Equifax Breach: Crisis PR Gone Wrong

Crisis PR can make or break a company’s reputation. How the worst possible scenarios are handled by large corporations is looked at as a gateway into the company’s core morals. Recently, consumer credit reporting agency, Equifax, suffered from a large data hack, impacting about 143 million Americans. In a matter so serious, the company has a responsibility to be as clear and concise with those affected. The problem? Equifax failed to do the bare minimum, and in turn, caused a PR nightmare.

Transparency

To put it simply, corporate transparency wasn’t present in the handling of this crisis. The company waited six weeks to announce its breach, and it failed to report the number of citizens in Canada and the UK that were affected. They also failed to reach out to those who were affected directly; instead, they set up a website that wasn’t ready at the initial time it was promised. Though corporate transparency has been up for debate for a long time, this situation is a no-brainer. When handling something as serious as credit, Equifax had the innate responsibility to be as up front as possible about the issue, but instead, they remained mum and failed to keep the few promises that they offered, further breaching the trust between the company and those involved.

Leadership

Or, rather, lack thereof. Equifax’s CEO, Rick Smith, stayed quiet, only to break his silence with an op-ed through USA Today. On top of that, it’s been reported that the company hired multiple communications managers and PR agencies to solve the image crisis. Though this seems like the obvious solution, this strategy doesn’t work for multiple reasons. First of all, there’s no sense of unity between these groups; you can’t just throw people into a group and expect them to fully operate like a well-oiled machine, especially without a leader giving them clear direction. This, combined with Smith’s delayed response, makes the company’s leadership appear confused and out of control, further bewildering the public.

Social Media

The company, overall, has done poorly in terms of social media usage. In today’s age, it’s expected of most internal public relations departments to make a formal statement on social media, as this is the easiest way to reach out to a broad audience. The company released two tweets in response to the breach, which only amounts to a mere 240 characters. This isn’t nearly enough to properly inform their audience of what happened, nor is it enough to formally apologize in such a serious situation. Equifax also made headlines when their customer service inappropriately tweeted the day after they formally announced the breach:

Not only is the timing of the tweet extremely inappropriate, it makes it appear as if there is a disconnect between the differing departments within the company. Or, it simply can look as if they’re brushing off the issue as opposed to addressing it.

How to Fix It

The underlying question is, how does a corporation come back from such a nasty situation? The answer may sound simple, but it’ll be difficult from this point forward. Equifax owes it to every person affected to reach out, and help them freeze their credit, free of charge. The lack of direction and impersonal nature of the response to the crisis just made the company appear bewildered, prompting further panic from those affected. It’s not completely unfixable, but this crisis is an uphill battle for Equifax.

This blog post was written by Account Associate Jasmine Fahmy.

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