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Preparing for the WikiLeaks-style crisis

Posted in Best Practices, Executive Insights

Most of us in corporate communications have been able to view the recent WikiLeaks pain being suffered by our colleagues in government at arm’s length – it’s like the car wreck that happens in the opposite lanes that we drive by slowly and observe from afar.  Apparently that is changing.

Comments from WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange that he will begin dolling out secret memos, emails and pirated sensitive documents – this time from corporations – are enough to make us take more notice and add a new scenario to our crisis communications plans.  The possibilities for damage – reputational and financial –  are endless once documents that were supposed to be kept in a few hands get leaked publicly.  Sensitive discussions around product development, compliance, succession planning, M&A … those of us who’ve been in boardrooms for those conversations understand the apprehension surrounding the need for company privacy.

Clearly there is some blocking and tackling we can do to prepare for and respond to what may come from WikiLeaks or the surely-to-follow copycat online detective in a town near you.  The Hartford Business Journal published a great overview written by crisis communications expert Andrea Obston, about how communicators and their companies/clients should be thinking about the implications of WikiLeaks.

It also got me thinking about the interesting series our own Eric Morgenstern has tackled on the “three macro trends transforming society” and specifically his view on corporate transparency.  While it might not be a magic bullet for a company who finds itself “WikiLeaked”, an orientation toward and a culture of transparency would certainly help.  If our customers, employees, regulators, etc. see us as a company that embraces transparency, we should be able to fall back on that reputation in times of need.  Eric’s points about transparency being good for business are well taken.  But we are living in an age where, as he points out, customers now expect companies and organizations to be transparent.  If you’re viewed as secretive right out of the gate, you can expect a tough road when leaks happen.

There are lots of considerations here including finding the obvious need for balance between protecting trade secrets and being transparent, proper employee relations in the era of citizen (read “employee”) journalists, etc. etc.  But I believe a big part of the answer is to continue to bang the drum for building a culture of transparency over time as the first line of defense to weather a WikiLeaks-style storm.

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Comments Off Posted on by Matt Tidwell