As the U.S. Justice Department and states investigated wrong-doing that led to the financial collapse, the nation’s biggest banks dumped tens of millions of documents on them. That’d make finding anything impossible, right?
Wrong. From that mountain of information, one internal memo emerged warning bank bosses, before the collapse and Great Recession, that they were packaging bad loans into securities.
The memo shattered the banks’ claims that they hadn’t been aware of the problem in advance, and it led to settlements totaling nearly $37 billion by J.P. Morgan, Bank of America and Citigroup.
The moral: If it’s in writing, it will be discovered. Even if all the hard copies are shredded and the original email is erased by the sender and recipients, it still exists — and with effort and technical know-how, it can be found.
This is a caveat we’ve raised before. But it needs revisiting because the problem keeps recurring. Why?
- Part is carelessness. Sometimes people put in writing things that shouldn’t even be spoken in private. (Although what’s spoken isn’t even safe, because you never know when it’s being recorded: Think Donald Sterling for starters.)
- Part is a compulsion to show your boss you’re on top of an issue — and that’s easiest to do in writing. That was the likely reason for the bank memo.
- Part is CYA. People want to be sure they’re protected in case the shit hits the fan.
That’s why protecting against disclosure is at the top of the agenda for a Crisis PR team.
First step is to be engaged by the client’s lawyer. That brings them under attorney/client privilege, so information that is shared is protected by confidentiality rules.
Second is to put as little as possible in writing — and to keep what is written as general as possible.
There’s much to be said for vanishing art of verbal communications. Not the least of which is that it’s less discoverable.
“Because Reputation Is Your Most Valuable Asset”
Gillott Communications is a Strategic PR firm. We’re Fixers. Crisis & Reputation Management. Litigation. Media Relations. Crisis Prep. More than half a century of expertise working with clients to resolve issues both in and outside the media’s glare — in their professional and personal lives.
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