Thursday, July 14, 2016

Will Fictional PR Consultant Get Sued?

Dear Rich: I would really appreciate your input on a piece of fiction I am writing, involving a public relations employee. In my book, the PR employee divulges information about one of her clients to a newspaper reporter, The reporter then publishes the information about how the client has been lobbying to have a law created. I'm thinking that the PR employee would have signed a non-disclosure agreement. Could she be sued? Is it likely that her employer would bother, since she is young and has little money.
Being young probably won't make any difference in the employer's decision to sue the PR consultant (unless the employer suffers from Ephebiphobia). However, the PR employee's impecunious status may be one factor affecting the decision; other factors include the value of the confidential information disclosed (or financial damage caused by the disclosure), the financial status of the employer, the emotional composure of the employer (litigious or avenging?), the relative strength of the case, and the desire for (or avoidance of) public scrutiny.
Would the PR employee have signed a nondisclosure agreement? It is very likely that your fictional PR consultant used a letter of agreement or a more formal contract and it's also very likely the agreement includes confidentiality provisions. These arrangements are SOP for PR professionals, publicists, and crisis communications specialists. If the PR person is an employee, not a consultant, the employee would be bound to maintain confidences even without an agreement.
What would happen to a PR professional who breached confidences? A public relations consultant who breached client confidences would face three potential problems: a lawsuit or arbitration filed by the client, professional discipline (expulsion from the Public Relations Society of America for violation of their code of ethics); and loss of business (who's going to trust a PR consultant with loose lips?). Assuming your PR person can be dragged into court the disgruntled employer must still be able to demonstrate that the information disclosed amounted to a trade secret. If it's not a trade secret -- that is, it was publicly known information before the disclosure -- then the employer will have a hard time claiming it's a breach of confidence.