The best thing that can be said about Sony Pictures Entertainment's crisis management is that it is "consistent."
From the beginning of the hacked email revelations through the moment, Sony has botched every single PR opportunity it has had to confront; a breathtaking display of consistently dumb PR.
Here's how the crisis transpired, Sony style.
· First, Sony fired its chief communications officer because the CEO's husband told her to.
CEO Amy Pascal, as we have subsequently learned from her hacked emails received an irate email from hubby Bernie Weinraub, a former New York Times reporter, demanding that she "fire your PR guy immediately," because Bernie believed Amy should have been included in some roundtable interview of studio heads.
CEO Amy, dutiful spouse that she is, sent Bernie's hot missive to Sony's head of human resources George Rose, who, obviously knowing on which side his studio bread was buttered, summarily lowered the boom on the PR man.
The sheer arrogance suggested by this little vignette alone was an indication of the "respect" with which Sony held its PR function and a harbinger of how it would deal with events to come.
· Second, of course, were the revelations of the embarrassing and hypocritical emails, themselves.
Most damning was the utter hypocrisy of well-heeled liberals, Pascal and producer Scott Rudin, making fun of President Obama's presumed preference for black movies.
For two such high profile Democratic Party funders to be exposed as hypocrites was a reputational gut punch to the perpetrators, to Sony and to the entire Hollywood liberal establishment.
· Third, when the premiere of the Sony movie, "The Interview," was threatened with anonymous violence, the company wimped out by forcing its theatre distributors, rather than itself, to make the decision to cancel the opening.
The theatres, of course, had no choice but to cancel. The last thing any theatre owner needs is another potential Aurora, Co. movie massacre. Canceling was the only wise decision the theatres could have made, given the potential safety concerns.
Besides, the movie itself wasn't exactly "Gone with the Wind." On the contrary, it was the cockamamie concoction of a 32-year-old marginal talent, Seth Rogen, who co-wrote and co-directed the disaster after being awarded a boatload of Sony money. The premise of Rogen's masterpiece was the murder of a person who is still living, North Korean boy despot, Kim Jung Un.
That Sony would give away millions to finance such a monstrously bad idea says a lot about the movie business. And when the theatre distributors were forced by Sony to pull the plug, Sony's press statement revealed much about the unctuousness of the company, "We respect and understand our partners'' decision and, of course, co0mpletely share their paramount interest n the safety of employees and theatergoers."
Talk about oily.
· Fourth, for the bargain basement price of $1,000/hour, Sony hired super lawyer David Boies to author a toothless threat to television networks, warning them not to reveal the contents of the hacked emails.
Obviously, the threat of lawsuit to air such juicy emails only inspired the new paragons of journalistic ethics – TMZ.com, Buzzfeed, Nancy Grace, et. al. – to quote even more of the salacious, sophomoric and truly stupid emails.
Boies, who obviously is a lot more competent than his meaningless letter, nonetheless accepted Sony's stipend and moved on.
· Fifth, finally, after suffering non-stop ridicule and losing hundreds of millions of dollars in the process, Sony finally called in an army of public relations consultants to clean up the mess.
And what did these geniuses recommend?
Among their first master strokes was arranging a sit down between the chastened Sony CEO and Al Sharpton; CEO Amy meets Rev. Al. If the kids from Sony thought Kim Jung Un was a snake, wait till they see what the Rev. Sharpton takes out of their well-heeled hide.
Oy. Oy. Oy.
And so, as Sony despite its apologies and threats and lawyers and public relations armada, continues to careen from one public relations catastrophe to another, what can crisis managers learn from this awful experience.
Well, one reality that should now be understood by anybody who works for a large company is that corporate email shouldn't be used for personal meanderings.
If you work at CNN or IBM or JP Morgan or wherever and you need to get stupid in an email, use your personal account, not the corporations. The updated PR rule for this is standard: "If you don't want to see your handiwork in tomorrow's New York Times or on tomorrow's TMZ, then don't write it."
That's one lesson that even the knuckleheads at Sony now understand.
Fraser P. Seitel has been a communications consultant, author and teacher for 40 years. He may be reached directly at email@example.com.