During the second world war nations promoted a heightened state of awareness in citizens that they could be overheard through the use of propaganda materials. Including the iconic phrase loose lips sink ships.
Loose lips sink ships is also a good maxim for modern business lives. We are now in an age when everyone can be a ‘self-facilitating media node’ as Nathan Barley put it. There is no longer any off the record. Jeremy Clarkson’s precarious position highlighted the perils of this with his apparent remarks committed to video tape. In the Financial Times this morning there is a great example of a similar unguarded comment providing rival automakers with a source of embarrassment.
At the Frankfurt Motor Show in 2011 Volkswagen Chairman Martin Winterkorn was filmed admiring the i30 model on the Hyundai stand. In particular, he noticed the lack of noise on the adjustable steering wheel a feature that neither BMW or Volkswagen Group could match and discussed this with his chief designer.
Hyundai has used this video clip as a proof point of their own engineering prowess ever since.
What needs to be done?
- Educate staff members to act as if anything they do can end up on the front of the Daily Mail
- Off the record is never off the record
- Everyone is a journalist
- Be more circumspect in public discussions that can be overheard, make notes, bring them up at a safer forum back at the office
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