Business PR Strategy

Ashley Madison and Lessons in Reputation Management

Posted by Deborah | August 26th, 2015 | No responses

Reputation by Stuart Miles

The messy situation around the online dating service, Ashley Madison, rumbles on.

In fact, now we hear all sorts of organisations are being implicated in the cyber attack and potentially having to address reputation issues with a matter of urgency.

There’s no doubting that a business which used the strapline ‘Life Is Short, Have an Affair’ must always have been somewhat aware that it was open to public relations issues and potential criticism.

That said, did it build an effective crisis communications strategy ‘just in case’ its anti-adultery audience should act out in any way?

Well, you could argue that even if indeed there was some element of crisis scenario written up in a ring binder somewhere, it hasn’t been serving them particularly well in this case.

Here’s a few thoughts on what we can learn from Ashley Madison about reputation management and crisis communications:

Always be mindful of your ‘weak spots’.

If you’re a brand with a difficult moral message, or you know you’re likely to have specific audiences who feel aggrieved or uncomfortable with you, then you know from the outset that crisis comms will need to be part of your preventative planning around reputation management. Ensure you have a good in-house communications team who have those issues at top of mind, or that you have on call a great PR team which truly understands your messaging and knows how to minimise damage.


Who are your best spokespeople – should you need them?

There’s been some suggestion that Ashley Madison didn’t start fronting a response as quickly as they might. In the case of a crisis, time is of the essence. With that in mind, making sure you have key people with very considered media training is an imperative part of your marketing and PR strategy.


How do you communicate with each of your stakeholder groups?

When there’s a need to go into battle around reputation management, don’t get obsessed about talking to the press and forget all about your immediate stakeholders. Remember that travel companies were recently criticised over conveying to the press quicker than they conveyed to their stranded travellers on the ground. Ashley Madison needed to remember it has highly concerned members to be communicated with first and foremost. Likewise, ensure you’ve identified all your stakeholder groups and how you would reach them with your specific messaging.


Know what channels for communication are operating around you.

This means not only using and being aware of your own channels – from email newsletters to social media accounts, but to looking at all those out there discussing your brand. This is where, in the case of damage limitation, having a PR advisor on hand to observe what’s being said about you as well as helping YOU decide what to say, can be vital. The more knowledge you have about commentary, the better you can respond.


Know when enough is enough.

Some will argue this crisis should be cause to close Ashley Madison altogether. Whether you agree with that specific scenario or not, there are times when it will be absolutely the right thing for a PR team to advise a business / service that the appropriate thing to do is to close that particular offering or to find a way of bringing that an aspect of their delivery to an end in some dignified fashion.  When a reputation is hit really hard, sometimes tough questions need to be faced around whether this is a mere matter of moving on after an appropriate apology – or whether it’s time to draw the curtain.


FOR more PR insights or help with your own brand, contact Deborah on 07974 359001.

Pic by Stuart Miles for Free Digital photos

Reputation by Stuart Miles

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