'Closing The Gap' panelists call for unity of PR and legal

NEW YORK: As the public takes a greater interest in the legal process - and cases are increasingly being tried in the media - wedding corporate PR and legal departments has become a necessary, if uncomfortable, reality.

NEW YORK: As the public takes a greater interest in the legal process - and cases are increasingly being tried in the media - wedding corporate PR and legal departments has become a necessary, if uncomfortable, reality.

Seven panelists at the September 23 PRWeek/Peppercom "Closing the Gap" breakfast, the third in a four-part series, spoke of the need for a greater understanding among PR pros, lawyers, and management.

"We're living proof that a gap exists," said Kevin Sullivan, corporate relations VP at Allstate. "I'm just beginning to appreciate some of the cultural [differences] that need to be overcome."

Sullivan points to competition and a lack of respect between legal and PR.

Vince Maffeo, SVP and general counsel at ITT Industries, noted that a gap exists because many veteran attorneys joined the bar at a time when the idea that they might one day be trying their cases on the evening news was "very, very foreign."

Bill Nielsen, corporate VP of public affairs and corporate communications at Johnson & Johnson, noted that lawsuits can "put a huge clamp on an organization. Everything we want to say has to be checked with legal."

"We talk about a gap; I would call it more of a silo," said Harlan Loeb, director of litigation at Hill & Knowlton. "The legal discipline is a fact-based, empirical [model]. PR ... relies less on hard data, but more on siphoning through the facts to put the best face on situations."

The next panel will focus on the gap between internal and external communications, and will take place on Thursday, October 14 at the Waldorf Astoria in New York. To reserve a spot, send an e-mail to christie.casalino@prweek.comchristie.casalino@prweek.com.

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