For Bank of America, the WikiLeaks ordeal must by now seem interminable as the world awaits the threatened disclosures. Meanwhile, other major companies are being identified as targets. It’s not unlikely some of them have mounted internal probes akin to BoA’s Enterprise Risk Management (ERM) team.
From a business perspective, a salient point is usually lost: that while credible forensics is wise and necessary, those initiatives – without more -- comprise a defensive strategy. To win this game, you need an offense as well. In fact, the entire WikiLeaks saga offers both a lesson and opportunity for businesses to permanently fortify just such an offense-based arsenal, not just for similar leaks but in most attacks in the Internet age.
By “offense,” we do not mean a concerted attack on Julian Assange and his colleagues. Let government officials here and abroad handle that. We’re talking instead about a well-integrated campaign to seed the marketplace with ongoing positive messages that effectively defuse or at least diminish the impact of anything that may be disclosed in the months ahead.
Corporations don’t usually have advance warning of an attack but Assange has actually cued the corporate community. While his purported targets are still uneasily at peace, they must use that peacetime wisely by integrating their resources – corporate communications, legal, IR, government relations, etc. – to deploy the multifaceted messaging machine (which, in BoA’s case, could underscore leadership on transparency, data protection, fairness in mortgage lending, etc., all pointing to being the engine of recovery.).
In our analysis of Search Engine Optimization (SEO), WikiLeaks and its progeny entirely control the conversation. There are no BoA messages to be found when the search is WikiLeaks related. It is long past time for BoA and others to see the Internet not just as an opportunity to control the conversation on the brand, but in crisis, litigation and public affairs.
The momentary silence is a pregnant one indeed because what people read first, and most often, they believe most readily. Fill the silence now and you establish the perception that the company recognized its problems long ago and acted to resolve them. Make that the dominant story and you neutralize even spectacular future revelations.
If the WikiLeaks story proves anything, it’s that there is always a WikiLeaks lurking, be it an NGO or a plaintiffs’ lawyer or a regulatory agency. Every moment of silence is therefore a call to arms, and a decisive advantage once the inevitable war begins anew.
Richard S. Levick, Esq., is the president and chief executive officer of Levick Strategic Communications