The bread and butter of any journalist's reportorial repertoire, a leaked memo often casts a company or organization in a stark, self-critical light.
Often, leaks come from opponents of the company's current strategy (disgruntled or rogue investors, unaffiliated critics, or bored workers). Sometimes it's the company itself that leaks, when some gain can come from it.
Wal-Mart is the most recent company to get the former treatment, with a memo prepared by former ad agency GSD&M leaked to The New York Times by union-funded critic Wake Up Wal-Mart.
The Times' Wal-Mart beat reporter Michael Barbaro described the 55-page report as the ad agency informing the retail giant that its low-cost strategy has implied low quality, and thus will hamper the company's prospects at selling "high-end" merchandise like high-definition TVs, clothes, and furniture - the very items Wal-Mart is hoping will revive sluggish sales.
The GSD&M memo also seemed to attribute some of the company's sales troubles to its woeful public image.
The memo, of course, echoes the business community's thinking: Wal-Mart is in slow-moving trouble. It seems to have spent its time dealing with situational good and bad news - touting its positive green initiatives, dealing with negative accusations from exiled marcomms SVP Julie Roehm - but it doesn't seem to have spent as much time dealing with the major issues of tomorrow's growth.
The leaked memo, no matter how embarrassing, often clues in external stakeholders that their concerns are being contemplated or addressed in-house. It also jolts everyone involved back into focusing on what matters.
No one wants a leaked memo (unless one wants to leak a memo), but once it is public; companies - and their communicators - should use the opportunity to address the issues that matter.