Given the non-stop media chatter about leaked or hacked emails and recorded conversations, here is an updated blog post from several years ago with tips on how to keep yourself or your company out of the media cycle.
The scrappy Aspen Daily News has one of the best mottos in the business: “If You Don’t Want It Printed, Don’t Let It Happen.”
In the world of communications, we have a similar motto that we share with clients who are facing a pending crisis or are in the midst of one: “Anything You Say, Write, Email, Skype or iChat Can Be Used Against You.” It’s not as jocular as the News’ motto. But it just happens to be the truth in our increasingly litigious and curious world.
Clients can face all types of situations that are sensitive, controversial and deal with legal issues. While the lawyer’s role is to protect clients from and defend them during litigation, crisis communicators are focused on managing, protecting and — if needed — rebuilding the client’s reputation. They work closely with companies on strategy, messaging, stakeholder communications and media relations before, during and after a crisis.
Every case is unique, but here are their best practices for keeping sensitive communications under wrap:
- Assume that everything you write or say could see the light of day. This includes conversations with the media, whether the camera is running or not.
- It’s harder to claim privilege when you’re working with in-house counsel; it’s better if the PR practitioner is working through the client’s outside counsel.
- All drafts of communications documents, including emails, can be discoverable, not just the final document that becomes public.
- Presume that any communications device you use — iPad, iPhone, Skype, sending a private text message or tweet and, of course, personal email — can be retrieved and could become public.
- For sensitive issues, meet in person or pick up the phone and don’t leave a paper trail.
And remember, these rules should be expanded outside the crisis world given the rise of email and computer hacking.