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The Art Of The Leak

The Art Of The Leak

The way your traditional communications and public relations professional leaks a story usually follows the same route:  Schedule a press conference; send out the advisories; pick one news outlet to leak story a few hours ahead of time; hold the press conference; schedule surrogate interviews; and repeat.  While it makes sense at the outset, the above series of events drives me nuts and I’ll tell you why – it does nothing to address the Internet age we live in.

We live in a day and age where the main provider of information is Google–in fact, 74 percent of people used the Internet for information in the 2008 elections.  Furthermore, social networking is the fourth most popular online activity–even ahead of email.
Considering all this, just two weeks or so ago, President Obama announced Sonia Sotomayor as his pick for the Supreme Court. However, it boggles my mind that when the leak came out, there was no web site or Google ads – people looking for information on the nominee were stuck with Wikipedia.  Even as I write this column there is only one organization buying Google ads off of her name.

I’ve seen it time and time again in politics where the traditional communications and public relations professionals forget about the Internet.  They’ve become lemmings when it comes to how you perform a leak, and any deviation from that process is swiftly dismissed.

Now, a few politicians have started to dabble with the web, but they do it as a hook (i.e., politicians announcing an intent to run for office via YouTube).  That’s great and all, but I’ve seen where leaks are made the traditional way and then go on YouTube.  Or they put it up on YouTube with no follow up.  Still all wrong.

The reason this all bothers me so much is that with any announcement, you only have a small window of time when people care enough to seek information about you.  You can capture their information to keep them involved, but in today’s Twitter world, that “window of time” is often a nanosecond.  People will research the announcement at the first instant they hear of information:  They’re not going to wait around after the leak to see what else is to come.  In no time, they’ll be on to the next trending announcement on Twitter.

In my ideal world the leak of big news would happen like the way I’ve listed below.  I’ll use Sotomayor’s nomination as an example – both for what the White House and third parties should have done –  and whether pro or against.

1)      Before an announcement or decision is made, organizations know the people on their media short list and have been gathering information on all of them.  While doing this, reserve pertinent URLS – do it privately if you don’t want people to know it was you – and start to mock up some very simple sites.  Launch these sites when the decision is made and then change the header and copy to fit the nominee.  Keep the site password-protected until the appropriate time.
2)      Write the search ad copy for all the potential nominees and get approvals from the appropriate people.  Set up accounts and put on pause.
3)      Research and possibly reserve social media handles and profiles to the potential nominee names.
4)      If you are the White House in this scenario, and the time comes to make the announcement, update your site with the appropriate header and copy with the nominee’s name.  Go ahead and leak the name to the outlet of your choice.  Just remember that no matter who receives the leak, they will put it out on Twitter before anything.

a)      A few minutes after the leak is out, take the password protection off of the site you built and turn on your search ads.  As people hear the nominee’s name and start searching for information, your ads appear and will bring them to your site, and not just Wikipedia.

5)     If you’re not the White House in this scenario, it will take more time to update your site with information as you wouldn’t have had it ahead of time.   Yet, if you have your research done ahead of time and the pick isn’t totally out of left field, you should be able to get everything done and up within the hour.
6)      After the site and ads are up, immediately get your social networks going. Get your information posted on Facebook, Twitter and Friendfeed and keep updating it throughout the day and the nomination process.
7)      As surrogates and other representatives go on TV, news articles are written and radio interviews are conducted.  Down capture everything you can and put excerpts on YouTube, your web site’s blog, Delicious, Digg, etc.
8)      Once everything is together and humming along, utilize your sites analytics and tools. Items such as Google provide insight to see what people are searching in addition to your nominee’s name.  Based off of the results, adjust your content and ads accordingly The aforementioned sounds like a lot, but if everything is prepared ahead of time and it’s all done quickly as the news is leaked, it will do wonders in terms of ensuring that people get the information you want them to receive. An added benefit is that this method will help gather emails, donations, or any other activity you want people to do with regards to your news!

Katie Harbath is the Director of Online Services at DCI Group. She has more than 5 years of experience in the online political sphere including work during the 2008 and 2004 Presidential Elections. Her personal blog is at and she’s on Twitter @katieharbath. The opinions expressed in this article are solely those of Katie Harbath.

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