Sony Pictures: How Not to Handle a Crisis

The hacking scandal that has plagued Sony Pictures since the day before Thanksgiving has gotten out of control. Most are blaming the hackers and an organization calling itself the GOP, or Guardians of Peace. If that name is not a dead giveaway that this group is the big bad wolf in sheep's clothing, I don't know what is. Of course, hackers initiated the problem, and the GOP and others have exacerbated it, but all organizations have to deal with evil forces from time to time that are out of their control. The real problem is the way Sony Pictures executives have handled this crisis.

Reacting from a position of weakness

Rather than formulate a plan that gives its stakeholders the feeling that the company has the situation under control, Sony Pictures executives have acted like deer paralyzed by the headlights of an oncoming vehicle. They have ducked out of meetings early, avoided the media spotlight, and looked scared in just about every situation where the media has caught them. This insecure reaction has already prompted class action lawsuits from current and former employees.

The initial statements from executives appear to be focused on protecting themselves and showing concern for making disparaging remarks about President Obama and A-list talent in emails. Apologies are a necessary first step in proper crisis management protocols, but the priority order of apologies should be (1) the viewing public, (2) employees, and then (3) the President and Hollywood talent. The President and A-list stars will likely get over the disparaging remarks since they are public figures subjected to similar, or even worse, comments every day. They also know that, in Hollywood, sniping and backbiting goes with the territory. Many are just as guilty of sharing similar emails about Hollywood executives.

Limiting the scope

Once the proper apologies are forthcoming, executives should follow the next step of crisis management protocols - limit the scope of the problem. Nobody has been seriously injured, and hacking of private data has happened before to customers and employees of Target, Home Depot, Neiman Marcus and many other organizations. In those cases, there were costs and problems to be sure, but workable solutions were found to satisfy most that were involved.

More insecurity and fear has widened the scope

Rather than limit the scope and put the problem in perspective, Sony Pictures executives widened the scope and fanned the flames of fear and insecurity by cancelling the release of the movie The Interview that is at the epicenter of this media storm. How will this decision not encourage and embolden hackers and terrorists? Perhaps Rob Lowe said it best...

Sony canceling The Interview is like when Europe gave in to Hitler.

Even more amazing, executives and attorneys begged and cajoled the media to not publish any more of the hacked documents. Are they serious? Rather than have the desired effect, this is likely to encourage the media, its constituents, and hackers to look for more tantalizing information that has not been revealed. Why? It is part of nature. When an animal senses fear and weakness, it attacks. Brains are wired this way for protection.

Use the situation as an opportunity

Rather than act like victims, Sony executives would be better served if they used the enormous publicity generated by the media coverage to promote this film. That would exhibit confidence and strength rather than fear and weakness. Showing fear to hackers and terrorists is only going to embolden them to do more of the same. The best Sony Pictures can do at this point is to turn this negative event that is out of their control into a positive outcome they can control.

Develop a good plan that incorporates a workable solution

To mitigate the damage and restore confidence, Sony Pictures executives need to develop a plan so this is unlikely to reoccur. While this is easier said than done, IT solutions are available to thwart hackers. Crisis management protocols exist to protect images and minimize damage. If Sony Pictures executives do not have these skills, they should seek advice from experts that do. I wish them well since I would like to see their movies, and it is in the interest of all of us to not allow terrorists to control our lives. If they do, the good guys will lose, and that does not make for a very satisfying movie.