There is a truism in business, and politics: it’s never the offense that gets you into trouble, it’s how you handle the aftermath. “Watergate” would not have become shorthand for corruption if the massive criminal cover up of political dirty tricks hadn’t unraveled. “Tylenol” might just have been a trivia answer had Johnson & Johnson not rebounded from the seven tragic deaths of people who took their tainted pain killers into a case study of pitch-perfect crisis management.
Apple and Google both had some explaining to do in recent days about how they collect, store and use tracking information on the smartphones which, combined, account for nearly two thirds of the market. But Sony might have an even bigger challenge on its hands.
Sometime between April 16 and 19 hackers gained access to private information about some 77 million Playstation customers, including logins, passwords, e-mail addresses, home addresses, and possibly account history and credit card information. It took Sony nearly a week to disclose this, even though it shaped up to be one of the biggest data breaches in history.
On Sunday — nearly two weeks later — the company took the first meaningful step to regain the public’s trust. It included both ritualistic and material elements. But as PR professionals will tell you, doing ritual wrong makes material unbelievable.
Sony’s quest began with a simple bow — though not from the company’s CEO, a curious decision given that humility from no less than a chief executive is usually required to turn public opinion in high-stakes damage control. In Sony’s case it is all the more odd since its CEO, Howard Stringer, is no Tony Hayward, the tone deaf BP CEO who apparently forgot that people had died in the Gulf Horizon disaster when he told an interviewer that he’d “like his life back.”