#SonyHack: Damage Control?…Reputation Management?

Sony has been a company under siege for the past several weeks. The company suffered a severe security breach.   Compromised were employee’s social security numbers, children’s medical records, and confidential emails from Sony executives.

The emails of top Sony executives were leaked to the media. Some emails revealed how Alex Trebek threatened to leave Jeopardy. Others spoke critically of stars such as Angelina Jolie and Denzel Washington. Then there were the racially charged emails between producer, Scott Rudin and Amy Pascal, Sony’s Chairman regarding President Obama.

The breach was committed by the Guardians of Peace, believed to be connected to the North Korean government. The group and the North Korea government were protesting the Sony comedy film “The Interview” starring James Franco and Seth Rogen who are recruited by the CIA to kill North Korean leader, Kim Jong-un while doing an interview. North Korea considers the film that shows the assassination of Kim Jong-un as an act of war.   Both the Guardians of Peace and North Korea were demanding that the film be pulled. Sony insisted the film would not be pulled. Then after terroristic threats were made against movie theaters if they showed the film, the largest theater chains announced they would not be showing the film. On Wednesday, Sony announced that they were pulling “The Interview” and had no plans to the release the film.

The backlash against Sony for pulling “The Interview” has been enormous. Sony has given every sign that it caved in and appeased the repressive Stalinist North Korean regime. The security breach that Sony had suffered had garnered headlines with the leaks about Sony executives trashing major Hollywood stars but that was more an inside Hollywood crisis that required damage control within the industry. Consumer opinion for the most part, was not affected negatively or positively towards Sony because of the hacked emails. Sony even had defenders within the industry such as Brad Pitt and Aaron Sorkin over the hacked emails. With the cancellation of “The Interview” there has not been a voice raised in the company’s defense. Consumer attitudes towards Sony have been affected by the cancellation of the film and what many see as appeasement of North Korea.

So what if anything should Sony do to repair its image?

  1. Amy Pascal or another leading Sony executive needs to speak publicly and explain the company’s decision for pulling the film. When we think of Sony Entertainment we forget it is part of Sony, a Japanese company. In Japan, unlike in the United States, North Korea is seen as a clear and present threat. Missile tests by North Korea often go over Japan and it wasn’t too long ago that North Korea would snatch Japanese citizens off of Japanese beaches to be used as translators. If it was because of pressure from the parent company and fears of North Korean retaliation against Japan that needs to be explained. Whatever led to this decision Sony needs to explain fully and in detail.
  2. Announce a new release sate for “The Interview” in theaters or if the chains will not carry the film, a video release
  3. Support of various human rights campaigns that seek to bring change in North Korea.
  4. Reach out to key Hollywood talent, explain the company’s decision and ask for support.
  5. Replace the current management with a new team who vow to bring a new corporate culture to the company and vow never to allow outside forces threaten the company’s integrity.

The Sony PR crisis will play out over the next several days. For the company it could not have happened at a worst time – the slow holiday season. That is why it essential the company take immediate steps to repair its image not over the security breach (that a majority of Americans could care less about) but by what many see as appeasement of North Korea (something that disturbs a great majority of Americans). If the company doesn’t take steps at once, it will spend the start of 2015 in damage control mode.

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