In November of 2014, Sony Picture Studios were victims of a cyber attack by a hacker group who called themselves “Guardians of Peace” over Seth Rogan and Evan Goldberg’s film, The Interview, a film presenting the comical satire of the CIA assassinating North Korean President, Kim Jong-un. This cyber attack included the hacking of computer systems at Sony, leakage of pre-released movies, employee’s personal information, and emails from Amy Pascal and Scott Rudin.
In December of 2014, the GOP demanded that Sony cancel the release of The Interview and posed threats of terrorist attacks at any cinemas that showed the film. Following this, U.S. cinema chains made the decision to pull the screening of the film and because of that, Sony decided to cancel the formal premiere of the movie.
These cyber attacks cost Sony a whopping 15 million dollars and before you begin to sympathize with the company, let’s realize that this is less than half of what they earned on the movie, The Interview. At the end of all of this, reporters announced that Amy Pascal would step down as co-chairman of Sony Pictures entertainment. Which was definitely the right move considering how this situation has been analyzed by a PR standpoint. I will be using THINK public relations text in order to create a break down and analysis of the crisis management tactics used by Sony Pictures during this crisis.
(Disclaimer: In my own opinion, Sony did NOT know how to properly handle this crisis)
Proper Conflict Management tactics are made up of the “Life Cycle” which can be defined as phases that include: the proactive phase, the strategic phase, the reactive phase, and the recovery phase. I plan to delve into each of these stages to represent what NOT to do and what should have been done, using real-world examples from the 2014 Sony hack.
The Proactive Phase
During the proactive phase is when all of the preparation is being done. Companies should have PR and crisis communication experts on hand at all times to prepare for any unexpected crises like the one talked about above. In this situation, Sony was the absolute opposite of prepared, which is a surprise considering they have been involved in many crises in the past. According to Ira Kalb, “Sony Pictures executives have acted like deer paralyzed by the headlights of an oncoming vehicle.” He then goes on to say, “They have ducked out of meetings, avoided media spotlight, and looked scared in every situation where media has caught them” (Kalb, 2014. Para. 2). To get to the point, Sony pretty much disregarded this stage all together which is clearly a foreshadow for how the rest of this is going to go.
The Strategic Phase
This is the second step in the crisis management plan. Sony did in fact complete the “risk communication” stage of this phase by canceling the premiere of the film in all theaters, but they did it in an improper way. By canceling the release of The Interview in the middle of this media storm, the flames of fear were just being fed. Take it from Rob Lowe who stated, “Sony canceling The Interview is like when Europe gave in to Hitler” according to an article on business insider. Addressing the conflict positioning stage of this phase, Sony backtracked because instead of taking steps to keep their business from being damaged and stand up to admit to what they did, they continuously begged the media to stop publishing leaked files and documents. This only encouraged the media to look for more information that hadn’t been revealed. Another example of this was during the Golden Globe Awards when Amy Pascal made it a point to request that hosts, Amy Pohler and Tina Fey lay off of the hack and warned them about making jokes. Fey and Pohler made jokes anyways and because of this, the CAA asked its own clients to not attend the hosts after party (A break down and analysis of 2014 Sony Hack, 2014.). Later in this phase a specific crisis management plan should be developed. In the case of Sony, they developed some sort of plan to apologize but did it completely wrong according to the opinion of Ira Kalb. Which brings us to the next phase-
The Reactive Phase
This is the third phase in the cycle, one that begins with crisis communication, which includes meeting the needs of the publics, AKA apologies. Kalb states that apologies are a necessary first step in proper crisis management protocols, but that the priority of apologies should be: 1) The viewing public, 2) employees, and then 3) the president and Hollywood talent. He backs up his reasoning for this by continuing with, “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 everyday” (Kalb, 2014. Para. 3). Whereas here, Sony apologized to President Obama for insensitive emails, Angelina Jolie for rude emails, and didn’t prioritize an apology to the public for causing chaos and fear to citizens due to threats of a terrorist attack. I would call this the, say-nothing approach.
The Recovery Phase
Last but not least, we have made it to the final stage in the conflict management cycle. This is where the organization employs strategies to repair their reputation. Sony did not really have to worry about this stage or their reputation because even after all of this, people still paid to see the film, the cost of damage from this crisis was less than half of their earnings on this single movie, and they are a big enough corporation that a crisis like this wont do much to hurt their image. Take it from Pascal herself who says, “Believe me, this will not be our last mistake” (Zetchik, 2014. Para. 18). Well it sure was not their first mistake and I do not doubt Pascal’s words, it probably is not their last, crises like this happen all the time to huge corporations.
A Breakdown and Analysis of the December, 2014 Sony Hack. (n.d.). Retrieved February 15, 2017, from https://www.riskbasedsecurity.com/2014/12/a-breakdown-and-analysis-of-the-december-2014-sony-hack/
Kalb, I. (2014, December 18). Sony Pictures: How Not to Handle a Crisis. Retrieved February 15, 2017, from http://www.huffingtonpost.com/ira-kalb/sony-pictures-how-not-to-_b_6351620.html
Robb, D. (2014, December 24). Sony Hack: A Timeline. Retrieved February 15, 2017, from http://deadline.com/2014/12/sony-hack-timeline-any-pascal-the-interview-north-korea-1201325501/
Zeitchik, S. (2014, Dec 18). ANALYSIS; SONY HACKING CONTROVERSY; bold approach has led to greatness and gaffes. Los Angeles Times Retrieved from http://search.proquest.com.ezproxy.gvsu.edu/docview/1637378445?accountid=39473