PR: How Ashley Madison Can Earn Trust Again

As a crisis management professional, how would you approach the Ashley Madison hack?

Each organization should have some type of crisis management plan. Ashley Madison, a site catered to people in committed relationships wishing to have an affair, has been hacked.

Although it’s hard not to say, “What goes around comes around,” when thinking of all those people who were unfaithful or at least contemplating being unfaithful to their partners, it is still a public relations crisis situation.

The hackers apparently have information on the 37 million users of the site including names and profiles, credit card transactions and employee documents. They plan to release this information unless the site is shut down.

The company has brought in Levick Communications for help with media outreach.

So what should Ashley Madison do?

Admit Fault with a Sincere Apology.

The first step in a PR crisis is to admit you were wrong and apologize. Ashley Madison has taken that initial step to apologize.

“We apologize for this unprovoked and criminal intrusion into our customers’ information. The current business world has proven to be one in which no company’s online assets are safe from cyber-vandalism, with Avid Life Media [parent company of Ashley Madison] being only the latest among many companies to have been attacked, despite investing in the latest privacy and security technologies.”

However, they never admit fault in this, or admit that their systems were vulnerable. They simply state (I’m paraphrasing), “this happens to other companies, so it happened to us.” Not good. Not good at all when you site is built to protect secret affairs.

Produce a Solution. Don’t State a Solution.

One of the bigger faults more public relations crisis management strategies have is they simply talk about finding a solution to the problem that occurred.

However, prior to a crisis, avenues and channels should be made available to the communications or PR team where they can tap into the actual solution being developed.

This means having access to IT or technical teams in a crisis involving cyber security. What are the next steps to making sure this doesn’t occur again? Where is the organization in those steps?

People want to see results today not just hear, “We are working on it.”

Keep Updating the Press, the Public, Your Audience.

Sometimes, a public relations expert advice is to just let things die down.

That is an idea that used to work in the pre-social network age. However, now we have the ability to reach our customers in a timely and efficient manner. Several people, especially Millenials look to social media for news updates.

Now, this doesn’t mean that the CEO (or future CEO) of Ashley Madison go on Twitter and rant and rave about all the great things Ashley Madison is doing to keep the site safe and secure for users.

This means delivering those tangible solutions, we discussed previously, in a frequent enough manner to ensure your audience, the public and the press are satiated with your information.

Don’t Give in to the Demands of the Hackers.

Even though Ashley Madison exists in a lot of people’s moral gray area, a hack that threatens to take down the site while exposing the millions of records is definitely against the law.

Giving into the hackers by letting the situation “die out,” would allow for them think they can keep hacking and get away with it. So, Ashley Madison needs to progress  forward with its solutions and keep their audience updated to ensure they move beyond this crisis in public relations.


 Ashley Madison is built on trust, and gaining back that trust will be difficult. However, if Ashley Madison’s team follows these steps, it will help them reach and continue to stay connected to their audience and user base.