Be the messenger. If you are the source of the leak, you have a better advantage in framing it, controling content and reducing the overall sting. The main objective: reduce the impact of the message. Make it common and therefore not so newsworthy. Also, Comment on reports of the message often. Correct misinformation and continue to control the content and frame. Chances are, the gossip wil fizzle out before it gets its wings. And if it takes flight despite your efforts, you’ll be a few steps ahead, piloting the plane and plotting a safe landing.
The real damage begins when you are not prepared for the gossip, you didn’t predict possible pitfalls, and you’re left playing catch-up to the rumors after they began spreading. This leaves you in a position of reacting, which makes it difficult to keep a cool strategic head. The likelyhood of ever being able to gain control of the situation when it starts like this is slim to none.
Lastly, try to have eyes and ears everywhere. Know who you can trust, and always report mishaps rapidly upstream. While reputations can usually be rebuilt and public trust reestablished, it’s better to not be in that position at all if possible.
A solid communications plan addressing damage control will help you and/or your company predict potential risks of damage and allow you and your team to rapidly unfold a well-plotted damage control plan vs. reacting at every turn in fear and uncertainty.