Ripp Media on repping Gretchen Carlson against Fox CEO Roger Ailes

What role does communications play when a high-profile female anchor at Fox News goes up against one of the most powerful men in media?

Gretchen Carlson
Gretchen Carlson

Ripp Media is representing former Fox & Friends host Gretchen Carlson in a workplace sexual harassment and retaliation lawsuit she filed against Fox News CEO Roger Ailes on Wednesday.

Carlson, who had an 11-year tenure with the network, sued former boss Ailes after her contract was not renewed in late June. The suit alleges Ailes sabotaged her career at Fox after she complained about workplace inequality and rejected his sexual advances. Carlson is seeking compensatory and punitive damages.

Ailes claimed the suit was filed in retaliation for Carlson’s contract not being renewed, while Ripp Media is tasked with helping Carlson prove that is not the case. Principal Allan Ripp sat down with PRWeek to explain how his firm is doing that.

When did Gretchen Carlson bring you on? How did she select your firm?
[Ripp Media] has a long history of working with law firms on high-profile litigations. We have done a lot of prominent employment and workplace cases that have gotten a lot of press.

Because of our law firm pipeline, we connected to [Carlson] through lawyers who are representing her in this matter: Nancy Erika Smith of Smith Mullin and Martin Hyman of Golenbock Eiseman. It was Golenbock that brought us on initially, due to a referral.

You will see publicity from the other side saying she [Carlson] brought this lawsuit just because she was fired. But we were discussing this effort well before she was terminated on June 23. She wasn’t planning to bring this suit so quickly, but things had to move fast once she was terminated because there was a timetable for her to respond.

We had a window because of the political conventions. You have to be careful when you file so as to not go into a news cycle that isn’t going to be as favorable.

What exactly are you handling for Carlson?
In this case, it is litigation publicity and representation of [Carlson] and her claim and the law firms. Reputation management is built into it because you have a personality with their reputation at stake, because she is being portrayed as someone who is past her prime or she had bad ratings.

What is the main message you are trying to get out there?
That this is a very serious claim of workplace sexual harassment and retaliation by a very powerful figure in the news business and [Carlson] is seeking a full public forum for her case. In the 24 hours since this case has been brought, we have heard from an inordinate number of women inside and outside the media industry, as well as people who used to work at Fox and people who used to work under Roger Ailes, who have come forward with their own anecdotes, stories, and personal histories of similar stories. Some [people’s] stories about their own mistreatment by Ailes date back 50 years ago.

[Carlson] has her own lawsuit and claims to pursue. But she also is extraneously bringing this suit on behalf of a much larger universe, not only of women in the media who have encountered unequal treatment in the newsroom, but also women in the workplace generally who are treated unfairly or also have to deal with sexual advances by their bosses.

We are living in an era where, despite progress in the workplace and a female presidential candidate, there is still a lot of mistreatment and sexism in high-profile workplaces - and that is what this lawsuit is going to expose.

What is your communications strategy?
To be as broad and thorough as possible and reach as many media outlets as we could with a well articulated explanation of the complaint. We want as many people as possible to know the extent of the allegations. This story touches nerves on a lot of different fronts. It isn’t just a media story, a workplace story, a women’s story, or a lawsuit. It is a combination of all of them.

We knew this would get a lot of attention, but it had to be coordinated properly. It was our intention to hit everyone equally without trying to play favorites or get an exclusive.

[Carlson] can’t say much right now or do a lot of interviews, so we had to make sure her statement got out there and the lawyers were available to speak. We knew there would be a strong reaction from the other side, so we wanted to make sure we are fully prepared to tell her story and get it out there quickly.

What are you doing on social media?
The #StandWithGretchen hashtag on social was a mutual decision and she is proceeding with that. But we are focusing on the media side. Through the press coverage of the lawsuit, the support she has gotten on her website and through social media has been substantial.

How has the response been?
This lawsuit was only filed 24 hours ago. We have had a tremendous response from press worldwide. Even organizations owned by Fox felt obliged to cover it. [The story has been picked up by] major news organizations, and publications covering the entertainment industry, workplace, legal, blogosphere, media industry, advertising industry.

Vanity Fair and Gawker, and even political news outlets are covering this because Fox has a voice in the political discussion. There wasn’t an effort to get gradual traction – we wanted immediate, wide attention and that was accomplished in the space of 24 hours. We began outreach on this at 11:00 a.m. EST on Wednesday.

What are the unique comms challenges around this situation?
There are challenges in the litigation with making sure statements are consistent with what is said in the complaint. At some point there could be a trial. Another unique challenge was making sure everyone got the info quickly, effectively, and fast yesterday [Wednesday]. We didn’t post anything to PR Newswire. We reached out directly to media outlets individually.

We need to respond to any developments that occur in real time because the other side is going to be very aggressive in how it tries to throw cold water onto this lawsuit or say it is not worthy or meritless.

Any further comments?
There haven’t been any court proceedings yet. This was just to make sure everyone knows about the case that has been filed. This story will develop over time and we hope to have more news to share as the case evolves.

* PRWeek reached out to Fox News for its side of the story but had not received a response at the time of publication.

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