There are often two courts involved when it comes to crisis PR: the court of law and the court of public opinion. We all recall Casey Anthony, who may have been found “not guilty” in a court of law but was certainly found guilty in the court of public opinion. Both courts matter immensely. The family of Trevon Martin, and their supporters clearly understood the power of publicity. Undoubtedly public outcry helped ensure the arrest of George Zimmerman.
The media moves very quickly – and the Martin camp understood it – and they helped frame the fatal shooting the way they want it to be viewed. Prosecutor investigations often take a very long time – and patience is required. Some lawyers will tell clients to be patient as court proceedings are, by design, long, complicated, and tedious. By public protests and outcry, and effective PR campaigns, the Martin camp was able to influence prosecutors – and even the subsequent jury pool and judges – who all follow the media and form opinions.
The legal system isn’t built for short-term results – Zimmerman’s next court appearance is six weeks away, on May 29, to “allow the fervor surrounding the case to die down,” as Zimmerman’s lawyer explained. While bloggers, Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, 24/7 cable news, search engine results, etc., don’t wait for prosecutors and judges, one wonders how the court of public opinion will affect the actual verdict of innocent or guilty.
One thing is clear, the court of public opinion was critical in today's arrest of Zimmerman. Remember, six weeks ago the local authorities did not see this as anything more than self defense. Now, we all think about it with the spin that we are inclined to believe from whichever party did a better job in influencing us, the viewers and readers.
Media today is relentless, and our actions can always be elevated to a public stage in just minutes if the right Public Relations campaign is put in play.
Ronn Torossian is the CEO of 5WPR, a leading PR firm and author of a PR book “For Immediate Release.”