Trump, Comey, Leaks to the Media and Your Organization

by admin on June 12, 2017 · 0 comments

Subtitles

All organizations leak information to the media.

Leaking behavior depends on the degree of internal disputes and the extent that employees feel that they can influence management.

Yes, your boss talks to the media.

Success With the Media

I wrote, “Success With the Media, Everything You Need to Survive Reporters and Your Organization” (available at Barnes and Noble and Amazon at https://amzn.com/151948965X) because I believe that organizations need to look inward to get better media results.

I use contents from the book for this article.

Some believe that we should not talk to reporters. I maintain that not talking leaves you without influence; you are committing yourself to a negative story. The trick is to know how to talk to the media.

Author

Leonard Adam Sipes, Jr.

Thirty-five years of supervising award-winning media relations, radio and television; over fifty national and regional awards. Post-Master’s Certificate of Advanced Study, Johns Hopkins University.

Article

Trump, Comely, Leaks to the Media and Your Organization

Your organization leaks like a sieve. You know it; I know it. Leaks to the media are everyday realities for spokespeople and media relations experts.

What’s happening with the current (and frequent) leaks from the White House, supporting agencies or the former director of the FBI is indicative of what happens in your organization.

I’m not suggesting that every entity leaks information to the media at the same rate or intensity. Leaking behavior depends on the degree of internal disputes and the extent that employees or detractors feel that they can influence management.

To many within the organization, however, leaks to the media are the only power they have to format change or to get revenge. If you are on the short end of a management dispute, and the “winners” are vulnerable, it’s easy to pick up your home phone and destroy their efforts.

You can get your way; you can show management the errors of their efforts. You can destroy those opposing you.

After thirty-five years of talking to the media, I never ask who’s leaking. I always ask, “Who’s not?”

Media sources love informants, but they know that leakers have agendas, and they have to balance the information with a sense of fairness. With President Trump’s tirades towards of the media, that sense of “balance” now seems irrelevant.

Don’t Blow Off Knowledgeable Reporters-They Often Have Inside Information

If a reporter tells you about a negative issue within your organization and provides sufficient detail to back it up, you can assume that there is at least some validity to the accusation based on leaked information. It’s not unusual for you to be on the receiving end of a negative inquiry and know nothing at all about the circumstances being described.

You must respond in the only way you know how, honestly. Deny direct knowledge and promise to research it. Never deny what you do not know.

Understand that informants always overplay their hands. Informants will take a leaking dam and suggest that thousands of lives will be lost within the next twelve hours unless the media reacts immediately. Don’t be rushed into bad media decisions. Take the time to get it right.

Never make a blanket statement that the question is without foundation. You may find your denial in the headline of the morning paper only to retract it when you discover that the accusation not only has merit, but is also true to some degree. Being forced to retract an earlier statement is highly embarrassing, and it has the potential to damage your public affairs career. If you do not know, then say so.

Informants

I make it a rule never to try to figure out who is talking to the media. I am so used to others talking that I take it in stride. If this individual is discovered, then someone else will probably take their place. It’s pointless to try to establish their identity, and your media source will punish you if you do.

Your ability to understand and assess the situation accurately will be crucial to the speed and precision of your organization’s response. It’s also fine to convey this to the reporter.

If a reporter tells me that she has internal documents, I try not to sound too impressed. “Okay, join the crowd,” I say, “but I have a lot going on today, so you’re going to have to give me some details if you want me to put this at the top of my list.”

If the reporter gives me details, and it’s serious enough, I will pull executives out of meetings. If not, then I will write an e-mail and people will respond when they get my message.

It’s amazing how this reality prompts reporters to be more forthcoming. They know that employees and detractors often “shop” the same information to other news outlets, so they would like a prompt response. I simply tell them that they “have to help me help them, so tell me as much as possible about the information you have.”

Many times they do.

It’s not unusual for reporters to send me internal documents before they are provided internally.

It’s not unusual for the CEO to have little knowledge of the situation. Sometimes, those in charge (including spokespeople) are the last to know.

Your Boss Talks to the Media

Early in my career I was warned by veteran spokespeople that some in the upper echelon would talk to reporters without telling you. Executives within the organization will use the media to disagree with agency heads or CEOs.

They will use reporters to communicate to the rest of the organization when they believe that this is the only way that they will be heard.

The ability to influence the media means power to those who feel outside of the decision-making process. This happens at all levels. Remember this when you’re viciously badmouthing a journalist to a high-ranking person.

I once complained about a nasty encounter with a reporter to a group of executives. Two weeks later, the reporter gave me my statements almost word-for-word. I told him that he deserved the remarks, and I had a right to be angry. He just smiled.

With regard to top executives, I was told by a member of the media of an administrator within my department who spoke to a favored reporter, and the same reporter would contact his spokesperson for an official statement. The agency head never advised his press representative that he was talking to the reporter.

I told the spokesperson what was happening. She was very hurt and saw her boss in a different light thereafter. I know of nothing else that could possibly place a spokesperson in greater jeopardy.

It’s my opinion that the executive who seems to exhibit the strongest anti-media feelings is usually the one talking to reporters.

Additionally, I’ve done follow-up with reporters after a major story and learned that many executive staff for an agency in my department spoke to them off the record. This was conveyed by a variety of reporters. Sometimes it’s not a matter of who is talking, but who’s not.

How to Deal With Leaks?

How to deal with leaks? Don’t over-react. The leaks are rarely as bad as they first seem.

Know your organization, your issues, and your data better than anyone else.

Have access to your top people AND the technocrats who produced the reports in question. Quite frankly, it’s the technocrats who will save you and the organization.

Know how to find information quickly, and know how to tell when someone within the organization is being less than honest. You have to be your own detective.

It’s your expert assessment and your relationships will key players that will save your butt and help you place leaked information into its proper context.

Success With the Media

For more information on good organizational and media relations, see “Success With The Media: Everything You Need To Survive Reporters and Your Organization,” available from Barnes and Noble and Amazon at https://amzn.com/151948965X.  Your reviews are appreciated.

See my website at http://leonardsipes.com.

Contact me at [email protected].

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