Panama Papers crisis comms: Five steps to protect your reputation

OK, so you have been named in the Panama Papers. This is what you should do next.

Take these five steps to protect your reputation if you're named in the Panama Papers, advises Paul Blanchard
Take these five steps to protect your reputation if you're named in the Panama Papers, advises Paul Blanchard
First, don't panic. This is one of the biggest leaks of private information ever. Step back and carefully assess the information. What information about you has been leaked? Find out. Was any of this already on the public record? Are any of the things that you have been implicated in potentially illegal? Are there any positions that you might have to resign from? Calmly assess the risks.

Second, put in place a robust media monitoring team for the next month. Throughout this period, it is important to have a split-second insight into the nature of the story – and be informed the moment you are mentioned. Make sure your email is easily accessible in the public domain, or that you can be contacted via LinkedIn, as in most circumstances a journalist will want to contact you for a comment before publishing any allegations. This will give you important advance notice that something is going to be published, and give you an opportunity to shape your response around the specifics.

Third, make your inner circle and your family aware of the risks. Although it may be difficult to broach the topic with colleagues and members of your family, it is very important to alert people about the potential story. It’s also important to make your inner circle aware that they may receive requests to comment and instruct them to forward all requests directly to you, and not to comment in any way, however small. Any response must be co-ordinated and ‘centralised’ with all the available information at your disposal.

Fourth, any organisations that you are associated with will then be able to make the necessary precautions to contain any of their own reputational risk. You may want to suggest that your companies prepare a small statement saying that they had no knowledge of your relationships with Mossack. This should hopefully provide any business partners, investors or customers in the business with assurance that the company will not be harmed. Remember, your business interests could be treated separately by the media.

Be realistic: although you can mitigate the harm to your personal reputation as best you can, it would be almost impossible to entirely eliminate any negative consequences for your business. Your business interests are what you depend on for your income and security. You must take every step you can to distance them from you, so as to mitigate any reputational damage ‘leakage'.

Finally, if you believe that you have done nothing wrong and nothing illegal, then prepare a very short statement. The shorter the better. There is a risk if a story breaks that rumour and speculation could gather in a vacuum if you don't release anything. People will almost certainly criticise everything that you say, whatever it is. 

One of the most harmful criticisms is that you're not expressing apologies or regret - something that is usually important to avoid because it can be used against you in court in some situations. 

Instead, it is best for your lawyer or comms adviser to release the statement. Keep the tone neutral and be as factual as possible. You have been professionally advised by a reputable firm, you await the outcome of any investigations in their conduct, etc etc.

Paul Blanchard is founder of PR and digital media agency Right Angles 

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