Ashley Madison – A broken marriage

Fundamentally Flawed

“Life is short. Have an affair.”– The slogan used by website Ashley Madison offering extramarital relations and a 100% guarantee of confidentiality.

The site, which prides itself on being the ‘world’s leading married dating service for discreet encounters’, has suffered from a recent hijacking from a group of hackers known as ‘Impact Team’, who gained access to over 30 million user details and subsequently released them online.

The identity theft of users’ personal details including sexual fantasies, has swept all hope of confidentiality away from the brand. Few who’d signed up to have an affair could be happy to have that particular portion of their moral code exposed to all.

Founded 13 years ago, the Ashley Madison website concept was fundamentally flawed from the start. A service promoting betrayal of a partner will have been considered by a large majority to be of such a low moral standard, anyone who signed up would get their just desserts.

Vision, Mission and Values

A reputation can be defined as “everything you say, everything you do and everything others say about you.” (Chartered Institute of Public Relations)

In order to build and maintain a sustainable reputation, it is key for an organisation to deliver their service focusing on a clear vision, supported by a mission and set of values.

Ashley Madison’s vision could be described as becoming the world leading service for extramarital relations and ensuring people have no regrets about having an affair. Their mission would simply be to provide guaranteed privacy, secrecy, confidentiality – call it what you will. Finally, some relevant values may include‘rigorous security’; ‘changing perceptions’ and ‘customer successes’.

The Theory Bit

Jane Jacobs, the author of the business publication ‘Systems of Survival’, details that in order to be a successful company there are a number of key precepts. Let’s consider two of the most important: respect contracts and be honest.

Following the clear breach of trust to keep data confidential, it is evident that Ashley Madison had little respect for their customers’ data when they entered into a contract with them, while the guarantee of anonymity was, in fact, far from honest. In the eyes of this particular commentator, Ashley Madison will clearly struggle to survive after breaking these values and contract.

A guarantee within a legal context is described as a pledge to be responsible for another’s debt or contractual performance if that other person does not pay or perform. This provides yet more evidence that Ashley Madison is a business on the ropes as it could also be bound legally to refund their customers for an inadequate performance relating to one of their values – rigorous security.

Broken Trust

The moral question here should really be how Ashley Madison can remain a functioning business with such a blatant disregard for people’s data?

The answer is, it can’t.

There is a clear association between personal relationships and business relationships – both are based on trust. Alas, trust can take years to gain, yet can be whipped away in a flash – the Ashley Madison fiasco a case in point.

Given the kryptonite nature of the data entrusted to them, Ashley Madison clearly did not do enough to protect it. The seemingly relative ease that private information of customers has been obtained and released into the public domain is alarming and completely conflicts with the company’s mission of guaranteed secrecy – hence, a reputation destroyed, broken families and now two suicide cases.

DivorceThe trust between this business and its customers has been obliterated and it is hard to see this particular relationship not ending in divorce proceedings.

Ashley Madison’s slogan has become rather apt – “life is short”

Hot issues and interesting facts in the PR industry

The typical PR employee: female and in-house. Photo source:

Interesting that the recent PRCA survey identified the hot issues for the industry:

•               SEO

•               Online communications

•               Reputation management

•               Communications strategy and development.


Two other little interesting facts 40,000 of the 61,000 people who work in PR work in-house.  The Midlands is the largest community outside the South-East with 12%.  The NW and NE and SW each has 6% of the PR population.  PR’s also lost its petticoat profession in that 36% of the profession are now male.

Kinetic helps Vitax at Glee 2011

Paul Bennett on working with Kinetic Communications

Paul Bennett, Corporate Services Partner of George Green LLP

“Kinetic is a very different communications and PR company.  As much energy goes into making sure that you have the right message as in communicating that message. A successful strategy is built around key differentiators and a successful business will have not only a successful strategy but ensure that key stakeholders from employees through to customers buy into that strategy.

Communication driven by  the purpose and shared belief of a clear strategy is really powerful, and Ang and the team  bring focus and clarity to strategy and communication in equal measure.  Kinetic’s unique approach delivers high impact communication both internally and externally, as I have discovered to my benefit.”

Accents in business by Jade Mansell

Jade Mansell

‘Oy kwoyt loik the berminggum accksunt’. Oh sorry, does that sound comical? And I mean the actual statement as well as the way it sounded: is it possible to have any love for the Birmingham accent?

Don’t get me wrong, I enjoy living close to the haven of shopping that is the Bullring, and Birmingham is supposed to be the “second city”, isn’t it? But it wasn’t until university that I realised quite how much my Brummie credentials affected perceptions of my personality.

I don’t live in Birmingham, I’m around 45 minutes away on the train – though of course this doesn’t mean anything to my lofty aristocratic southern friends. They deem anything above London ‘The  North’, whilst repressing an involuntary shudder at the thought of the murky, uncivilised wasteland that they have thankfully avoided thus far in life.

On arriving at Oxford Uni, I was astounded to find myself one of only 3 other West Midlanders in my year; needless to say I stuck out like a sore thumb. I’ll never forget the fresher’s week team-building exercise in which I addressed the whole hall with a microphone. Heads whipped round, students fell off their chairs, people took out ear-trumpets, all the better to hear the strange and jarring tones of my unlyrical utterings. Ok, maybe it wasn’t quite that bad, but I soon realised that I was different, and what’s more, I would become the butt of everyone’s’ joke.

Not that I minded – I love attention in any form – but I did find it grating that people were so quick to ‘figure me out’ based on my accent. A 2008 survey found that, as The Times put it, ‘the Brummie accent is perceived as ‘worse than silence’’. In a series of experiments, even a control group who said nothing at all were considered more intelligent than those with Brummie accents, and I have no trouble believing that. People with this bothersome accent are considered far less intelligent than those with other accents, and as such I sought to ditch mine as soon as possible.

Now don’t judge me, I wasn’t just being vain. I was thinking of my career, I swear – another survey showed that the Birmingham accent severely decreases interview success. (But mainly I was just being vain).

This all provokes the question: accents – should you tactically ditch or be proud of your roots? It’s a tricky one, and has sparked debate in the Kinetic office. On the one hand, the Brummie accent is associated with stupidity, and could be damaging. On the other, it’s quite cool to be novel, and certainly makes you more memorable. Plus, ditching your accent is like denying a part of your past. So I decided to try and embrace it, and, not gonna lie, it’s proven to be something of a talking point (see what I did there?).

Three years later and my accent has become ‘kind-of-southern-with-a-west-midlands-twang’, or so I’m told. At home, I’m posh. Amongst my uni friends, I’ll always be the Brummie. Damn!

ONE TEAM – ONE P&L – that’s the way to do it by Angela Podmore

Space shuttle Atlantis lifting off on 8th July 2011

A masterclass lives up to its billing

It’s not often a masterclass in leadership lives up to its name but Bob Duff did this week at an Aston University event. Bob is VP for UK and Ireland at Jacobs – a global engineering enterprise.

He introduces himself professionally (joined in 2004 through acquisition) but then adds, “I’m a husband and father first”. Good to know we’re listening to a man who has his ‘rocks in a jar’.

Some of his team really are rocket scientists – eg half of the people behind the NASA desk on manned space flight are from Jacobs.

Read on for how he got 62,000 people – culturally diverse – facing in the same direction.

They were losing 380 people a year to sickness and knew ‘problems cannot be resolved at the level of consciousness that created them’, Albert Einstein.

So in 2006 they launched, Beyond Zero – a culture of caring – to cut sickness to zero. It was beyond health and safety regime. “You have to live it.” They were 40K people worldwide then, they’re 62K today so they’ve done something right.


Jacobs developed a triad of values: 1. we are relationship-based (they’ve been working continuously for 46 years with Exxon Mobil. They’ve only 40 to 50 clients worldwide. “Clients like the people not the company”. They’re spread 50/50 over public/private sectors. 2. people are our greatest asset, 3. growth is an imperative (“we don’t pay dividend, we reinvest and are trading on Wall Street”).

He was full of the usual wisdoms: “transformation comes from the people not from the management, ” and “a good boss doesn’t really need appraisals. You never leave something to an appraisal which you should be doing right here and now.”

He was open with their figures showing steady growth through the 1990s and then the ‘bubble’ in the mid to late noughties. But they’re still on that 1990s/early-noughties growth track if you extrapolate that line through the bubble.

“Our margins are thin because the business model says our clients don’t like us making huge profits.” Jacobs is very customer-driven.  They grow by asking customers where they want them to be in ten years’ time.

“We’re multi domestic – ie where we open offices where we’re operational.” They work for Unilever all over the world but run it out of India because that’s where Unilever wants them.

Founding fathers lead the lessons

Jacobs College – at the US HQ – features lectures by the chairman – a- 75-year old who originally worked with the founder Joe Jacob. “You don’t go there to get ‘chipped and pinned’. It’s about learning the core values and it’s loaded with tests and role plays of how to do things ‘the Jacobs way’. Values underpin everything we do.”

Jacobs College takes to the road – important to keep momentum which is certainly there with every day, someone’s asking ‘what’s next’.


Jacobs has only one p&l worldwide. They don’t measure turnover but they’re committed to delivering 15% growth year on year. That’s a commitment to Wall Street (which is why I personally prefer the Arup business model).

But the Jacobs business model is undoubtedly successful – only 20% of the workforce has seen a downturn and their headcount speaks for itself. Each dept subsidises another.  The audience questioned that.

Bob Duff replied, “Culturally, you have to adjust to the fact that you may need to be supported one day.” In one fell swoop he showed how they’d swept away the departmental silos and made the one team culture dream a reality.

Jacobs is keeping the momentum by working with Aston University (they approached three business schools and chose Aston for the way its courses are Jacobs-focused as well as accredited to MBA. “We were looking for diversity – it’s great for cross-fertilisation – our workshops are like the UN.” And Aston certainly knows how to make international talent feel right at home.

Just keep going by Angela Podmore

Western Cwm

Business is just like climbing Everest

Doug Scott – what a man. Such a powerful reputation in the best way – quietly so.

This is the man who has climbed all seven summits – the highest point on each continent. When he started with the Atlas, his entire six-week trip cost only £21 per expedition member.

We saw him at Malvern this week. He inspired me on several fronts:

• Scott’s 28 pints test – if you’re still coherent after 28 pints, it’s a pretty accurate indication of how you’ll fare at altitude. Apparently Don Whillans, another climbing legend, after downing his 28th pint was asked why he drank so heartily to which he replied, “I’ve a morbid fear of dehydration.” Don’t you find that it’s exactly that sort of wit which keeps you going when the going gets tough. Call me on 07786 934 935 to find out the one that kept me going on the Yorkshire 3 Peaks (unpublishable) – John Wilson at Free Range Heads told it.

• Higher goals – anyone who has reached Everest’s summit, returns Scott said. He felt “something bigger than me was going on up there”. I’ve read that those who return from the moon all come back changed – either with a thirst for religious or another spiritual dimension. Unsurprisingly, being on top of the world or looking back at the world are similar peak experiences.

• His wisdom – generally you find where people have more time on their hands, the warmer their welcome. He found the people of Afghanistan amazing.

My favourite wisdom was ‘how to climb a mountain’: ‘You just keep putting one foot in front of another, keep going, dealing with the uncertainty, no talk of turning back or giving up.” What a great business metaphor.

And that’s why his picture of the Western Cwm hangs opposite my desk at home.


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