This is an investigation! Hand over your PR files and emails…

If you are in PR and read the title of this post, your heart may be beating just a little bit faster now. Could it
really happen to you?

It's a natural concern, given the latest headlines. There have been a number of big news stories recently about behind-the-scenes spin control efforts, which are causing embarrassment and possible legal problems for those involved.

The most notable is the continuing saga of the Benghazi consulate attack, and Congress' efforts to figure out who did what and when to those now infamous talking points (see my previous post on this). Also, if you are in NY, you may have seen news about emails that showed the Bloomberg administration's efforts to rally support for Cathleen Black, who had been the mayor's controversial choice for the city's school chief before she resigned.

These types of stories might may make you squirm and think: "there, but for the grace of
different rules for public officials and companies, goeth I."
If this happened to you, what kind of story would it be?  And what should you do differently to prepare for this possibility (if anything)?

While it might seem unlikely that the FBI will raid your office any time soon, or that anyone will publicize info that you hope to remain confidential, it is not impossible. In this era of lawsuits, e-discovery – and in which much of our communications are captured electronically – there may come the day that you are the subject of a story.

You may pride yourself in running a very ethical PR ship – one that does not break laws, or advocate lying or dishonesty – but remember, there are many other types of situations that could cause embarrassment if made public. Perhaps there are emails about poor product quality, product liability issues or crisis management damage control efforts. Maybe there are records that show hypocrisy between internal discussions and public statements.

Some might be tempted to try to batten down the hatches and plug leaks (on that note, I saw an interesting article about Strongbox, a kind of DMZ for journalist tips). Sure, why not harden info security, and while you are at it, get clients to pay with BitCoins – that way there will be no record of the transaction!

I say these things half in jest. The fact is, we need to be able to communicate in private – to speak frankly and directly to clients or internal stakeholders; and they need to be able lay the sometimes-embarrassing cards on the PR planning table, trusting that the info will remain confidential if desired.

But we should do so while keeping in mind that the information could get out some day.
It is a sobering thought, one that can help motivate us to be ethical and the best that we can be, every day. Fear of consequences is the bad cop to the good cop of our desire to do the right thing.

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