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Cyber-attack threat drives need for crisis and reputation plan

Businesses need to put a cyber-attack plan into action

A Financial Times article examines the business impact a cyber-attack has on a business and identifies the importance of having a response plan in place.

It highlights the importance of having crisis management and PR support in place as much as a planned IT and technical issues response.

As the article states: “Cyber security is clearly a board-level concern, but the expertise needed to manage it may not always be present around the table.”

The threat of an attack means that a business needs to look at the skills it has available and not be afraid to seek external advice where it may be needed.

In a six point action plan, the article cites crisis and reputation management as an integral part of a practised response to an attack. These may be skills and counsel which need to be externally sought.

The cyber-attack is now a very real threat for every business, no matter what size. Accountants PWC’s annual ‘global state of information security’ report found that, in 2015, 55% of businesses had been attacked in the last two years which reinforces the importance of having a plan in place should an attack strike.

As the Talk Talk breach showed in 2015, a company can soon be leading the news agenda and, with this growing threat, so comes the need to minimise the impact on a hard-won reputation which takes years to build and seconds to destroy.

Working with an experienced crisis and reputation management team and having a plan in place will reduce the impact on the business should the worst happen and allow the focus to be on business continuity and returning to business as usual as soon as possible.

Sharapova leads crisis management from the front

Tennis court crisis management

Whatever the outcome of Maria Sharapova’s failed drug test, and its ultimate impact on her future tennis career, the media handling of the announcement is a classic example of being in control of the message.

In the hours before her appearance in front of the world’s media in Los Angeles, the speculation on Twitter was that at the age of 28 she was to retire from the game after she used the social media platform to announce the press conference.

At this stage, no official announcement had been made by the world anti-doping body WADA and no leaks had emerged, which in the age of social media, can quickly lead to damaging speculation and loss of control of the message.

It cannot be overlooked that this is happening against a backdrop of allegations involving a Russian whose country is currently under scrutiny for an alleged doping programme involving Olympic athletes.

Her approach meant she was in the position to break the news of her failed drug test and to put forward her explanation as to why it happened. Sharapova didn’t leave it to legal representatives or her management team to face the media, she led from the front.

Whatever may come to pass with the case, and no judgement is made here, from a crisis communications and reputation management perspective her actions provide useful insights.

The Russian tennis star didn’t hide leaving the media seeking to track her down with potential images showing her seemingly running away. She admitted that she had been taking the substance for 10 years for medical reasons and had been caught by a rule change.

In the conference she was able to outline the case and provide her mitigation. The media were left to seek out more information about the substance rather than making the story a deconstruction of Sharapova and her achievements.

All of this is in contrast to the questions which surrounded Margaret Byrne, the chief executive of Sunderland Football Club, this week about how much she knew about the details of the case surrounding the team’s player Adam Johnson after he was found guilty in a court of law. As media interest grew she was reported to have left for her villa in The Algarve leaving a void and media speculation to grow for a week before she returned and resigned via a press statement.

There is much to learn from the handling of these contrasting situations and it will be interesting to see how Sharapova’s position progresses and if the tennis star is able to maintain control of the story. In contrast Sunderland was not in control of the developing story.

Key lessons for organisations from these situations are that it is important to act acting early as crisis or reputational issue arise, use a senior representative to lead and be open and honest about the situation.

FIFA’s reputation suffers an own goal

Crisis management at Fifa

‘Crisis, what crisis?’ was the lament in 2011 of FIFA President Sepp Blatter when he demonstrated a patronising attitude towards the media and their questions about mismanagement and even corruption within the organisation.

At the time I wrote a blog which considered his poor handling of a reputation management issue which had appeared to leave him more damaged. It may have been naivety from what was perceived to be a highly political operator or he knew something about the accusations being made.

Instead of answering the questions and putting the issues to bed, FIFA found that the journalists were like a sore which would not go away as they continued to pursue the story. They continued plugging away to find if there was a hidden truth.

Among the results was award winning investigative journalism from the Sunday Times which has played a major role uncovering evidence of potential wrong doing while Blatter saw it as a vendetta against FIFA in retaliation of England failing to win the bid for the 2018 World Cup.

While Blatter saw this as an attack on FIFA, there came a risk of contagion among sponsors – major brands whose reputations had the potential to be damaged by association. The media looked towards how they sponsors would react and waited to see who would blink first.

The investigations underway in the US and Switzerland will ultimately reveal any wrong doing.

The failure to deal with the issues and the ostracising of the media as this scandal unfurled has had an impact on the organisation’s reputation. It will take many years, and some skilled hands, to repair.

There are a whole other set of questions to be considered as to whether the 2018 and 2022 World Cups will ever be regarded as representing the “beautiful game” and the reputation management needed by their organising committees.