PR Crisis: Repairing Damanged Public Relations

PR Crisis: Repairing Damanged Public Relations

As Elton John and Bernie Taupin once penned in a ballad, “sorry” is the hardest word. Sony knows it; it has been doing some heavy-duty apologizing since hackers made off with personal information belonging to tens of millions of users of the PlayStation Network. Now that the PSN is back, the company has sought to make things up to its fanbase through free game offers, including LittleBigPlanet, WipeOut HD, inFamous, and others.

Some PSN users who’ve been victimized are happy enough with the offerings; others, not so much. It’s impossible to please everyone, but frankly, Sony is embroiled in a PR nightmare of epic proportions. There are some steps the company can take to ease things over with its customers, and any studio that finds itself in a similar spot of PR trouble (though hopefully not of the same magnitude) might want to keep this advice in mind, too.

Avoid Becoming Defensive: The downtime for Sony has been rough on the company as well as the PSN’s userbase, which might be why Sony chief executive Howard Stringer lost his temper with his (many) critics shortly after the PSN was restored. When Sony was criticized for not informing users about the security breach until a week after the PSN went down, Stringer fired back, “We reported in a week. You are telling me my week wasn’t fast enough?”

Stringer noted that most companies suffering a security issue never report them, and 43% of firms only notify victims within a month. That may be true, but it’s irrelevant: The victims of the PSN hacking aren’t interested in statistics from other companies, excuses, or immature flare-ups from Sony’s higher staff. It’s the corporate equivalent of ratting out a younger sibling’s unrelated antics in order to avoid taking the full brunt of a punishment for a broken cookie jar.

If users are angry over a particular matter–say, not being informed about a security breach quickly enough–then the company responsible should apologize for letting its user base down. No “but–” or “and–“. Just an apology. That’s the first step to salving the cut.

Let Consumers Vent: A generous and genuine apology might be accepted by the people wronged, but it might not–at least, not right away. Users are going to need some time to yell on message boards, and it’s probably best they have that time. We all need to let off steam when things have gone wrong.

Promise Better Communication (and Follow Up On It!): A PR disaster as big as Sony’s is a good reminder that there needs to be better communication between consumers and corporations. It doesn’t matter how quickly other companies follow up on problems (or don’t); what matters is the acknowledgment that we live in an era where credit card and identity theft are two of the likeliest crimes that families will fall victim to. People want reassurance that their information is safe. Otherwise, they’re going to be far less hesitant to make online purchases.

And, sometimes, hacking happens in spite of efforts to beef up security. In those instances, if there’s even a sliver of doubt about database security, users need to know. There will be anger, but there’s a lot more anger when word inevitably gets around about a company holding back on reporting incidents in order to save face.

Free Swag: Finally, if things have gotten especially bad, free stuff always eases the pain. Downloadable game codes are inexpensive and easy to give away.

About Nadia Oxford
Nadia is a freelance writer living in Toronto. She played her first game at four, decided games were awesome, and has maintained her position since. She writes for 1UP.com, Slide to Play, GamePro and other publications, and is About.com’s Guide to the Nintendo DS.

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