In a day and age where information freely reaches all corners of the world, information leaks to the media are a serious concern for businesses. Often, these leaks can paint your company in a bad light, and give the public a misleading impression. Other times, however, these leaks can reveal information the public feels is important and needs to be seen widely.

How your organization reacts to a leak depends on a number of factors. One of the most important ones is what kind of organization are you? If you are a government agency funded by taxpayer money, the vast majority of materials or documents you produce are a public record. As a public agency, if any document is leaked to the media, you should be forthcoming in your response.

However, if your organization is a private one, leaked documents might catch you completely off guard. In this case, you’ll need to understand what information was leaked, and how this information will reflect upon your organization. If the leaked material is a document that’s part of a legal matter, you might not be able to comment. But if the leaked materials are unfair or unflattering to your company, you may want to respond publicly to set the record straight.

Each situation is unique, and you need a good team of seasoned communicators to help you determine the best way to respond.

Still, you can do a few things now to prepare through crisis communications planning. If your organization doesn’t have a crisis communications plan, create one. Think through who would be in charge in a crisis, what you would need to say, what audiences you need to communicate with, and how others would react if bad news about your organization is leaked to the media. Crisis communications plans won’t tell you exactly how to handle each situation, but they will give you a framework that can help you make good decisions in difficult circumstances.

One of the most important audiences, when negative information is leaked, is your employees. Before responding to reporters or other external audiences, make sure your internal team understands what is happening and why. Share what you can and explain how you’re addressing the situation.

Sometimes, an information leak can be an innocent mistake – or materials can be stolen through a cyber-attack. Train your employees to know how to handle sensitive information — and clearly explain what they can and cannot share with those outside your organization.

If you find yourself in a situation where sensitive information is leaked publicly, follow your crisis communications plan. If you don’t have a plan, or you need additional help, contact the associates at Tucker/Hall.

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