Money Monster: 6 lessons I picked from the movie

George Clooney stars as Lee Gates in TriStar Pictures' MONEY MONSTER.
Lee Gates (played by George Clooney)

Money Monster was not one of the block buster movies of the summer but as a professional, the crisis communications aspect appealed to me. I saw the movie over the weekend and boy, it is pregnant with lots of lessons.

I know some of you have watched it. For those who are yet to, I won’t spoil the fun. But let me hasten to add – it is a good movie, which has the likes of George Clooney, Julia Roberts, Giancarlo Esposito to mention a few.

It takes the viewer through the twist and turns of a hostage situation, when a financial TV host Lee Gates and his producer Patty Fenn are put under extreme pressure, after an irate investor demands answer for losing so much money for an investment Lee Gates vouched for.

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For me, the major lesson i took from it was Transparency. It revealed that corporate reputation management is not only about relationship with the media but also ensuring process and event transparency as a business. As someone once noted, nothing good comes from hiding issues from the public. Allowing them to generate their own perceptions could affect the image of any issue.

Without giving too much of the story line away, let me share with you six (6) lessons I took away.

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Caitriona Balfe (Diane Lester) and Dominic West (Walt Camby) 
  • The media won’t always have your back

As a PR professional, much of our work involves establishing and maintaining relationships with the media. Often, it becomes a win-win situation. However, one thing I realized in the movie was the fact that the media will not always have your back, especially if a crisis has a human-interest angle.

As the crisis intensified, CEO for IBIS Clear Capital, Walt Camby, was nowhere to be found. So, the first person Lee Gates contacted was Diane Lester, Chief Communications Officer. As he sought to interview her, she pleaded with Lee to ‘stick to the script’ because according to her, “I am in a tough position”. The Producer for Lee’s show, Patty Fenn (played by Julia Roberts), then tells her “We don’t do “gotcha” journalism. We don’t do journalism, period”.

Later when they (she, Lee and the rest of the crew) are held hostages, they realize IBIS is playing a dodgy game and begin to investigate them.

  • In a crisis situation, ask real questions and get some real answers

Patty Fenn to Diane Lester: “You have to ask some real questions and get some real answers fast.”

This was my one of my favorite quotes. After Diane Lester had indicated that she and her company don’t know what the root cause of the glitch was, she is advised to seek some real answers. At that particular point, their CEO went AWOL and the Chief Finance Officer wanted a buffer approach regarding media engagement.

As the media sought for answers, she had to provide it and began probing. With help from Patty Fenn, she was able to unravel the mystery behind the ‘glitch’.

  • Provide answers

As a business, you might have an impressive history but during a crisis, all people want/need is A-N-S-W-E-R-S. Yes, answers. Those affected in a crisis, don’t need corporate jargons and the rhetoric. They care less about what you don’t know and more about what they have lost and should know.

In the movie, Diane Lester, is heard saying during an interview, “The truth is that we don’t know…We don’t know why the algorithm suddenly went haywire.”

That response  in a later interview irked Kyle Budwell (played by Jack O’Connell), who had invested $60,000.

  • Don’t focus on the impact of a crisis on your business

One of the cardinal sins during a crisis is to focus on the impact on your business and not the affected. In some way, you might want to court public sympathy but that approach is counterproductive.

In the movie, one of the mistakes Diane Lester made, when she was interviewed during the hostage situation was to indicate: “This has affected all of us. All our Board, our Managers, including myself. Our pensions were depleted overnight. Our savings gutted like yours”.

During a crisis, the affected are everything and it is all about them and not your business.

  • Some in-house folks don’t regard the contribution of PR

Despite PR’s contribution to the strategic direction of a business, some people still disregard its efforts. The sad thing is those who do this are often in-house.

In the movie, Chief Finance Officer of IBIS, Avery Goodloe (played by Dennis Boutsikaris) wanted Diane Lester to stop talking to the media. When she questioned him, he demeaned her contribution as Chief Communications Officer by stating; “Now you listen to me, Diane. You are a CCO. And that is all you are and that is nothing. I’ve seen a dozen girls like you come and go”.

He even threatened to fire her if she doesn’t obey his directive but she was not scared to lose her job.

  • Having a Transparency Say-Do gap can affect your business

Transparency is in vogue and a new goal for many businesses. It is a basis of ensuring legitimacy in the eyes of shareholders, employees, and the general public. When a business is open about its operations, it earns a level of trust from stakeholders.

In the case of IBIS Clear Capitial, the CEO had a good track record but what boggles the mind is why he decided to breaching the trust of his clients by committing fraud. Even when the crisis had hit his company, he discloses to the public that an algorithm managing its portfolio ‘suddenly went haywire’; when that was a blatant lie.

Despite the fact that he sought to manage the crisis by staying off the radar, his company’s Communications Officer went extraordinary lengths to find out what really happened; because in ensuring transparency, you don’t just say it. You show it.

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