EDITORIAL: PR execs must eye corporate 'spies'

Corporate PR teams tend not to make waves in the murky waters

usually inhabited by corporate or competitive intelligence officers. Why

would they? The two are different departments: one generally

characterized by openness and communication, the other typically

dependent on secrecy and stealth. A corporate intelligence officer -

however much he or she may yearn to be seen as Tom Cruise in Mission

Impossible - is unlikely to want to talk to a team usually perceived as

being responsible for getting publicity for the company's work.



But the publicity over the last week for Procter & Gamble's espionage

antics ought to prompt the closer involvement of corporate communicators

in intelligence gathering and information protection.



Of course, in the P&G case even the CEO didn't know what his

intelligence team was up to, so it would have been hard to take

preventive action.



But by highlighting the damage that this unethical behavior has done to

P&G's reputation - and the coverage certainly makes the global giant

seem pretty malodorous - other corporate communicators might persuade

the folks at the top that they should be kept involved to prevent

similar disasters in the future.



There are many popular intelligence-gathering methods that might appear

pretty unsavory to the public. Pretending to be a student or analyst

requiring information is a popular method, and not strictly illegal.

Another ruse is to interview competitors' staff for a fake position or

interview at a rival company just to find out about them.



Corporate communications teams need to work with the intelligence

gatherers and the top table to decide whether the potential value of the

information truly outweighs the potential risk to reputation should the

intelligence team get caught executing such unethical acts.



Additionally, there's an ever-increasing role for internal PR when it

comes to safeguarding corporate information without creating

paranoia.



Improved awareness of the risks of corporate espionage greatly reduces a

company's vulnerability.



The lessons here may seem pretty obvious - certainly Unilever's staff

might think twice before throwing three-year business plans in the

garbage.



But it is down to the guardians of corporate reputation to make sure

they are learned, and to provide the conscience for those tempted by the

unconscionable.



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