Fighting back from a hack: how marketers can clean up the IT department's mess
Fighting back from a hack: how marketers can clean up the IT department's mess
A view from Nick Fox

Fighting back from a hack: how marketers can clean up the IT department's mess

There's no better case for marketer and IT department collaboration than the recent hack attacks on big businesses and Nick Fox, founding partner of Atomic...

TalkTalk has rightly been hung out to dry by the media following a data breach that has today been revealed to have affected more than 150,000 customers. As we continue to transplant our entire lives into the digital world, it’s paramount brands are held accountable for the protection of our personal data – and with TalkTalk one of many victims of hacking in recent years, it’s clear this has not been a priority for many businesses.

These scandals are not so different to any other event that tarnishes brand reputation and shatters the trust we strive so hard to build

While we can all agree brands should be keeping our details safe, the companies themselves seemingly can’t decide on the best approach to tackling the fallout from such public humiliation. The problem with hacking is it’s a relatively new threat – Hollywood blockbusters since War Games back in 1983 have focused on infiltration of government facilities or nuclear bunkers but they didn’t warn Vodafone or Ashley Madison that they could face the same fate.

Perhaps most frustratingly for marketers, it’s rarely our fault – the people who should have been keeping that data safe in the first place usually sit in the IT department, yet it’s the marketing team who are charged with figuring out how on Earth they drag the brand out of the mess. That said, these scandals are not so different to any other event that tarnishes brand reputation and shatters the trust we strive so hard to build.

We’re angry, we want answers, and you’re going to have to work your socks off to win back our loyalty

Take Volkswagen, for example. It’s taken a helluva beating over the emissions debacle and is back in the spotlight this week with revelations 800,000 more vehicles could be affected. The scenario is effectively the same as the one TalkTalk is facing – we put our trust in your brand to do the right thing, whether that’s for the environment or the protection of our personal details, and you’ve let us down. We’re angry, we want answers, and you’re going to have to work your socks off to win back our loyalty.

Quick thinking

TalkTalk’s customers will be clamouring for answers – what practical steps should I take? How compromised is my data? What are you going to do about it? The longer the brand chooses the path of inaction, the longer these people have to sit and stew over the whole thing. Silence is deadly.

VW suffered at the hands of some very serious allegations splashed across the media, which illustrates how important it is for the company to stay one step ahead of the story – let your customers know before they read it in the paper, and be honest with them. They’re not idiots, and you need them on your side.

Last month they were your loyal supporters but if you don’t treat them as such they’ll quickly become detractors – and if you continue to neglect them they will become active detractors who warn others against using your brand. Lovers can become worst enemies, but if you treat them with respect you’ll find they are your most powerful advocates.

Saying sorry

It’s the hardest word, but admitting fault as soon as possible can make such a difference. If your brand is responsible for the loss of millions of customers’ data, mark my words this will come out sooner rather than later.

Appoint a figurehead – the most senior exec in the company – and issue a public apology to those affected, but make sure this person is fully briefed – TalkTalk’s Dido Harding looked at a loss when faced with questions from the media.

Refusing to comment and scrambling to try and distance your brand from the issue, only to be exposed a few days later, is a sure fire way to aggravate a lot of people. You’ve already made a huge mistake, so please don’t compound that by trying to cover it up. This humility is the first, most important step on a long road to recovering your brand’s reputation.

To advertise or not to advertise?

In response to the hack TalkTalk has ‘gone dark’, pulling its primetime X-Factor sponsorship for the past two weeks. This may give the marketing team time to hunker down and figure out a battle plan but I’m not sure that’s been the smartest move.

It can give the impression the brand is shying away from the issue rather than standing up and facing the flack. I’m not sure who recommended this course of action, but I’d suggest any company hit by something like this sits down immediately with its media agency and creative agency and, rather than cancelling any media spend, thinks about how this can be used to address the issue at hand.

The X-Factor on a Saturday night would have been the perfect opportunity for TalkTalk to speak directly to a large section of its customers and prospects and set the record straight.

Be prepared

We’ve all been rudely awoken to the fact hacking is a real risk for any brand that holds data on its customers, so it’s time to put a plan in place and decide how you will tackle the points above. If you can do that in a timely manner, you’ll be halfway to protecting your company’s reputation.