The UK General Election - 4th July 2024



PLMR's Tim Knight on the crisis engulfing TalkTalk and how your business can learn from what they've got right

The cyber-attack that has hit TalkTalk’s website in the last couple of days, in which customers’ banking details and personal information may have been accessed, is providing fascinating viewing for communications professionals.

As the third incident of this nature in the last year, it is causing serious damage to the telecommunication giant’s reputation. What is very clear is that they have a well-oiled crisis communications team in place, and have prepared for situations like this. Here are six reasons they have got it right so far….

1. Putting the leader front and centre from the very beginning.

I heard TalkTalk CEO Dido Harding on the radio at about midnight last night and again at 7 this morning. To my knowledge she has been on Radio 4, 5 Live, and the BBC News Channel, and there may well be others. It shows that the company is taking this seriously, taking responsibility and ensuring visible and audible leadership is in place.

2. Clear communication.

As well as the numerous media appearances, TalkTalk has set up a dedicated website for the incident, which is advertised on its social media accounts, and sent emails and posted letters to every single customer. There is no point trying to hide in a situation like this.

3. Consistency in responses.

Harding clearly has well-rehearsed lines, which she has stuck to doggedly despite the inevitable aggressive (and justified) questioning she has faced. She has expressed empathy by explaining that “I’m a customer too,”, and sought sympathy by stressing that “we are victims of a crime”. She has sought to position TalkTalk as an unfortunate victim, by explaining that 625,000 cyber offences took place in the UK each month this summer, and stated that every single organisation could benefit from stronger cyber security (as opposed to this being an instance where TalkTalk did not have the appropriate defensive measures in place).

4. Carefully thought through wording to respond to the most challenging questions.

The elephant in the room at the time of writing is that TalkTalk is unaware how many of its four million customers have been affected by this. So when challenged to quantify this, Harding describes it as likely to be “….a material number”. It is very important not to speculate in these circumstances, which the TalkTalk team understands.

5. Stressing the actions taken to resolve the situation.

In each interview, Harding has been keen to explain that TalkTalk has been working closely with the Metropolitan police and security advisors, been working hard through the night, and is in the midst of “a speedy response”.

6. Offering compensation.

Talk Talk knows there is no ‘win’ in this situation, and that it is likely to lose customers. But it has already taken the step of offering a year’s free credit monitoring to all of its customers – not cheap, but a drop in the ocean compared to the loss of potentially millions of customers. By doing this they already have one eye on their reputation rebuilding.

Are you prepared for a crisis? Call the experts – PLMR!
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PLMR’s crisis communications experience is second to none, and includes pre-emptive and reactive work across traditional and social media channels. We work with a range of organisations to offer critical communication support when they are faced with difficult and challenging scenarios.