Ashley Madison Hack Probably Spells The End For The Brand: PR Weighs In On Hacking Scandal

Ashley Madison Hack Probably Spells The End For The Brand: PR Weighs In On Hacking Scandal

When big things happen in the media world, B&T turns to the professionals to try decipher what is going on and what happens next, this week’s controversy: the hacking of Ashley Madison.

If you’ve been living under a rock the past month; hackers, calling themselves The Impact Team, stole details from over 37 million users of the Ashley Madison website. The hackers have made the personal information-including names, addresses and numbers- available in a data dump of an estimated 9.7 gigabytes in size.

Ashley Madison released a statement today saying the company is offering a $500,000 reward for any identifying information about the hackers.

But what do the big wigs of adland say about the hack?

Dr Tony Jaques- managing director of Issues Outcomes P/L:

There has to be a real question about whether the Ashley Madison brand can survive. The hack itself was serious enough, but the company’s continued evasions, lack of communication and seeming lack of any remedial action have probably spelled the end.

But it doesn’t have to be like that. Earlier this year hackers attacked Anthem Blue Cross, America’s second largest health insurer, potentially exposing personal details of up to 80 million customers

The response by the President and CEO, Joseph Swedish, was a benchmark example of what to do and what to say in the face of such a breach. He announced that there was no evidence credit card or medical details had been accessed, he said a global cybersecurity firm had been hired to check systems, and he said that the company was providing a dedicated website with information and FAQs, a new toll-free number to answer questions, and up to two years free credit monitoring .

But in addition to these concrete actions, the personal statements by the CEO showed genuine regret, remorse and common understanding. Among other things he said; “Anthems own associates’ personal information – including my own – was accessed during this security breach. We join you in your concern and frustration and I assure you we are working around the clock to do everything we can to further secure your data.”

Compare that to the excuses and equivocation offered by Ashley Madison. There is no reason that a massive security breach has to be fatal, but Ashley Madison have failed manage this crisis in any meaningful way. It is hard to see that any future clients would be willing to commit their personal data to the site. However we can be pretty certain that others will step up to fill this apparent demand.

Jackie Crossman-CEO of Crossman Communications

Crossman won the public relations category in this year’s Women In Media.

I have a problem with this one because of what Ashley Madison is all about. I don’t support the site and its users in any way, although I recognise they have a right to exist.

Some quick rules of thumb when handling a crisis are:

  • Address the issue and show genuine concern
  • State what happened and how
  • State what you’re doing to rectify the situation and ensure it never happens again

In the case of Ashley Madison, it is near on impossible to say the user data they hold is 100 per cent safe given a group of moral activists have a vendetta against them and won’t stop until the site is taken down.

On top of this the company is likely to get its pants sued off by users who end up in the divorce court as a result of the public sharing of their information. Maybe nothing can save them.

James Wright, managing director of Red Agency

If we are looking at how the brand might battle through this seriously damaging period then they need to get much more proactive if they want to survive.  Let’s start with the fact that the brand is a victim here too.  It was an illegal data hack and that is why under these circumstances I would be focusing on two things: 1. Why AM was hacked; and, 2. What they are doing about to rebuild trust.

Firstly focusing on the ‘why’ allows them to get positive messages out there.  They are the industry leader, so talk about the size and growth of the brand, why people come to the site and its success.  Point to why the site was the target as opposed to other smaller brands – “hackers wanted to attack us because we are the biggest brand in the market”.

Secondly, and most importantly, they need to talk about what they are doing about it. How you deal with a crisis is far more important than why it happened when you are in the thick of it.  I would be having their cyber-security experts – and indeed third party experts – talking about the steps that are being taken to prevent this from happening again and upping the message that because this has happened it is investing in the very best security to ensure it doesn’t happen again. They need to at least attempt to rebuild trust.

The conversation and debate is happening and they need to start managing and being part of it rather than rolling behind it.  What they do in the next weeks is going to define whether the brand has a future, so my advice is grasp the nettle and get on the offensive with their messaging.

The hack continues, with suicides reportedly linked to the release of Ashley Madison’s data and Avid Life Media offering a $500k reward for anyone with info on the hackers.

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