Data breaches – as suffered by Dixons Carphone this week – rarely end well for CEOs, for company valuations and for the brands which are engulfed by them.
Take Yahoo (now called Altaba) as one example. The entire management team went, the company went, the brand went.
Why? In a word: trust. All PR crises are about trust and restoring it as quick as possible. In the case of data breaches, trust can be destroyed in the hearts and minds of millions of people in an instant.
But you know that already.
“I tell the CEO his or her world has just changed in a single moment. We are in a new world now. But I know how it feels and, in the end, it will all be okay”
I’ve been advising businesses in crisis for 15 years now and – unusually in an adviser – have fought a few crises myself when I was working for Rupert Murdoch.
So my approach is always the same: I tell the CEO his or her world has just changed in a single moment. We are in a new world now. But I know how it feels and, in the end, it will all be okay.
And then the work starts. Here are five things to do right at the start:
Be clear. Business uses too many words and only succeeds when it uses less. Do not leave the office on day one of a crisis until you can write down in fewer than 35 words what has happened and what you are doing to put it right.
Think of it as the elevator pitch. Put immense pressure on your teams and advisers in the first 12 hours to assist you with this. Can you explain it to your partner? Your mother? Your teenagers? If not, why not?
How can you possibly hope to succeed in communicating if you can’t explain it? After all, your business is brilliant at PoS, superb at communicating in-store, so why not publicly?
Be brave. Exercise courage, don’t just apologise. People in the country, your customers, Sun readers, Mail readers and so on are so used to business leaders apologising that they don’t listen.
What they want is an explanation. They admire guts. Yes, you must apologise, but just doing so is not enough. Tell them what has happened.
Define success. In your own mind, in private, away from the cameras, sit down and think. You need to recalibrate success very quickly. You can enhance your own reputation in the most difficult of circumstances. Remember that.
Success may well be leading the fight back and then leaving the company. That’s okay. But do that thinking damned fast with very trusted advisers and family. This leads to freedom and you may even sleep.
Choose grown-up advisers. Do not listen to the lawyers; or rather, do listen but discount what they say. Put your PR advisers and the lawyers on call after call after call together, watch them, listen to how they counter each other.
“The way forward often becomes clear on calls where advisers are arguing. If they all agree then sack one of them or at least stand them down”
The way forward often becomes clear on calls where advisers are arguing. If they all agree then sack one of them or at least stand them down. You need to see disagreement. You need friction in private. This is what you pay for.
Ignore press summaries, both bad and good. None of your advisers have any idea what will happen today let alone tomorrow. If the media seems to get better, ignore the soothing press summaries that drop into your email each morning.
Instead get somebody to actually buy the papers. Read them. Watch the television news yourself. Keep watching it no matter how painful. To do otherwise is an abdication of your responsibility.
Finally, and most importantly, try and surround yourself with grown-ups, people who are calmers, not stressers.
And start now. Start before the crisis even begins.