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  The Herman Trend Alert

January 12, 2011

A New Game for Public Affairs

Just recently, CBS News commentator Bob Schieffer said, "Technology has changed the American dialogue". Though he was speaking about the Representative Giffords' shooting, nonetheless the quotation applies here as well.

WikiLeaks' dumping of vast numbers of Pentagon and State Department secret documents into the public domain has changed the public affairs' game for companies and institutions---forever. Welcome to the "Age of Forced Transparency"!

Writing for Forbes.com, cybersecurity reporter Andy Greenberg coined the term "Forced Transparency" to describe the new reality facing companies and governments. WikiLeaks and its copycats now leave organizations no choice but to voluntarily, if reluctantly, share information that was previously secret.

Rick Amme, media and crisis management consultant, urges organizations to prepare now for this new reality. "There are two types of preparation", Amme asserts, "generic and specific". Generic preparation involves taking steps to make leaking less likely by having good internal problem-solving and communications. Paying attention to internal communications makes it less likely people will want to leak. And keep your employees happy. Happy employees are rarely motivated to leak.

Specific "preparation" takes place after the leak has occurred. Amme urges to follow the lead of Bank of America with its extensive preparations, taken after the bank learned it might be a WikiLeaks' victim. In fact, BoA has a team of about 20 executives working full time on the threat---just in case.

Amme also offers other important advice: "Increase transparency." As Amme says, "Transparency takes on new meaning in a WikiLeaks' world. Inform stakeholders more than ever." What bothers employees is the vague insecurity that something's wrong, yet no one's talking. Amme continues, "Get comfortable disclosing uncomfortable information that could later be turned against you".

"Validate secrecy and whistle-blowing." Help employees understand that you are asking them to protect valuable company information, not hide malicious secrets. Also explain the difference between leaking and whistle-blowing.

"Protect Information Technology. Humans leak, systems fail. Re-evaluate computer security." Secure your intellectual assets.

The future? Some executives will react by shutting everything down---the opposite of what we're recommending. In addition, there will be a crackdown on leakers and that will affect reporters negatively—certainly an unwanted consequence.

Special thanks to Rick Amme for his contributions. Reach him at www.amme.com.


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