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Lawyers and media find common ground

Lawyers and media find common ground

UNLESS THEY had been asleep for the last eight months, no one could have missed reading something about the Toll Patrick takeover — in fact, everyone probably read several articles and…

UNLESS THEY had been asleep for the last eight months, no one could have missed reading something about the Toll Patrick takeover — in fact, everyone probably read several articles and analyses and possibly chuckled at a witty advertising campaign. The attraction of the public’s attention was no accident.

Lawyers on the matter say the utilisation of the media was the key link to the strategies employed in Patrick’s defence against Toll’s bid for the company. Eight months of hostilities ended just in time for the Easter break, with an agreement signed on Thursday 13 April. Patrick milked an additional $1.6 billion on Toll’s original bid.

But while the lawyers focused their attentions on the more routine transactional aspects (and the less routine, including seven litigations) the media strategy was guided by Paul White, Patrick’s communications adviser, which included Tim Duncan at Hintons.

A former legal reporter for the ABC and Channel 9, White said he dedicated the last 20 years to helping lawyers come to terms with the fact that, like it or not, the media is a dominant force that must be taken into account. In a takeover in particular, White said, the legal and media strategies must be aligned.

Also, the legal and communications teams must work closely together and understand each other’s strategy. “You have to have no silos,” he said.

“If the lawyers are in one room and the media advisers are in another, it will be a certain failure,” White said. “If you have the structure wrong, you’re dead.” On the Patrick deal, he worked closely with Andrew Clarke of Allens Arthur Robinson, Leon Zwier of Arnold Bloch Leibler and John Kench of Johnson Winter & Slattery, together with the investment bankers and Patrick itself.

The team members had a 9am meeting every day and would also talk through the day, and they developed a mutual respect that allowed things to happen quickly. “We were able to do things with the media and communicate our message early in the day and interpret things very quickly.”

This respect, and the fact that White was able to work with the senior lawyers on the transaction, also meant that when he needed something he got it straight away. “They had to trust that I would not use in a way that was not appropriate.”

In the old days, he said, lawyers would try tocontrol the media aspects as well as the legal, but now, if a lawyer reacts in that way, “you are probably dealing with a lawyer who is out of their depth”.

“If they are unable to realise the media strategy is vital and the client wants it to work, you’ve got a problem with your lawyer. Most lawyers get it, but there is always a balance. They get passionate about what they are trying to do and often preparation of the documents are not in the cycle I need for journalists,” he said.

His work on Patrick was “incredibly intense because we were running a defence … there was a lot of litigation on foot and we had to explain that litigation to the journalists”.

“We had to justify to the journalists while the lawyers were justifying to the courts, we had to explain that [the litigation] was not necessarily just part of the takeover tactic, they were cases we wanted heard that had legitimate standing,” White said.

In terms of the advertising campaign, which saw full page ads placed in the mainstream press with the slogan ‘Patrick needs Toll like a fish needs a bicycle’, White said there are a multitude of “boring ads” running about the intentions of shareholders. “We wanted something that reflected Patrick’s slightly off-beat image, that would attract attention and keep the other side off balance,” he said.

“As far as we could tell, people in the game enjoyed them, they got the message across and that’s all you can ask for.”

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