Panama Papers’ Database, Offshore Accounts, and PR Nightmares

Hackers can cause all kinds of PR nightmares, and a new night fright is just about to hit as many as 200,000 individuals and entities because the hacked database (the “Panama Papers”) of Mossack Fonseca, a Panama law firm is about to hit the internet. These papers are being leaked by the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ) with 2.6 terabytes of information on entities in as many as 200 countries. Off-shore accounts can be used for many reasons, but have often been used to hide assets from others, including governments, or in the use of illegal activities such as smuggling drugs or gun running.

However, off-shore accounts can be used for many equally legal purposes, sometimes simply keeping funds where they were earned, so taxes don’t need to be paid in a country where the funds have never been used or paid. Such accounts might also be used for large family owned entities where family members come from various countries. But with the release of this information, many entities who may not have any illegal intentions or purposes could find themselves in the line of fire from the press and social media. So what does a company do in such a situation?

Have a Crisis PR Plan

First, become proactive and make a plan. Even if there is no possibility of your firm being named in the Panama Papers, now’s the time to get a plan in place. Hopefully, you will never need to use it, but if you do, the time saved by already knowing the first steps to take will be invaluable in your recovery from the PR crisis.

Look at the possibilities – what could go wrong? What do you provide the public, look at the people involved in the process and what might happen if one of them made a major misstep? Think of the absolute worst case scenario and then decide what the best approach will be for each situation. Write it out and review it on a regular basis. Prepare draft press releases with blanks to fill in so if the need arises, you just need to put the details in and get it out the door.

In most PR crisis situations, the faster the response and the more transparent the information, the better the result, allowing you to get back to normal faster.

If your firm faces a situation like the Panama Papers, plan to give a lot of detail, what the accounts are used for, what security measures are in place to keep them from being used inappropriately, and even percentages of the amount kept in the account and how much goes for what products and services.

Stay Available and Transparent

Decide who will be the spokesperson/people for the company and let everyone know who those people are so they can refer any questions to those with the most current information. However, that does not mean all your people shouldn’t also know those details. Keep everyone informed and let them know how valuable they are to the process. But that you are protecting them as well as the company when the designated people speak to the press.

Be Aware

Whether you have a crisis going now or not, it is important to keep on your toes, know what is happening within your company and staff. If a possible problem is looming, you should be aware of it and working on a solution, so it never develops to a crisis, but also incorporate it into your contingency crisis plans.

Following these steps doesn’t guarantee you won’t face a PR crisis, but it will get you through the process much easier if you do.

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Ronn Torossian is the Founder, President and CEO of New York-based 5W Public Relations. He has overseen the company's rapid growth and expansion to the Inc. 500 list, as well as provided counsel to hundreds of companies, including members of the Fortune 500, Inc. 500 and Forbes 400. His work spans global interests, corporate entities, high-profile individuals, regional business entities, government agencies and academic institutions - both on routine public relations matters and extremely sensitive issues. One of the foremost public relations experts in the U.S., Torossian is known for his aggressive, results-focused orientation, as well as his close working relationships with members of the media, influencers, decision makers, politicians and celebrities. At 5W Public Relations, Torossian's client experience has included programs for Coca-Cola, Microsoft, Anheuser-Busch, Barnes & Noble, Cantor Fitzgerald, IHOP, McDonald's, Evian, EDS, VeriSign, XM Radio, Seagram's, The Loews Regency, Bad Boy Worldwide Entertainment, Marriott Hotels, Vail Resorts, Pamela Anderson, Snoop Dogg, the Government of Israel, and others. Referred to by The New York Post as a "publicity guru," by Fox News as a "high-powered PR CEO," by Tyra Banks as a "crisis management guru," and by CNN as "a leading PR expert," Torossian is regularly featured in and quoted by the media, including by CNN, Fox News Channel, MSNBC, NBC, The New York Times, and others. CBS National News said "Ronn Torossian knows spin," and a New York Times feature story on Torossian referred to him as "The consummate hard-driving, scrappy NY publicist." Earlier in his career, Torossian was a Vice President/Group Director for one of The InterPublic Group's (IPG) largest PR agencies, where he was responsible for significant client growth and successful client programs, including work for Clinique, Fox News Channel, DHL, Hard Rock Café and others. A resident of Manhattan’s Upper West Side, Torossian was named to the Advertising Age "40 Under 40" list, PR Week's "40 Under 40" List, is a regular lecturer at universities and conferences, a member of Young Presidents Organization (YPO) and a board member of numerous non-profit organizations.