I don’t think that anyone at Sony Pictures ever conceived that their $40 million film “The Interview” would be derailed by a cyber-attack from North Korea. I would guess no one said, “We better be careful or our executives’ email will be hacked and internal gossip will become fodder for the media.” I bet no one thought that the cyber threats would spread to the movie theater operators, who decided that fear and caution should preempt the showing of this particular film. And they didn’t anticipate that Barack Obama, George Clooney and others would be publicly critical of SONY’s decision to kill its release.
I wonder if some savvy public relations person was at the table at Sony when it was first decided to produce “The Interview.” Would she or he have thought to present a “what-if” by saying, “You, know, if you release this comedy, you risk raising the anger of the North Korean dictator on which it’s based. He’ll sic his best hackers on us and wreak havoc on our holiday season?” Again, I doubt that this possibility was in anyone’s mind.
PR professionals are often the conscience of an organization, sitting at the table when business decisions are made that may have deeper public ramifications. They also try to anticipate “most likely” crisis scenarios so management can be ready to act if something bad happens. For example, a manufacturer would plan for a product defect, a bank would be prepared for a security breach, and an airline would have contingencies in place in the event of an accident.
Preparation means identifying potential problems, having a method for reaching internal and external publics, identify decision-makers and spokespersons, and have a communication plan ready. In the case of “The Interview”, however, Sony Pictures may have produced the crisis unwittingly.
It’s an important sidebar to our lessons in crisis management. Sometimes, no amount of foresight will help to predict a crisis. Now Sony faces a $40 million loss and an ongoing debate over its post-threat decision-making. I wonder what they’ll do next–or if they even have a plan. Your thoughts?