I have written previously that litigation does not occur in a vacuum, and I like to highlight for the readers of this blog the behind the scenes public relations battles that often take place as each side in a contentious matter seeks an advantage in the court of public opinion. In that regard, it should not be surprising that many of the players in the Trayvon Martin matter have employed public relations specialists or strategies to advance their side of this tragic incident.
First up is Ryan Julison, president of Julison Communications, a small communications firm in Windermere, Florida. Mr. Julison has been handling communications and advising Trayvon Martin’s family pro bono. PRWeek US has recently published a profile of Mr. Julison and discussed his work in the Trayvon Martin matter. “Martin family spokesman tells how a local story became a national outrage.”
On the other hand, the public relations efforts on behalf of George Zimmerman, who is now charged with second degree murder for shooting Trayvon Martin, have been evolving. According to an article by Frances Robles of McClatchy Newspapers:
“One self-described friend of George Zimmerman’s who made the rounds on national television was outed as a co-worker who didn’t seem to know him all that well. Another was portrayed as a thinly veiled racist with a checkered criminal history. And on his first TV interview, Zimmerman’s stammering attorney, Craig Sonner, didn’t understand the law the case is based on. But now, after weeks of withering media coverage lambasting him and his supporters, the cast of Zimmerman allies that has until recently been lampooned on TV has been replaced with an aggressive media campaign and message: George Zimmerman is not a racist, and he shot Trayvon Martin to save his own life. Zimmerman appears poised to ratchet up the damage control by having more of his relatives go public, launching a website and hiring a veteran criminal defense attorney with a solid reputation and experience on TV.”
After this opening, Ms. Robles details how the much criticized early public relations efforts on Mr. Zimerman’s behalf became more co-ordinated and more effective under attorney Hal Uhrig, who represented Mr. Zimmerman until the day before he was charged with second degree murder. Ms. Robles concludes with a quote from Natalie Jackson, the attorney representing Trayvon Martin’s parents, who dismissively claims: “It’s a PR strategy, a propaganda campaign.” It is an interesting position to take, considering that, according to Mr. Julison, it was Ms. Jackson who recruited Mr. Julison to handle public relations for Trayvon Martin’s parents.
Finally, there is the city of Sanford, Florida, where Trayvon Martin was shot. Last month the city retained Massey Communications to help repair its image and “work to restore trust in the community's police department.” “Florida city works to rebuild trust after Martin tragedy.” According to PRWeek US, Massey Communications is providing crisis consultations for the Trayvon Martin case, including public and media relations strategy, copywriting of press releases, talking points, prepared statements, and spokesperson preparation.