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CORPORATE COMMUNICATIONS: Nike Supreme Court Case Deserves Attention

Can you imagine a day when virtually every word communicated on behalf of your organization could be subject to legal review of its accuracy? Depending on how the U.S. Supreme Court rules in Nike Inc. v. Kasky, everything we do as communicators could be deemed “commercial speech.”

Why should you care? After all, no credible public relations practitioner would knowingly mislead
the public. 

It’s not that simple.

Nike is appealing a California Supreme Court ruling that it can be sued for allegedly trying to mislead the public about its labor practices. The court’s ruling was a shot across the bow of the public relations profession. It indicated that public relations elements – news releases, brochures and letters to editors – ultimately are intended to spur sales and, therefore, are not protected under the First Amendment.

If the practice of public relations is held to the strict standard of accuracy and liability applied to commercial speech, it will require far more planning and finesse for corporations to participate in important discussions that could affect them.

Issues such as the environment, corporate taxation, growth management and labor relations all have the potential to burn corporate communicators.

Rest assured, your company’s views can continue to be expressed even if the U.S. Supreme Court rules against Nike. The focus simply will shift to third parties.

Industry coalitions top the list of possible alternatives, although it is still unclear to what extent liability could extend to organizations partially funded by a corporation. They might be silenced, too.

Surely, building a reservoir of goodwill among independent third parties has never been more important. This is where a strategic community relations program adds special value for your company.

Likewise, reach out now to existing networks of grassroots allies. A great place to start is your current suppliers.

Nike v. Kasky is critical for public relations, but if it prompts practitioners to focus on relationships rather than blind advocacy, it may help us all improve the way we approach challenges.

The case will be heard this spring.

Dan Keeney
(832) 467-2904
Author: Dan Keeney
Phone: (832) 467-2904
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