Fair-Weather Leaks Serve as a Strategic Method of Media Control

radiohead in rainbows label leak political leaksRyan Grim at The Politico wrote an article about the political leaks in Washington D.C. that also offers insight into how and why leaks happen just about everywhere, from bands to business to family secrets.

The article separates the types of leaks into three categories: the malevolent, the benevolent and the accidental.

Grim’s article includes eleven leak sub-categories each with a different intention. If you are plan to communicate with or be a part of the fourth estate, you should probably take a moment to read them each in detail. Instead of touching on each sub-category here, I would like to highlight how fair-weather leaks are used as a method of strategic media control.

Fair-Weather and Bad-Weather Patterns

“When an organization is being run well, people tend not to look at things as leaks, but they tend to look at things as information specifically being put out for some strategic purpose. When things are not well, the information getting out there is perceived as leaks.

-Chris Lehane, of the ’92 Clinton campaign and later the White House.

This seems like a subjective impression to me, and I wonder how it could be quantified without defining exactly what it means for an organization to be “run well.” And Lehane’s idea seems to create a chicken-or-the-egg scenario: a well run organization incorporates strategy into leaks, while strategic leaks also seem to be the hallmark of a well run organization.

The In Rainbows Fair-Weather Leak

A recent example of strategic leaks that I noticed had to do with information surrounding which record company would score the new Radiohead album, In Rainbows. Just days after the digital release of the album, Tiny Mix Tapes was reporting on Billboard news that Radiohead was considering signing with ATO Records / Side One Recordings.

Realize that no one at Billboard or anywhere else could guess that Radiohead would look at ATO with a high enough degree of confidence to publish it as an industry rumor let alone a news story. So this was clearly a strategic leak. According to Grim’s article which type of leak was it?

Of the benevolent leaks Grim writes about, here are a few that could apply:

  • The Trial-Balloon Leak
    This would only make sense if Radiohead’s management was behind the leak of the information. They tossed the ‘rumor’ to Billboard to gauge industry reactions to the news prior to going forward with it.
  • The I-Scratch-Your-Back-You-Scratch-Mine/Relationship Leak
    This type of strategic leak could have come from either ATO or Radiohead’s management and would suggest that one of them was either buying back favor or investing in favor from Billboard, Hits, Tiny Mix Tapes, or perhaps all of them. Unfortunately, I’d say that the real news with In Rainbows was not the label signing, but rather the surprise announcement of the digital release. No one had the jump on that, so if media relationship needed to be built then sharing a whisper of information on the digital release would have been a lot more effective.
  • Because-They-Wouldn’t-Say-It-on-the-Record-It-Must-Be-Newsworthy Leak
    This assumes that ATO/Red Light was behind this one. I think this is more likely because Radiohead’s management was focused on drawing out hype on its decision to go digital, not an impending traditional release.If the In Rainbows label signing leak falls into this category it likely means that the deal had been inked before the time Billboard and Tiny Mixtapes were reporting on it. ATO was worried that an official announcement would not bring the adequate attention. Instead the leak of a “possible” signing makes it appear that the band is in some underground bunker furiously debating whether to take the big money and sign with either Warner music or EMI or go with the progressive and responsible alternative of ATO.

When it comes down to it, I think that this last category is the most likely one. Was it effective, and does it demonstrate that a well run organization? I’d say yes. Not only did a ton of media outlets pounce on the news, but some of them tied the story to Radiohead’s quiet decision to do a live webcast for its fans.

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