The marketing lessons Melissa Hopkins learned from the Optus data breach

Jason Pollock
By Jason Pollock | 28 August 2023
Nadia Cameron and Melissa Hopkins.

Just over 12 months ago, as word got out that telecommunications giant Optus had suffered a data breach affecting close to 10 million customers, Melissa Hopkins, the CMO at the time, focused her team back to a positive, customer-centric view.

"All focus was doing what was right for the customer," Hopkins told the audience in a conversation with Nadia Cameron at the ADMA Global Forum 2023.

"The brand is splashed everywhere and quite negatively; in a six week period, there was 83,000 individual articles written about Optus, the large bulk of them being negative.

"I think there was fear of what was going to happen to the business and what the impact was, but we just went back to what our brand stood for and why we existed. At the heart of what Optus was all about was connecting Australia's infrastructure; it was absolutely important that we always act with something we called optimism in action.

"As a team, the best thing we could do was to remain optimistic and calm."

Hopkins, who joined Seven West Media as chief marketing and audience officer in March of this year after six and a half years in senior marketing positions at Optus, and has also served as an advisory board member of ADMA since February 2021, said that one of the wisest things that the organisation did was split the entire business into two.

"There was a crisis response team for cyber, which probably across the entire organisation was about 150 people, and then the rest of the business were to a degree focused on business as usual," Hopkins said.

"I was in the crisis response team and what that meant was, my day job was only focused on cyber. My second-in-command became interim CMO for that period and that was incredibly important, because I think there people were concerned and worried, but we all know when there's a crisis and you get lots of people involved, they overcomplicate things often without intent, so having that really tight team was essential."

Hopkins said that for the marketing team, what was clear was one of the most important elements was going to be customer marketing.

A team of three to four people started communicating with the 9.7 million customers who were affected, with other individuals also joining the effort as support staff to handle everything from messaging to managing the website.

"We had a war room comprised of legal, call center representatives, data scientists, CBM analysts, IT and more - the only people not sitting in there were the cyber teams that were in their own space," she said.

"I was given the role of managing customer communications and any message going out to customers across any single channel.

"I ended up having the last say with what happened with a lot of marketing and comms. In the usual world, you're debating back and forth with different departments that might not agree, but the respect everyone had for every subject matter expert and everybody's role was quite extraordinary."

Hopkins said that as someone who has always championed working cross functionally, she believes that Optus would not have been able to respond in the manner that it did without those tight relationships and cross functional working.

"I had a great relationship with my head of cyber security, with my CIO, with the legal team, the customer success team, our data teams. I think that probably made it a little easier, because those relationships have already been established in the first instance, and there was deep respect for each of us and our subject matter expertise," Hopkins said.

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