public Relations Security videocast, where we talk to experts in all aspects of crisis management and crisis PR. I’m really privileged that we’ve got John Tishler from Sheppard Mullin. John, thanks so much for the time. Really appreciate it.
John Tishler: Glad to be here, David.
David: Yeah, I was really interested when we talked and got together a couple of weeks ago, about your specialty in crisis governance. Give the example there, of what that means, and applications of your practice.
John Tishler: Yeah, sure. So let me first talk about what I consider a governance crisis to be. So a governance crisis is a particular type of crisis where the historical lines of authority in an organization suddenly get disrupted. Not all crises are governance crises. Many crises you would expect them to be handled by the existing leadership team and the existing leadership team are the best people to handle the crisis.
John Tishler: So in many cases, we don’t have a governance crisis when we have a crisis. But sometimes the existing leadership team actually is the crisis. Something that they have done is what is causing the crisis. And when that happens, there’s a whole cascade of effects that are this domain of expertise, that I call crisis governance.
David: I guess that… You hit on something that I really want you to go into, is the types of organizations that could use your services. Sounds like it’s not only maybe size and scale, but truly dependent on the circumstance. Do I have that right?
John Tishler: Yeah. I mean, any organization can have a governance crisis. I mean, I define an organization is more than one person. You know, if you have more than one person, you need leadership, you need authority, you need lines of authority in any organization. So those can get disrupted in any organization.
John Tishler: I’ve personally worked with the largest Fortune 500 companies in governance crises, as well as companies that have 50 or fewer employees. I’m bringing the same fundamentals to the table in both those situations. Now the specifics are very different. The specifics of what you have to deal with in a very large organization are very different than in a small organization. But you have the same fundamental problem, and we bring the same fundamental approach to both.
David: So I’ve heard of employment attorneys, I’ve heard of business litigators. I’ve heard of you know, general counsels. But why is your practice, and you specifically, best position oftentimes to be that person that comes in as opposed to maybe somebody already in place, or another attorney with another practice area?
John Tishler: Yeah, it’s a really good question. So you know… Let me kind of first talk about if I could, you know what I consider to be the kind of core competencies of this practice. You know, what I bring, and what someone who does this should bring?
John Tishler: So the first core competency, is you need specific knowledge of the laws, the regulations, the standards that apply in these types of situations. There’s a breadth of these things. But specific knowledge of that is not nearly enough. You need a lot more. The second thing I think you need, is a robust network of professionals because there is no lawyer that has all the competencies that are needed to deal with this type of situation. I think we’re going to talk a little bit later about some of the other professionals, including yourself that is needed, that is not what we bring as lawyers. But what we do need to bring as lawyers is we need to have the network of these people. I can’t just be a deer in the headlights, when somebody says, “Well don’t we need a forensic accountant?” Yeah, I guess you do. You know any? You know, that’s not going to be how I can be effective for my clients. So a robust network, very important.
John Tishler: And then there are some, what I’ll call just sort of, personality attributes that I think work well for this practice. And you know, one is the ability to make decisions with less than all the information that you’d like to have. I have a friend that refers to this as the 70% rule. Where you often have to make the most important decisions in life with only 70% of the information that you wish you had. And you know, in a crisis, we may not get to that threshold.
John Tishler: We’ll try, but we may have to make a decision with 50%, with 40%. And you have to be able to be comfortable with that. You have to be able to exist there, and be able to provide leadership to your clients, you know, in that type of situation. A lot of lawyers, I mean we’re trained professionally… You know, in a law school exam… The way a law school exam works for those of you who are not lawyers is, you get this fact situation. And your job is to sort of identify every legal issue, in the facts situation, and you get a higher grade for identifying more of these situations. So you know, lawyers are sort of trained from their earliest days of education is, you know, my job is to identify every single issue, and it is. Right? It is, that is our job. But what if you can’t get there?
John Tishler: You’re just… There’s just not time to identify, or certainly deal with, every one of those issues. You’ve got to be able to make a decision. You’ve got to be able to make the right decision in the moment.
David: Time is absolutely of the essence.
John Tishler: Yeah.
David: You’re right about that. You know, I sort of asked you in the beginning of the question about you being best positioned as opposed to maybe somebody else, general counsel, or an employment attorney, or whatever. But, maybe a follow on question then would be related to, what would be your relationship with the attorneys, either in-house or other ones that a company uses, in a time of crisis when you’re brought in to be of service?
John Tishler: Yeah. So, you know, another way of asking that question is, why do we need to bring in a separate law firm?
John Tishler: When this type of thing arises? You could ask, are the best people to handle this the people that already know the people involved, and know the company’s business. And that’s right. Oftentimes there is no need to bring us in as some kind of outside counsel. And I guess I’ll say a corollary to that is, I’m frequently called upon to do this work for our longtime Sheppard Mullin clients, and I will do that. And that’s often fine. So we’re often not needed to come in as sort of a specialty. But the circumstances where we are is where the existing law firm for some reason can’t be the most effective, or won’t be trusted in this situation.
John Tishler: And just an easy example of this is that, if a law firm has a long time relationship with a client, that inevitably means they’ve got close personal relationships with at least some of the senior executives of the client. You can’t be… doing the kind of work we do for clients, and not develop a relationship of friendship, and trust, with the particular individuals. If those individuals become the ones that are compromised in this situation, you may not be the best people to deal with it. And I say may not, I don’t want to make any absolutes.
John Tishler: There are situations where the existing firm, notwithstanding those relationships can be effective. But it’s at least worth thinking about. And then I’ll say even if you conclude, and rightly conclude, that you can be effective in this situation, that it’s okay, my relationship is not going to interfere. You’re going to be judged, or I should say the organization is going to be judged, by other people. So there are going to be auditors who look at this, they’re going to be regulators who look at this, they’re going to be other stakeholders who look at this. And you know you may be absolutely right in some sense that you could do the job effectively, but no one will trust your work because of the relationship.
David: Yeah, or just public perception, especially if you’re a company of visibility. Maybe you’re publicly traded, or you’ve got some presence that is widely known by a general consumer base, let’s say. And if they believe internally you’re using the same people that’s… They can perceive incorrectly maybe, but that the fox is guarding the henhouse. So I can see where that would be a situation where just if only for complete transparency and recognition of the optics involved, you would be a resource to them.
John Tishler: Yeah. And that’s a good enough reason. And you know, I can tell you when I’m in that position of having a long time client, I’ll be sensitive to that. I’ll say, you know, I really think I can do this work, but I shouldn’t. Because if I do it, the regulators are going to throw out what we do. They’re not going to trust it. And part of the reason we’re doing this is to be able to show the regulators that we took all the right steps. So just having me involved as the company’s historical council is going to disrupt that.
David: I appreciate that perspective. Okay. Where does the idea of a communications plan fit into your governance in crisis? How does that integrate, whether it’s with somebody like me, or just internally with any [inaudible 00:08:27] person? Where do you fit that into your service offering? Or at least your counsel to an organization and aboard.
John Tishler: Yeah, great question. So it is foundational. It is often the first question that people either will ask me or should ask me. So I consider it the very foundation of this practice. And so one of the first things I’m going to do is, I’m going to ask, okay, who handles these things? I mean, every company has people that handle communications. And then we’re going to try to make an assessment whether those are the people that can handle this communication. The reason they may not be able to handle it is they may have no experience in this type of communication. This is not something where I want beginners to try to feel their way through it. And another reason is they may lack independence, the same way a law firm might.
John Tishler: I mean you, you don’t want the CEO’s closest confidant, you know, the longtime communication person for the CEO, to all of a sudden handle the communications about why the CEO has a #MeToo problem. When I say you don’t, I mean the board of directors that’s responsible for this. The CEO may want that, but the board of directors that’s responsible for dealing with this problem might say, well that’s just not the way to do it.
John Tishler: So we’re going to have this conversation, right at the start. And this is part of my network is to know no people like you that I can bring in and say, look, I can get this person in here. And you know… I don’t know what David’s doing right now, but he’ll probably return my call within 30 minutes. We’ll get him in here, right now. And I have to have that network, and I have to have people like you in it.
David: Yeah, yeah. In my profession much like yours, is somebody ideally would call as something as developing, but often it’s as the crisis is in full flames. And yeah, getting back within 30 minutes or an hour at the very least is essential, because at that point it’s cascading in the public domain. So I get that. Speaking of how to reach you, give us an idea of how… Your phone number and contact information in case somebody right now is dealing with something and goes, I got to bring in John. How do they get ahold of you?
John Tishler: Sure. Well, you can Google search for me. So that’s an easy way, and all my contact information will be there. But I will say for the purpose of this video, my office phone number is (858) 720-8943. I suspect that’s not going to be helpful to you because crises have a way of unfolding outside normal business hours. I rarely get this call during normal business hours. So I’m going to give you my cell phone. That’s (619) 787-6112. I don’t think that one’s on the website, so you’re welcome to use it. Call me anytime.
David: It’s funny, you’re right because I always get my calls at about seven o’clock at night when somebody’s ruminated about something for the day.
John Tishler: Right, on the weekend. You know, it’s just like going to urgent care, you know?
John Tishler: For some reason, I’m never at the doctor, you know, never ready to go to a doctor during regular business hours when I’m sick. It’s always early in the morning, late at night, on the weekend.
David: And waiting an hour to go see somebody at urgent care is not really conducive to our line of work. So we’ve got to be there 24/7.
John Tishler: Absolutely.
David: John, truly a pleasure. Thanks for your time. Thanks so much for watching. We’ll see you at the next one. Take care.
John Tishler: Thanks. Bye-bye.