CAMPAIGNS: Global media push advances lawsuits

PR Team: Osen & Associates, Wechsler Harwood Halebian & Feffer and The PR Consulting Group (New York) with Luther Pendragon (London) Campaign: Litigation Communications for the Wertheim Department Store Lawsuit Time Frame: March 2001 - ongoing Budget: Part of legal costs

PR Team: Osen & Associates, Wechsler Harwood Halebian & Feffer and The PR Consulting Group (New York) with Luther Pendragon (London) Campaign: Litigation Communications for the Wertheim Department Store Lawsuit Time Frame: March 2001 - ongoing Budget: Part of legal costs

Barbara Principe was a regular New Jersey grandmother who had fled Nazi Germany with her Jewish family when she was six years old. Principe didn't know much about her past, other than that her family had owned a house in the outskirts of Berlin, which she was trying to regain with the help of lawyer Gary Osen of Osen & Associates. But when Osen discovered that Principe was the direct heir to the Wertheim Department Store ("Aryanized" by the Nazis before World War II, and now owned by Germany's largest retailer KarstadtQuelle) and to the land used to build the Reich Chancellory, Hitler's private living quarters and part of his bunker complex, the lawyer realized this was not a simple Holocaust restitution claim. The Wertheim brothers had been forced to transfer management of their company to their trusted and Aryan family lawyer, and fled to the US with their families. In 1951, the lawyer met them in New York, where he allegedly tricked them into selling the rest of their shares by assuring them they were worth nothing. He had allegedly agreed to sell the store to a subsidiary of KarstadtQuelle three months in advance. This was the basis upon which a separate case for shareholder fraud was filed by Wechsler Harwood Halebian & Feffer in New York. Together, the two law firms hired The PR Consulting Group to handle the communications aspect of the two lawsuits. Strategy The PR Consulting Group (PRCG) faced multiple challenges. It had to draw worldwide media attention to the case and keep the story in the press for a long time, so that the defendant and the German government would take it seriously. "About a lawsuit a week is filed on some Nazi-related issue in Germany," says James Haggerty, president of PRCG. "The question was, how do you make yours stand out with the media?" Moreover, PRCG had to explain to reporters the enormously complex issues at hand. "Even the top media only have a certain number of words to tell a story," Haggerty says. "We had to sum it up in a way the reporters could understand." Tactics PRCG knew that a traditional press conference on the courthouse steps would do little to help achieve its goals. "There might have been a wire service story or a headline in the New York Post, and then the story would have gone away," Haggerty says. But PRCG figured if it generated feature stories in European papers, media interest would eventually come back to the US. PRCG started with stories in Germany's Der Spiegel and Britain's The Times of London, which were later used as background for press releases sent to US media. In the US, PRCG targeted only the biggest, most influential newspapers. "We were not going to target every paper in the US because that was not going to help us. We needed The Wall Street Journal, The New York Times, the Los Angeles Times, and their lengthy, feature-type stories that correctly bring all of these complex issues out to the public eye," Haggerty says. Results So far, more than 50 major stories have been published worldwide. In March, The Wall Street Journal ran a coveted front-page feature on the case, which was followed by a prominent feature in The New York Times. "The whole world is watching this story now," says Haggerty, who claims that KarstadtQuelle and the German government now realize this is a serious case that will not go away anytime soon. Had it not been for the media glare, in fact, the German government would have appealed the real estate case as it initially intended, and it might have carried on for years. But now, negotiations on a settlement are underway. KarstadtQuelle and the German government have hired the most prominent Holocaust defense lawyer in the US to defend them, and have been lobbying the Bush administration to have the case dismissed. So far, however, the Bush administration has not expressed any intent to do so, likely because of the amount of attention the case has received. Future PRCG will continue to work with the legal team as both actions progress - be it for the next couple of months or several years.

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