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Trendwatch: Plugging the leak

Posted by Joe McNamara on 1st October 2013

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERACan you keep a secret? You might think that all us PR folk do is shout about our clients’ news. Well, we do, but to maximise the newsworthiness of a significant announcement PRs are sometimes best advised to keep quiet until the big day.

I’m talking about the notion of leaking information. Call it what you like: pre-launch, soft launch, embargoed announcement, teaser; consumer and B2B technology companies often see merit in disclosing information about an exciting piece of news early.

Whether it’s a leaked photograph of a prototype smartphone or pre-briefing key influencers, drip-feeding information through certain channels is, in many cases, a better option than just pressing go on a press release that no one is expecting.

While for B2B brands it may simply be a case of getting your news in front of key journalists early, for large consumer brands the buzz generated by sheer speculation can be greater than the coverage generated by the actual news itself.

However, the iPhone 5s and 5c launch last month cast some doubt over the value of allowing the rumour mill to run wild.

It was as if the speculation of Apple releasing a budget smartphone hijacked the reality of the announcement itself. Tech blog Slashgear suggested that the iPhone 5c could be the ‘most misunderstood iPhone so far.’

We can’t question the sources that so called ‘leaksters’ gather their information from. The fact is Apple never said it would release a budget iPhone. Unfortunately, it didn’t stop trustworthy publications making their own predictions based on ‘reliable sources’.

Building a bit of hype around your upcoming launch is one thing, but allowing wild speculation to harm the impact of the news itself is another. People were actually disappointed the 5c wasn’t a cheap phone because they’d been led to believe that it would be.

Managing a press office is a 24/7 job – in the online world rumour becomes fact within a matter of minutes. It’s up to PRs to ensure that the brand is not setting itself up for a heavy fall. You can’t stop people writing about your brand but you can put them right.

Sensitive pre-launch information should be restricted to trusted influencers that will understand the message and not encourage blind speculation.  There’s no harm in teasing the public about an upcoming announcement. But in the world where media titles compete for clicks, be careful not to give people the wrong ammunition to fire.

Image credit: Stephen Davies, www.picturewales.com