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Communication teams are at the forefront of sensitive information, often acting as gatekeepers and advisors aimed at preserving its reticent status. For this reason, we must take steps across all organizational levels – client-side and internal – to minimize the chances of this occurring, assure continual discretion, and protect against the impact of inevitable leakage.

Informational leaks are unpleasant. It's paramount to understand why they happen then take preventative measures to curtail the underlying variables.

Humans leak. Leaks primarily occur because of unintentional carelessness, lack of clarity and poor lines of communication. We can – and must – stop these problems. 

One of the causes can be confusion by those involved in what exactly is sensitive. Things get dicey when multiple versions of the same documents are floating around. Confusing leads to mistakes. 

The chances of information spillage rise with access. The larger the pool of people involved, the higher the potential for human error to occur. We communicators are frequently dealing with aggressive deadlines, overly-ambitious expectations, and stressful environments. An important email sent to the wrong "Julie" – one being an internal contact, the other a journalist – can spell disaster. Thousands – or even millions of dollars – can be lost. 

On a long enough timeline, a leak is not a matter of “if” but “when." Not having a prepared team, a rehearsed contingency plan and a clear understanding of responsibilities can quickly magnify the damage.

Take the following steps to enhance the control of information flow:

  • Limit the number of people involved. As information becomes more sensitive, the number of people privy to it should be restricted to include only critical decision-makers.
  • Differentiate your records. Have a different template for internally facing documents, labeling everything accordingly. Visual cues offer an easier and faster way to recognize confidential information.
  • Re-evaluate your version control practices. Consider automating version control through auto-populated date, time, and edit stamps in document footers. Supplement this practice by adding initials of whoever last-edited the document rather than saving everything under a single file name.
  • Avoid using autofill when sending emails. Email platforms are not great at sorting email addresses and can expose communication by auto-filling the wrong contact information.
  • Don't assume. Not everyone might be clear on responsibilities – spell it out for those involved in a written format they can reference later. Even if this appears redundant, it presents a clear distinction of roles and informs the core team of who is involved in the task at hand.
  • Train your team. Not everyone is aware of the etiquette around discussing private information in public. People often forget that airports and elevators are not soundproof and can expose conversations to any number of interested parties.
  • Provide mandatory basic media training to spokespeople and executives. This can secure the flow of information and prevent panic in the event they are blindsided by an outside source or accosted by a reporter at an industry event.
  • Don’t be overambitious. Be aware of tight deadlines and expectations, especially when coupled with people's revolving bandwidth. By demanding a faster turn-around time on tasks, you sacrifice quality and increase the potential for error.
  • Always have a contingency plan. This prevents panic and allows you to minimize the fallout. 

Adhering to the basics of communication flow controls, recognizing the role of the human element, and having a plan in place will ultimately enhance the preservation of confidentiality. 

Kseniya Melnikova is an account manager in New York