If you had suggested at the outset of 2014 that two guys who got their start on Freaks and Geeks would set off an international incident, most people would have thought you were nuts.
But here we are. As 2014 comes to a close, it's starting to look like one of the biggest stories of the year is going to be the now infamous Sony Hack, which saw a group of hackers illegally access and pillage the computer systems of Sony Pictures.
The hack has resulted in a series of public relations embarrassments for Sony as the hackers have posted everything from the e-mails of senior executives disparaging Hollywood actors and President Obama, to production road maps, draft scripts and employee medical records.
The hack was allegedly perpetrated by a group upset over the new Seth Rogen and James Franco movie, The Interview, in which the two actors travel to North Korea to assassinate the country's leader, Kim Jong-Un. While the FBI has alleged that North Korea was behind the attacks, there are some experts in the cyber security community who have their doubts.
Regardless of who was ultimately behind the hack, Sony's handling of the attack and the ensuing PR fallout leaves much to be desired.
If 2014 taught us anything, it's that corporate world now lives in a brave new digital reality, where cyber attacks and hacking scandals are now a fact of life.
According to McAfee Labs 2015 Threat Predictions, cyber attacks will grow in frequency and range in 2015, and some experts believe 2015 could be the year a major company goes out of business because it failed to adequately prepare for a cyber attack.
Indeed, how your brand prepares for this new age of corporate cyberterrorism could define your business.
The way Sony handled this attack will have lingering ripple effects for years.
The company has come under fire for its handling of the scandal, especially its decision not to release The Interview on Christmas Day as planned. After the hackers threatened violence against theatres that opted to show the movie, many chains decided to pull the movie, which resulted in Sony mothballing the movie. The company has since announced a limited theatrical release for the comedy.
While some observers believed this was the only option in this situation, others have criticized the decision, viewing Sony's lack of leadership as tantamount to 'letting the terrorists win.'
Sony's real misstep has less to do with its decision to pull – and then subsequently green light – the movie, and more about their lack of leadership in place to handle this kind of situation. The strategy – or rather, lack thereof – conveyed little confidence or resilience to the public.
Sony CEO Michael Lynton has taken fire from all sides, including from President Obama, for the lack of communication around the decision to cancel The Interview 's theatre run. Crisis communications is not a new theory. And yet, Sony continues to fail in its attempts to get in front of the scandal. When dealing with a crisis it is so important that you act quickly and from the top. Even if you don't have all the facts it is important to get out early with a statement and keep everyone apprised of developments as they happen. Transparency, leadership and constant communication is critical.
Sony continues to play the victim card, but executives at the company only have themselves to blame for not clearly communicating the reasons for their decisions to the public and holding strong to that strategy.
Snapchat CEO, Evan Spiegel, had the right strategy in mind when he took a stand and demonstrated leadership in the face of scandal. In a case of collateral damage from the Sony Hack, confidential Snapchat plans and e-mail conversations were leaked to the public.
However, Spiegel showed true leadership by writing a letter to his employees which he later shared with the public. His letter was sympathetic, strong and empowering, vowing that the unplanned disclosure of sensitive corporate information would not change the company's trajectory or strategy.
The letter encapsulated the brand promise and demonstrated resiliency in the face of such an attack. Had Sony been even half as authoritative in their communications, they could have earned a much more positive public opinion.
As we venture into 2015, the unfortunate reality is that this type of situation will only become more common. The Sony Hack will likely live on for years to come as a prime example of how easy it can be to lose control of a situation and how damaging it can be if not handled correctly.
Mia Pearson is the co-founder of North Strategic. She has more than two decades of experience in creating and growing communications agencies, and her experience spans many sectors, including financial, technology, consumer and lifestyle.