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November 15, 2010
Vulnerable Web-Response Plans
Wow! Here's a taste of what could be in store for agencies that prepare talking points in response to reports in the emerging era of web journalism. Their entire PR plan might be leaked to accompany a hostile story. The Web is just that fluid. Not even the cost of a stamp is needed.

We don't know anything about kidney dialysis and have nothing to contribute on the merits of an exposè piece posted on the journalism site Pro Publica. But in roaming the Web today, we actually came upon Pro Publica's posting of the leaked response plan prepared by Kidney Care Partners before we caught up with the Pro Publica story itself. There it was, as though the organization's files had been rifled.

Nothing that sinister, actually. Possibly someone with access to the response plan pushed a keyboard button and off it went to Pro Publica. Now, security of computer-housed response materials apparently needs to be a heightened concern in any self-respecting PR or organizational office.

As one of the responses to the piece bravely puts it: 

"I will admit right at the top that I don’t know the particulars of this story, either side, and can’t speak to the merits either of the investigative reporting or its target. But it’s naive to think that an organization under fire—corporation, not-for-profit, government agency, whatever—would not prepare for what it knows will be a negative story. Why shouldn’t they prepare for the fallout? It’s all too easy to make that appear sinister and manipulative, when it’s just sound communications strategy. Your shopping list could look sinister if turned into a public spectacle."

Indeed so. Safeguard your response materials. They may look incriminating on somebody else's website, just because they're there. Other folks may not realize that an effective, consistent response requires just such a plan.

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Doug Bedell has a background in journalism and PR and is the owner of Resource Relations LLC in Central PA, focusing on organizational and crisis communication. He’s the community manager of SimplyFair.net, a social network on fairness. On the Web, Doug’s at www.ResourceRelations.com. On Twitter, he’s @DougBeetle.
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