PROVIDENCE—The Dilenschneider Group has replaced Weber Shandwick Worldwide as public relations counsel to nine lead-paint producers embroiled in a major product liability lawsuit after a memo from Weber Shandwick public affairs guru Jody Powell to industry attorneys was leaked to the Rhode Island Law Journal.
The memo contained none of the embarrassing advice that has appeared in some leaked PR memos, but apparently the fact that it became public was enough to prompt the paint companies—including Arco, DuPont, Glidden, and Sherwin-Williams—to bring in new counsel.
The memo referred to a hearing scheduled for February 28, at which a judge was scheduled to rule on whether the state of Rhode Island’s suit, designed to make the paint companies do something about the paints they made and sold in the first half of last century, could proceed. The industry was attempting to get the suit thrown out.
Said Powell, “Don’t get hung up on the precise wording of the messages. The central issue is what we do with them once we are in agreement…. For Wall Street, I think, the message is that this proceeding is only the first of a multi-step approach that this judge has decided to take. Deciding whether lead paint can be classified as a public nuisance is a threshold question that will determine all of the issues as this case moves forward-discovery, liability, remedies, etc.
“For potential plaintiffs, seems to me that the message is that lead paint is not a public nuisance, but if it is, it is a nuisance created by a relatively small percentage of landlords who neglected their property and allowed paint to peel and flake. If the case proceeds, it just means that the nuisance theory is in play. The companies still have all of their defenses as none of the specific facts of lead paint are going to be dealt with in this hearing….
“The best way to make sure that the media carries these messages is to pre-brief reporters so that they understand why all the above is true. We cannot afford to hide from this turn of events. Rather, we should embrace the opportunity the court in Rhode Island is offering the parties to deal with the nuisance issue first.”
The memo went on to identify “three key reporters” the industry needed to engage in advance of the judge’s ruling: Peter Lord of the Providence Journal, Lisa Payne of the Associated Press and Milo Geyelin of The Wall Street Journal. “We also should talk with Dow Jones and Bloomberg to make sure that they don’t read anything more into the judge’s order on 28 “especially if a court date is set for the nuisance phase,” Powell added.
The judge ultimately ruled that the case had to go to court, and the trial will begin September 4.
The Providence Journal reported that it has not been contacted by any public relations people until just before the hearing got under way, at which time The Dilenschneider Group’s Matthew Swetonic introduced himself to the Journal’s reporter and told him his firm had been assigned to replace Weber Shandwick a week ago. Weber Shandwick later confirmed to the publication that it was no longer involved in the lead litigation issue.