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”


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.

There’s no I in team by Jade Mansell

Jade Mansell

One of the most overused clichés in history? Possibly. One of the most pertinent and underestimated values in business? Almost definitely. Teamwork is just one value which should help to make up a code of conduct in the workplace, and this is the key ingredient for the maintenance of reputation: a clear, enforced, and well-thought out ethos.

Shakespeare’s Cassio illustrates to us the importance of reputation: “”Reputation, reputation, reputation! O, I have lost my reputation! I have lost the immortal part of myself, and what remains is bestial!” Well perhaps that’s a bit much…But it does serve the purpose of highlighting that reputation is key, and should remain at the heart of any business.

The British Army purports to follow a code of conduct encompassing six core values: courage, discipline, respect, integrity, loyalty and selfless commitment, and this helps them to maintain their excellent reputation. A solider must exhibit and embrace the most extreme forms of trust, placing their lives in the hands of a co-worker who will cover their backs, in what is quite literally a life or death situation. It is only this trust which allows the team to co-operate and work as a unit, and to safeguard their reputation of professionalism and self-discipline. This reputation derives from, and depends upon, unequivocal commitment, self-sacrifice and mutual trust, and, like rowers on a boat, if any one member diverges from the code of conduct, the reputation is sunk.

Take for instance the recent controversy surrounding claims that British soldiers operated a regime of systematic torture, leading to the death of an Iraqi prisoner, Baha Mousa. This incident has provoked horror from the British public, and as well as offending human conscience, violates each axiom of the army’s code of conduct. Thus the validity of the shining reputation that the army attempts to promulgate is called into question.

This example can be seen as a microcosm for businesses to observe and learn from: a lack of uniformity in adhering to the rules means that the team does not face in the same direction, and does not pull together to achieve. Even in the couple of days of my work experience here at Kinetic, I’ve seen first-hand how a carefully planned message to the employees can make a huge difference to mindset. Here the mantra is based around being challenging, rigorous, moral, pioneering, and fun, and this simple code of conduct provides a focus and an understanding of the business, as well as the expectations, in a simple, memorable way. Businesses then, would do well to learn not to neglect the importance of the code of conduct in the workplace, and within that, the central tenet of the concept of teamwork.

These values come into play at every level of work: just yesterday over lunch we were discussing a situation in which the Kinetic team found themselves, which was effectively akin to the stress of a PR court martial. I commented that under such pressure I would’ve lost my head, especially since I hate conflict. Yet to know that were I to face such a situation, I’d be standing side by side with a colleague who shares and acts on the Kinetic values, would make me feel that much more confident and able to withstand the heat: here at Kinetic we are not just in it for the money. Apply the same situation to the solider who knows his colleague is only in it for the pension, and you get a sense of the kind of insecurity one might feel – it is the same in business: there’s no I in team.

Why I think Prezi is better than PowerPoint – by Rebecca Sloan

Rebecca Sloan, Kinetic, WIBA

Rebecca Sloan waxes lyrical about Prezi

With my upcoming presentation on how to measure and manage your reputation in the 21st century coming up next Tuesday to WIBA, it seemed about time to start pulling together the presentation slides. 

Having recently discovered Prezi, a relatively new platform which functions as a zooming presentation editor, my upcoming seminar seemed the perfect opportunity to try out the new platform.

With this in mind, we’d like to let you in on this well-kept secret and give you an insight into this tool which will revolutionise the way in which we deliver presentations. Here’s my review of Prezi in comparison to PowerPoint:


It will take a few minutes to get used to the new functionality of Prezi.  However, once you’ve learned this, designing a presentation is much easier to do and requires far less fuss to make look interesting.  Kiss goodbye to aligning text with grid lines.  Prezi is all about freedom of expression.


Unlike PowerPoint, more than one person can edit a Prezi presentation at a time.  You can even track their movements with neat little cartoon people who wander around the screen mimicking the movements of other users.  Great fun and hugely useful if you need to pull together a last-minute group presentation.


Where PowerPoint encourages a ‘less is more’ approach, Prezi takes a view that ‘more is better fun’. With the ability to zoom, twirl and dive into words and pictures, Prezi enables presentations to function more as a ‘mind-map’ than as a slideshow.

Overall, we think it’s a great piece of software.  Although serious users will need to pay a small licence fee (approximately £37 a year) to keep their presentations private and under-wraps, it is well worth the price if you’re likely to be running regular presentations. Four out of four stars!

The Martini Era – by Angela Podmore

Angela Podmore, MD, Kinetic Communications - Birmingham PR Consultancy

Angela Podmore


Anyone remember the Martini ads?  At their zenith in the 1970s but repeated in the 1990s (I think), they featured the beautiful people having wonderful times in the world’s most glamorous places and promised pleasure anytime, anyplace, anywhere.

What’s it got to do with today?

Whatever brand you need people to believe in – personal or corporate – it’s open to attack anytime, anyplace, anywhere.  I’ve coined it the ‘Martini era’.  Let’s hope they won’t chase me for copyright infringement – they should consider it a favour.

So how do you control brand reputation in these times?


The answer?  Make sure everyone knows what you stand for.  What’s your common purpose as an organisation?  What makes you stand out?  How do you define ‘your way’ of doing things?  Your culture?

The answers to these questions are the essential essence.  They’re what makes your brand tick.  Bottle that essence and it pulls everything into sharp focus.  We all know how powerful that is.  Ever started a fire with the sun’s rays and a simple magnifying glass?


Size doesn’t matter.  Business start-up and multinational alike understand the need for focus.  But it’s equally interesting who doesn’t get it.


Positive Pressure gets it.  They’ve been in business for a few years but knew they didn’t have their ‘elevator sell’ sorted – ie that ten second sell that would make them stand out if they were sharing a lift with a stranger.

They knew what they did – they can measure the difference they make in team performance by building individual wellbeing ( massage, reflexology etc).

Our two hour session energised them because “the vision is so exciting and it’s great to have something that feels so right”.  Hopefully, that clarity will help them with every business decision from now on.


For big business, let’s look at Goodrich:  Fortune 500, global aerospace and defence company.  ‘If there’s an aircraft in the sky, we’re on it’.  They know their essence.  They also know the key is to integrate internal and external communications.

Goodrich ECEPS division – 1,000 people spread over five continents – understands how internal communications is key to keep the essence alive.

For all its investment in a successful Farnborough Show, trade advertising and sponsorships, a disgruntled employee could shake the faith in its reputation with what would appear to them an anodyne, online comment.

So when Niki Court, ECEPS marketing co-ordinator, asked us to come into an internal communications session and challenge them, I knew exactly where she was coming from.  She wanted an ‘agent provocateur’.

(I had the good fortune to work at Saatchis in the 1980s where we were taught to seek opposite opinion.  Criticism is more powerful than harmony in testing creative ideas.)

Niki was leading a continuous improvement workshop and wanted an outsider’s perspective.  We served up an A0 sheet filled with pictures of exemplars to inspire the team to raise their game when communicating internally.

All were highly skilled and experienced communicators around the table.

“Kinetic helped spark interesting conversations,” said Niki.  “The session was very interactive from the start and the conversations carried on long after they’d left.  They inspired us in quite a few ways by using new/different methods of communication.

“Their thoughts on exemplars – what others companies are doing – were also reassuring because they told us that we’re doing a lot right already in terms of internal communications and promoting a values-driven culture.  They helped us put all of what we’re already doing in a clearer context and really raised the energy of the group.”

Organisations like Goodrich have all the channels ‘plumbed in’ – website, intranet, media relations, newsletters etc.  It’s the consistency of their messages that glues them all together.

Today’s top brands are congruent.  That means they look, sound and feel the same anytime, anyplace and anywhere you interact with them.

We are a world away from ‘give me six press cuttings in the local papers.’

We left the era of fluff over substance some time ago.  The Martini era is about transparency, trust and integrity.  Now content is king and conversation is the kingdom.

Marketing tips from technology business start-ups by Rebecca Sloan

I recently went to an interesting event hosted by the Chartered Institute of Marketing entitled “from concept, to innovation, to a $multi-million exit in a few years”.  The event offered some great advice on how to ensure your product/service is profitable.  Here are their top tips:

Three crucial tips to successful marketing

1)      Know your product/service – make sure you’re able to articulate what you’re selling and why it matters. You’ll know you’ve got it, once you’ve perfected your 10-second elevator sell.

2)      Know your market – the reason for developing your product or service may not be the reason why your customers will want to use it.  Check the buying and usage patterns of your clients and customers as they can provide insight into where the real value lies.

3)      Innovate and renovate, don’t hibernate! – make sure you respond to customer requests – especially in the early stages. Going the extra mile to make your customers happy will pay dividends as you will turn early-users into brand-ambassadors.  Giving them a feeling of input in the project will pay dividends as many will feel a sense of ownership and become your leading advocates.

They’re simple messages based in common sense, but it’s surprising how many companies rush into things without first fully understanding their customer-base or product/service benefits.

Taking the time to understand what you’re in business to achieve, what your unique selling point is and the ways in which you’re going to meet your objectives, makes a significant difference to the effectiveness of a brand’s communication. That’s why, when working with a PR agency (or any other contractor), it’s important that they take the time to understand these core principles.  It’s also why, at Kinetic Communications, we work with you to make sure your messages are clearly defined before we start your campaign.