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Public Relations Basics: Avoiding Press Leaks and Fixing Mistakes

In the world of public relations, press leaks can be damaging affairs. Sensitive internal information being sent to journalists can wreck a company’s reputation, cost it customers or clients, or even land it in legal hot water. But how can public relations consultants prevent press leaks, or at least clean up the damage they wreak?

When it comes to press leaks, the usual suspects are disgruntled current or former employees and business partners. But everyone from outside lawyers and consultants to the guy who operates the doughnut cart can be the source of a press leak. Usually, there’s an ulterior motive — everything from self-importance to someone trying to stick it to their boss — and journalists receiving the leak care little about why they’re getting the information.

When faced with press leaks, a company (and its public relations department) must take action without stepping over the line. Harassing suspected leakers can lead to lawsuits. Hiring investigators can not only be expensive, but potentially damaging, because these professionals will do anything and everything to get information. Alienating employees can lead to lower productivity and cause stress within an organization, so leak investigations must be handled delicately.

Bear in mind that leaks can also be the result of already-low employee morale. When employees feel they have nothing to lose, they sometimes resort to drastic measures, hoping that the public embarrassment of negative publicity will change how an organization operates. Few companies will admit it, but press leaks have changed corporate culture for the better at more than one company, including one former employer.

Speaking of my employers, my company recently turned down an opportunity for a feature story. Oddly, as quickly as we turned down the one opportunity, another arose. We decided to take advantage this time because the publication — a local newspaper — has limited distribution and the story would help us recruit new employees.

The story ended up being very flattering, but it also contained a number of mistakes. We decided not to say anything to the writer because it was a moot point and the erroneous information did not have any negative impact. Nonetheless, we’re going to make sure in the future that this does not happen again.

When a media outlet writes a feature story about your company or organization make sure to send them press kit that includes biographical information for the main players. We have a couple of strangely spelled names on staff; in that recent feature story, one of our founders was given a very different name from the one on his birth certificate.

More importantly, this incident made me realize that I have to run the public relations show. My boss was the main contact for the writer this time around due to geography and the fact that the story was focused on him as well as the rest of our organization. Regardless, I’ve learned to be very anal when it comes to representing our company, and I should have taken the lead here when the fact-checking process was taking place. Deferring to my boss, who does not normally handle the media, was a mistake I should not have made.

This article, written by Ben Silverman, originally appeared in PR Fuel (http://www.ereleases.com/prfuel), a free weekly newsletter from eReleases (http://www.ereleases.com), the online leader in affordable press release distribution. To subscribe to PR Fuel, visit: http://www.ereleases.com/prfuel/subscribe/.

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