What do PR Disasters and Marvel’s S.H.I.E.L.D. Have in Common?

WARNING: This short story contains spoilers if you haven’t seen Captain America: The Winter Soldier or Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. past episode 16 (and, to some extent, Iron Man 3).

That being said, even if you’re not familiar with the Marvel Cinematic Universe, I invite you to follow along. Despite its fictional nature, this short story has a takeaway that any organization – big and small – can benefit from. Can you spot it?

To set the scene, HYDRA is the terrorist organization that allied with Nazi Germany at the beginning of World War II and was defeated (and considered to be entirely eliminated) by Captain America in Captain America: The First Avenger. S.H.I.E.L.D. (a.k.a. the Strategic Homeland Intervention, Enforcement and Logistics Division) is a U.S. counter-terrorism and espionage agency that was largely hidden from public knowledge until the Battle of New York in The Avengers. Nick Fury sits at the helm as Director, and he reports to the World Security Council, a global peace and security maintaining organization. Below, Pepper Potts chronicles the fictional events that happen before, during, and following the HYDRA invasion of S.H.I.E.L.D. in Captain America: The Winter Soldier.


August 1, 2014

Dear Diary,

I’m sorry for not updating you sooner, but I think you can forgive me. I’ve been on the run. For my life.

This is the story of how we all became fugitives of both the State and HYDRA (Yes, they’re back. Again.), with our reputations tarnished and our lives in danger.

As you know, I used to be Tony Stark’s personal assistant-turned CEO-turned Head of Stark Industries. After the whole Extremis incident and Tony blew up his suits and got his arc reactor removed, things changed. Nick Fury wanted to hire me on as S.H.I.E.L.D.’s Vice-President of Public and Government Relations. I know it’s a step down from heading a corporation, but what can I say? Nick wanted me for my “exceptional people skills,” as he put it. “If you can tolerate Stark and make him look good, you can tolerate and make anything look good.”

But I never saw this coming. I don’t think I could ever make S.H.I.E.L.D. look good again.


It began as any ordinary day…

I worked remotely from Tony’s mansion (he had it rebuilt, of course). Then, suddenly, my computer screen went berserk. File after file began opening by their own accord, even the classified ones – the ones where only those with Security Level 10 have access to. Suddenly, the file for Project Insight was open right in front of me. I vaguely knew of it. Well, I didn’t know that the Helicarriers were meant to destroy people who could pose as “threats” to us! I certainly didn’t know there were HYDRA agents disguised as S.H.I.E.L.D. agents and members of the World Security Council right under our noses! Yes, the same World Security Council that oversees all of S.H.I.E.L.D.!!

Tony ran into the room, and ordered me: “We’ve got to leave. Now. We’re all in danger. HYDRA’s fully infiltrated S.H.I.E.L.D. The S.H.I.E.L.D. we know is gone, and they’re going to start coming after all of us. Well, what’re you doing?! Let’s go, woman!” He grabbed my hand and dragged me to a secret room, where he kept a helicopter that I had no idea existed. “Oh, great. Why don’t you just leave out the fact that you have a helicopter in your spare bedroom.” Secretly, I was so thankful Tony had thought, for once, to prepare ahead of time. We got in that helicopter and flew here.

“Where’s here?” you ask? Well… I’m not so sure myself. But it probably wouldn’t be wise to tell you even if I did know. The bottom line is we’re safe. For now.

I later found out that Captain America and Black Widow (Or, should I say, “Natalie Rushman”?) leaked the classified information at the Triskelion in order to expose HYDRA. They also stopped Alexander Pierce’s Project Insight – and his heart, though no one seems to know who exactly killed him.

It’s too late now!

There’s not much I can do now. The media didn’t have the best image of S.H.I.E.L.D. as is after the Battle of New York (I was working on it! Rome wasn’t built in a day.).

The HYDRA infiltration didn’t help matters. The government doesn’t want to talk, either. With all of our information leaked, there isn’t any sanctuary with them, since they pretty much renounced the legitimacy of S.H.I.E.L.D. If we approached the government, we would all be arrested. They have no understanding or distinction of HYDRA from non-HYDRA. We’re all regarded as terrorists – hence, enemies of the State – in their eyes.

So we have nowhere safe to go. We’re all just spread out, incognito, in old S.H.I.E.L.D. bunkers (I heard that’s where Agent Coulson and his team were hiding) or anyplace we could find, really.

What could have prevented this disaster? Maybe if we’d seen it coming. With all the most sophisticated technology in the world, we couldn’t have had a system in place to pick up on files and websites that mention HYDRA? We didn’t even have one person monitoring for possible infiltration? Like, say, the director? I guess we never thought they’d be sleeping in S.H.I.E.L.D. of all places, let alone resurface.

The aftermath…

If the public relations or government relations department hadn’t picked up on something disastrous in any other company, the consequences would be very serious. I mean, they might lose credibility and tarnish their brand’s name and reputation. They may lose a client. The agent in charge of that client may be fired themselves. Or the company’s stock value may decline dramatically. The company may even become bankrupt as a result. But at least they wouldn’t be running for their lives!

Welcome to S.H.I.E.L.D., I guess.

We definitely won’t make the same mistake again. We’ll keep a close eye on all of our enemies and their every move. If there could ever be a “we” again.

How can there be, with Nick Fury dead?

I need to go. I’ll fill you in again, later, when it’s safe.

Victoria “Pepper” Potts

I hope you enjoyed my twist on Pepper’s role in the HYDRA infiltration (please don’t hate me, Marvel fans). It is only a piece of fiction, but if you’re in the business of managing brands and crises, you know that the real-life consequences can be pretty dire if you miss critical information. Don’t be caught unawares like S.H.I.E.L.D.!