Political PR Reeks Of Leaks

Last night, before going to bed, I had an experience only a true media geek could love.

I saw several outlets on Twitter reporting that Mitt Romney was going to announce his running mate this morning. So, journalists were given about a 10 hours “heads up.” I wondered, how long would it take for the news to leak? I stayed up to find out. The answer – about 30 minutes until several news organizations, citing multiple sources, reported Rep. Paul Ryan as the choice.

Remember how the Romney campaign promised to “break the news” to supporters via a smartphone app? That didn’t come until hours later. The formal announcement came hours after that. Most of this was early morning on a Saturday, but in today’s 24-hour news culture, there is only relative down time.

Political PR seems often predicated on leaks. In fact, the “game” often thrives on leaks. This is a far cry from the business world, especially with public companies, where leaks are often considered worst case scenarios. In one instance, when working for a Fortune 50 public corporation, I traveled seven hours out of state without knowledge of the news I was going to be asked to help coordinate. To minimize the risk of leaks, I was left “out of the tent” before arriving on-site. In another instance, our firm was hired by a major sports league to develop a strategy to prevent leaks of an announcement for which executives wanted to have as much communications control as possible.

So what was the downside of the public knowing the news before it was scheduled to be news? In this case, it’s hard to say as the bulk of the media coverage that was prepared overnight seems pretty straightforward. But generally speaking, it creates more potential that messages will get lost or even hijacked by those with different agendas. It can mean that facts are often left out or even reported incorrectly in early coverage, often creating lasting impressions.

There is no downside, only upside potential, to maintaining control of your message, especially at the beginning of a story. But that’s something that just doesn’t happen in politics.