Crisis PR, North Korea and Sony

One of the biggest crisis communications stories of 2014 has to be the hacking of Sony Entertainment Group and its subsequent shelving of the moving “The Interview.”

Sony, the FBI and White House have placed the blame on North Korea, which is the obvious culprit.  The DPRK said from the very beginning they would not tolerate such a movie, and they apparently have made good on their threat.

This has to be the ultimate cyber crisis PR situation.  The hackers got deep into Sony without passing through security.  They obtained and then released for the world to see thousands of confidential emails, the social security numbers of 47,000 employees, their health information and five unreleased movies as well.

With more threats on the horizon, Sony caved and gave in to the demands.  They blamed the theater owners who said they would not show the movie.  But in reality, Sony had to be relieved they had them to blame.  And why not.  They gave them permission to back out, which is the same as asking them to.

President Obama said what Sony did was a mistake.  He said they should not have given in to “cyber terrorism” or as he put it, “cyber vandalism.”  He said he would have called the theater owners and asked “what’s up.”  Of course, its easy to say that now after the movie was killed.  Nobody heard that offer during the intensity of the crisis.

This will and has cost Sony tens of millions of dollars and perhaps heads will roll.  Sony Corp. in Japan can’t be happy this happened, especially since they were worried about the movie from day one.  But more is at stake here than Sony’s bottom line or the company’s reputation.

This episode illustrates just how easy it is attack a corporate entity just by sitting in front of a computer screen.  In the pre-internet age, companies would have to beat competition by producing a better product.  Now, they can not only beat a company, they can virtually destroy it all from the comfort of their laptops.

This is such a big story because it clearly shows the vulnerability of corporations and government entities to cyber attack.  If hackers can get into Sony’s computers, they most certainly can get into government systems that control our power grids, water systems, banking systems and even our defense department.

Computers and the internet are wonderful inventions.  They have dramatically changed our lives.  But at the same time they have become our addiction.  Our reliance on our computers, tablets and smart phones makes life easier, faster and often more fun.  But at the same time, when this technology is taken away or destroyed, our lives can come crumbling down.

If there are people smart enough to hack into computer systems (and many live right here in the U.S.) there have to be people smart enough to prevent hacking.  We all know it’s not easy.  Too many safeguards to keep people out also tend to keep out people we want to hear from.  But it’s a lesson we all must learn from.

As they say, “Hollywood is the only place where your friends stab you in the front.”

Will the real Amy Pascal please stand up

High profile Sony Entertainment Pictures co-chairman Amy Pascal is just the latest example of someone who foolishly put her career on the line by writing stupid emails.

In the midst of Sony being hacked, with employees’ social security numbers, salaries and other vital information going online, the hackers also included a bunch of email exchanges.  The most juicy of which were some emails from Pascal to producer Scott Rudin in which they make fun of an event Pascal has to attend and meet President Obama.  She goes on to make “racially insensitive” remarks as the LA Times put it, or in other words, racist jokes.

When these emails hit the web, the results were predictable.  She and Rudin went into damage control, releasing statements that sound like everybody else’s statements who have done similar idiotic things.  In Pascal’s case she said, “The content of my emails to Scott were insensitive and inappropriate but are not an accurate reflection of who I am.”

In other words, someone else took control of her computer and wrote those emails because it wasn’t her.


When these things happen, executives rush to “crisis management” experts for advice and to make it all better.  These crisis management gurus (of which I am one) try their best to release statements that try to explain away the mishap and then make recommendations about actions the executive can take to prove s/he isn’t racist.

It is mind boggling that people who have achieved such high levels of success, whether in the corporate or political arenas, can be so foolish.  They put in writing — whether in confidential emails or on Twitter — comments, remarks, jokes, whatever that make people scratch their heads.  How can people who are seemingly so smart, be so stupid?

When executives look to crisis management experts to make it all go away, the experts are usually wondering what they were thinking in the first place.  If you don’t want a crisis, don’t put things private thoughts in writing.  Period.

But the real solution is if someone truly isn’t a racist, then s/he will not think racist thoughts and there will be no chance that racism will emerge in their friendly email exchanges.


The news cycle via Twitter

Since the invention of the newspaper, media outlets have always competed to be first.  Being first to break a story is everything, as was so well dramatized in the play and then movie “Front Page.”

Today, news organizations compete to be first to break a story, and when they do, they continually remind their readers, viewers or listeners that they were first.  Somehow being first means they know more about the story or they are more on the ball than their competitors.

But a major story in Los Angeles this week took the cake.

The city awoke to a huge fire of an apartment complex under construction in downtown Los Angeles.  It is (or was) a massive and controversial real estate development.  When the fire was knocked out, the Los Angeles Fire Department said they suspected arson and were investigating.

Later in the day, the fire chief held an update news conference to inform the public what he knew.  It wasn’t much, but he wanted people to know they had suspicions while investigators were combing through the ashes.

What I found fascinating is how the Los Angeles Times covered the news conference. Traditionally, reporters show up, take notes, then return to their desk to write the story.  TV and radio reporters would report from the scene after it was over.

However, in today’s “get it first” news cycle, the way The Times covered the news conference was for two Times’ reporters to tweet one liner updates while the news conference was going on.  The Times published a series of tweets along with some pictures of the scene.  The only thing faster than that would have been to cover the news conference live on TV or radio, which some may have done.

For a newspaper to disseminate one line updates via Twitter, I guess is ingenious.  But there isn’t a whole lot one can say in one sentence — even a series of disjointed sentences.  But on the other hand, The Times can claim they were first, at least among newspapers.

Something tells me this is not an isolated incident and will be used more and more.  Twitter may become our new news source with newspapers just write the wrap up.