Four PR Lessons from Indiscretion
Last month, the names Ashley and Madison border-lined as synonyms for infidelity when extramarital affairs site ashleymadison.com experienced a security breach. The cheating site’s platform of secrecy and discretion quickly turned into a platform of open shame for nearly 33 million users.
Beyond the sheer disgrace of the website’s mission and valid potential points about the cheating site deserving its downfall, the leak reinforces lessons and communication errors that occur time and time again. AshleyMadison.com’s data breach serves as a reminder that companies may just benefit from a four-lesson crash course in PR 101.
1. Always have a spokesperson prepared and ready to respond.
The worst time to prepare for a crisis is after the disaster happens. Obvious? Not so much for AshleyMadison.com’s PR team.
According to DeborahWatsonConsulting (DWC), some feel as though the site’s executives took longer than necessary to respond to the messy situation. Companies—especially ones like AshleyMadison.com, whose name connotes notoriety for the mass majority—must prepare and update their crisis communication plan consistently in anticipation of potential disaster. If you choose to live on flood grounds, you must be smart enough to prepare for a potential flood.
DWC expresses the necessity of crisis communication in preventative planning and reputation management. Maybe holding multiple spokesperson training meetings to prepare for the just-in-case would work more effectively than prepping someone on the fly. And remember that the best company spokesperson may not be your company’s top leader.
Constant crisis plan updates and adjustments, along with actual response rehearsal, work far better than burying it in the bottom of a drawer. “It’s never too late” does not exist in public relations. Timing is everything.
2. Remain engaged and responsive.
Crisis communication in all aspects including planning, execution and the aftermath, plays a large role in determining how people will react to a company’s recovery process. How people view a company prior to crisis will also make a difference in successful comeback attempts…although whether a company such as AshleyMadison.com should even attempt to restore itself or not is a different discussion.
According to MUIPr.com, AshleyMadison.com’s social media director Anthony Marci assured users on August 18 that the company was pursuing a complete investigation, but failed to offer follow-up comments in the subsequent weeks. If a company plans on making a comeback, disconnecting from the crisis for over a week is not the right path to restoration.
Responsiveness does not mean simply responding to aggressive journalists, who are, after all, just doing their jobs. Companies should never neglect those directly affected by the crisis, especially if they’re trying to save their client base; leaving customers ignored or unsettled will not bring them back. PR representatives must stay in touch with the internal and external publics to ensure that they reach the majority of affected people, fully understand the situation in all aspects and remain in touch with the solutions in progress.
3. Do not shift the blame to save face.
This tactic might work in Corporate America, but it certainly does not work when 33 million users just had one of their darkest secrets revealed for the entire world to see.
According to the Washington Post, parent company Avid Life Media Inc. confirmed the data release with the following statement: ‘“We apologize for this unprovoked and criminal intrusion into our customers’ information.”’ Notice how all the blame fell on the hackers, when the company certainly did not take all the steps necessary to try to avoid such a disaster.
AshleyMadison.com’s CEO should have released an immediate apology statement with remorse about the company’s own actions that may have led to the hack.
Apologizing demonstrates responsibility. People do not want to see excuses and defensiveness.
4. A company’s mission must take top priority
AshleyMadison.com stood on the platform of discretion, even so far as to call itself “the last truly secure space on the internet,” according to Mashable.com. However, not only did the company fall short in its privacy maintenance measures, it also failed to delete all profiles it promised to erase for a $19 fee.
A company’s course of planning, action and investing must center around its mission statement. If a company strays from the very core that attracted its client base, its reputation will quickly decline, and strong comebacks rarely happen.
Not only does the AshleyMadison.com breach reiterate core lessons of PR, but it also serves as another clearcut reminder that privacy simply does not exist with technology. Cyberspace and thin air are not the same things.
-Lisa Monteiro '17