Musk-Twitter fight shows why litigation PR matters

July 15, 2022

Litigation PR is not like most PR. For one, unlike, say, consumer-product PR, there are lawyers involved. For good reason. They know better than most what public statements can come back to haunt a client in litigation. That expertise and judgment give them a crucial role in communication strategy and its execution.

Second, much of the work in litigation PR is done privately and selectively. It takes place in the background through off-the-record conversations or by providing documents and updates to a select group of journalists, regulators, influencers and other stakeholders. In other words, most litigation PR doesn’t take place on a social media megaphone.

Third, a CEO is not typically the ideal company litigation spokesperson. For one, they usually don’t need the distraction. Number two, they may be called as witnesses, and it’s best to keep their testimony untainted. But if they do have to speak to the press or make public statements, a professional communications team will prep them and provide them with detailed talking points and guidance on what is considered off limits.

Of course, when you are the richest person in the world, you may be tempted to ignore these ideas, become your own PR litigation counsel and do as you please. Which is clearly the path that Elon Musk has taken in his fight with Twitter.

Musk, who made headlines in recent years for eliminating Tesla’s PR department, can be forgiven for thinking he doesn’t need any guidance on communication. After all, he has over 100 million followers on Twitter, which has done more than just feed his galactic-sized ego. His megaphone has afforded him influence and generated a rabid loyalty among his followers. He commands the kind of attention that most brands would fork over small fortunes to receive.

But as we said from the top, litigation PR is not like other kinds of PR.

We’ll have to wait to see how this story ends, but it’s not off to a great start for Musk. Predictably, Musk’s tweets have become central to Twitter’s case against him. In paragraph after paragraph of its complaint, Twitter’s counsel uses Musk’s tweets to portray him as unprincipled, cynical and untrustworthy.

Some of Musk’s most damning Tweets came after he knew he would be sued. Twitter’s complaint notes:

“In the early morning of July 11 (Eastern time), Musk posted Tweets implying that his data requests were never intended to make progress toward consummating the merger, but rather were part of a plan to force litigation in which Twitter’s information would be publicly disclosed:”

Notably, throughout the merger talks, Twitter’s communications have been reserved. The handle of Twitter’s corporate communication team has issued no statements. CEO Parag Agrawal has limited his Tweets to a detailed thread addressing how Twitter accounts for bots. Twitter’s chair, Bret Taylor, appears to be the lone spokesperson. His tweet on July 12 is about as bland as they come:

Whatever the case’s outcome, it likely won’t change Musk’s behavior. But for the rest of us mortals, it should serve as a reminder for the benefit of lawyers and professional communications teams working together. Litigation PR is not about getting as many likes or retweets as possible. It’s about supporting an outcome, which usually means winning the case.

Of course, Musk may have another outcome in mind other than winning the lawsuit with this communication strategy. Maybe he wants to make Twitter’s board uncomfortable, force the company to pay excessive legal fees, expose the company’s weaknesses…Or simply have a laugh. But if he’s ordered to complete the transaction, as Twitter’s lawyers are asking the court to do, or pay billions to Twitter shareholders, it may not be that funny.

Find out more about Infinite Global’s Litigation PR services here.

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