I will not say I am old, but I will admit to having grown up in a time before iPads, iPods and iCarlies. When I was a kid, personal electronics centered upon one device: the Sony Walkman. I had classic in blue, which repeatedly fell out of my backpack. It was ding’d up and scratched, but I loved it. And when my blue Walkman was ultimately rendered useless I lobbied my dad for help in financing the purchase of a Sony Outback, a rubber and plastic reinforced Walkman for the active clumsy set.
I loved all my Walkmen and Sony was king. The name wasn’t Marantz or Bang & Olufsen, to be sure, but for most of us our 'top-end' electronics brand was Sony. Brand loyalty abounded and the company grew into a many-pronged beast – electronics, gaming, music and Sony Pictures Entertainment.
It’s rather amazing to think that such a mega brand could be brought to its knees by the recent criminal hacking of Sony Pictures’ email. Until, of course, you read the emails.
Tooling on Tom Cruise is to be expected. Calling Angelina Jolie a “spoiled brat” is a one-day scandal. Hollywood is high school with Bentleys and fancy lunches. We get it. And the media surely gets that we all love a little gossip… so long as it is not our email that got hacked. But wait a minute. Gender-based pay scales for American Hustle? Yikes. And the racial exchange on President Obama? The exhaustive and blatantly racial email exchange? Unthinkable.
These highly off-putting emails are surely not representative of Sony as a whole, and we shouldn’t forget that the company is the victim of an extortive, criminal act. Nevertheless, the world has been given a look into the culture at Sony Pictures and it is understandable that some are seriously soured on the overall Sony brand. People may be inclined to consider Vizio or LG when buying their next television. Some folks will go ahead and avoid Sony films at the Box Office. And you know what? Fair enough.
In a crisis you want to keep things to a one-day story. You’ll stomach two-days and suffer three. This hacking scandal is many, many miserable days for Sony and it appears there’s more on tap. So what should Sony do?
Should it split Sony Pictures off in some fashion? No. Should it rename the business unit? No. Should it sack a few of its knucklehead employees? Quite likely. But at the end of the day the brand is going to have to ride out the storm. This requires the organisation to express genuine remorse through meaningful actions. And the path it takes should not be about PR. Every step should be based on righting the culture within the corporation for the sake of the corporation. Limit the messaging because press releases are not going to fix this.
A great brand such as Sony should not burn because cyber criminals have exposed that the company placed a few two-faced individuals in leadership positions. But Sony must accept the fact that these awful dings and scratches are its own. They are reality, and they require genuine contrition. Repair the Sony Pictures org chart, change the internal culture, and take a deep breath because this one’s going extra innings.
Rich Shea is a public relations professional based in New York City. He is also co-founder of Major League Eating, the governing body of stomach-centric sport