In an environment of bitter competition, overlapping priorities and increasing use of unsecured digital communications systems, the threat of information leaks is greater than ever. How can we, as communications professionals, implement safeguards to ensure our brand is protected?
Protecting Your Brand
You are the protector and gatekeeper of your brand. It’s your job to ensure that the maximum amount of positive and least amount of negative information about your organization is circulating internally and externally. You are unable to control everything, of course. Leaks will occur and cybersecurity is another issue altogether. Yet you can help mitigate certain problems common to organizations in this porous information age.
Create Strong Infrastructure: A key to avoiding leaks is making certain your infrastructure has enough safeguards. Often this entails deploying IT systems that restrict proprietary information to areas with layered digital security. In addition it could entail creating digital spaces for certain materials that aren’t easily accessible to others.
Boosting your infrastructure may require additional investment depending on what type of information is shared throughout your internal networks and how important it is that the data be protected.
Strong infrastructure entails more than IT-related measures. Culture is critical, too. Your company will need human resources policies and confidentiality agreements that protect internal information. The screening process for potential employees also is important in this regard.
For instance, is there a question that tests the honesty or integrity of candidates? Screening protocol and clear internal communications channels can be influential in ensuring that you’re creating the right environment for confidentiality.
There’s also an external component. It is advisable to foster excellent rapport with key reporters on your beat. That means having a cadre of media contacts that you can contact at the moment of an information leak or the potential for negative news.
Timing is Critical: As someone who guides the internal communications strategy, it’s important to be the eyes, ears and watchdog of your organization. Think about the right balance between keeping an informed internal team and not handing over too much information. Timing is a big part of the equation.
Which key stakeholders should know about breaking news or a new announcement? How can you empower them to maintain confidentiality? Sometimes, it’s just a matter of prepping your communications materials with the word “Confidential” on drafts. Other times, it may involve leaving people out of the loop and bringing them in closer to the time you deploy public communications.
You’ll have to make more calculated decisions about whom to include and when, while leaving all internal stakeholders enough time to activate their particular tasks and empowering others to be informed employees while safeguarding information as best you can.
Working with Partner Organizations: This can be tricky. More organizations involved equates to more people who could leak information. Below is one way to try to control such a situation.
I worked on crafting an announcement with a coalition of partner organizations and a state governor’s office.
As one of the few communications professionals in a group that consisted mostly of policy people, I decided it would be prudent to lead communications.
This tactic may have seemed overly generous or, perhaps stupid, because I was offering to invest time and energy to an effort that would help competing organizations. Actually it was a deliberate move. By offering to lead communications, I was taking control of the message.
As the lead communications person, I became the main point of contact between the group and the Governor. This meant all timely and important information flowed to me first, eliminating the possibility that our organization would be left out or uninformed. This also meant that the other organizations yielded their control to me.
My organization controlled the message. That meant our organizational logo and branding were more prominent, as was our quote in the press release. It also meant we were the first to hit ‘send’ on the press release and could guide strategy and rapport with reporters, leveraging our ability to be included in news stories where we might otherwise have gotten lost in the mix.
There are risks in a situation like this. An organization may go rogue and break the news before others, which has happened on more than one occasion.
The fact remains that it still benefited us to take the lead among partners announcing the same thing, and we would certainly employ the same strategy moving forward in the right instances.
(The above is an excerpt from PR News’ Book of Crisis Management. To order a copy, please go to prnewsonline.com/prpress.)
CONTACT: Allison Steinberg is communications strategist at the ACLU.
This article originally appeared in the June 29, 2015 issue of PR News. Read more subscriber-only content by becoming a PR News subscriber today.