The Intersection of Communication and the Law

By Melanie Wilt

Communication and the law are very complementary professions. Both require strong arguments and a certain degree of influence. However, you may get differing advice from your PR counsel and your legal counsel when it comes to commenting on an ongoing case. (To that, I say “no comment.”)

I met my friend (and current Ag Law Director at Drake University) Jennifer Zwagerman, back when we were both studying agricultural communication at Big Ten universities. After a few years working in that field, she took her advocacy to the next level by obtaining her juris doctorate. 

We recently reconnected for an episode of our “Shooting the Shift” podcast, where we explored the similarities and differences in the fields of communication and the law, and how these nuances impact the way the agriculture industry approaches consumers in today’s environment. 

We arrived at several points of agreement during our conversation:

  • Advocacy: Communications and the law are both centered around advocacy. A good message and argument will influence public and private support of good policies and a positive regulatory environment. 
  • Ethics: Both attorneys and PR professionals abide by a set of ethical standards subscribed by their professional organizations. Attorneys must be admitted to the bar in the state in which they practice, while PR professionals subscribe to the PRSA Code of Ethics
  • Transparency: While requirements differ for public and private agencies regarding public information, it’s important to respect openness between agribusiness and consumers to help people understand what is being used, and how it is being used in their products. 
  • Caution with Claims: It’s important to abide by regulations when making claims and labeling agricultural products, such as herbicides or pesticides. When there are no requirements, it is essential to be mindful of making claims or guarantees that can’t be backed up with facts. 
  • Regulation: The U.S. has one of the safest, most highly-regulated food supplies in the world. However, the U.S. government differs from how European countries regulate their food industry. 
  • Political Caution: While our opinions are often not in agreement about political issues or candidates, we do agree that communicators should heed caution when aligning brands with certain ideologies or political leaders. 

Good friends Melanie Wilt and Jennifer Zwagerman meet at the intersection of communication and the law in this episode of Shooting the Shift.