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How Do You Limit The Hoax Damage?


What started out as a successful coup for radio station 2Day FM has turned into their worst nightmare. Mel Greig and Michael Christian had successfully infiltrated the hospital where Kate Middleton was being treated, spoke to an unsuspecting nurse on the phone, and aired personal patient information about Middleton's condition. When that nurse, perhaps riddled with guilt for allowing this to happen, is suspected of committing suicide, the phone scam quickly turns into a public relations nightmare for the station.

"Shock Jocks" in America can gain notoriety for trying crazy stunts hoping to ride the wave of good - or bad - publicity into syndication or at least into their local newspapers. Managers want their talent to be creative but when they cross the line it can be difficult to deal with, not to mention take their focus off the main goal, which is to drive sales. The goal might be to create more interest in their show ot boost ratings, or unfortunately for the industry in general, to attack a radio competitor and steal its listeners. 

If all FCC phone-recording rules are followed the Australian incident can never happen here in the United States. That certainly doesn't mean radio stunts here in the U.S. don't go badly, with the parent company scrambling for ways to limit the damage. So what's a company to do to save its reputation in the age of social networking where everybody knows everything within seconds and thanks to Facebook and Twitter, the negative publicity can be perpetuated non-stop by anyone and everyone who wants to chime in.

We threw that question to veteran consultant Jaye Albright. Here's what Jaye had to say. "It's tempting to be flip and just say 'study everything BP's Tony Hayward did after the Deepwater Horizon oil spill and do exactly the opposite. Fortunately for me, the country format audience isn't really entertained by scams and edgy hoaxes.  Even prank phone calls must be done with great care or they can hurt more than help, so there have been almost no comparable incidents in my four decades of exposure to country radio listeners, but just because something has never happened before doesn't mean every personality and manager simply must have a "disaster" plan."

"From this distance it seems to me that 2DayFM is doing many things right.  The air personalities - Mel Greig and Michael Christian - were taken off the air almost immediately.  Their names are off the station website. Then, they were given counseling and this morning I've heard them on Australian television, the BBC and talking to other news outlets in very sympathetic and caring ways.  It would not be surprising to learn that the Sydney station's owner Austereo has hired a PR firm to manage the aftermath and quick, decisive action is exactly what must be done."

"It won't be surprising to find that the personalities, after a thorough investigation, are fired, since of course crisis communication is designed to protect and defend the brand and the company first and foremost.  But, even that must be done deliberately because if the company is perceived as being unfair to their employees, that can further damage their reputation."

"A key aspect of damage control is understanding all of the potential issues in the public mind to address in your response.  The BP lesson is to be transparent, completely open and honest.  If you're seen as covering up anything, the negative reaction will intensify."

"Even before anything bad happens, choose a spokesperson to advise and speak for you.  Have a specific damage control policy so that individual can be fast to join the conversation which now happens not just in mass media but online as well.  This requires even faster response now than ever. Create a public statement and write scripts for the very tough questions that you know will be coming.  Think long term, and in today's corporate world, that's harder than ever, which may be why Hayward seemed to just want the problem to go away in his early statements, which cost the company a lot of settlement money.  It's worth being courageous in the short term, which means you may need to do very costly things even in the medium term to restore your brand's image of trust and authenticity over the long term."

Reach out to Jaye via e-mail at

(11/18/2013 4:54:08 PM)
d8YNie Im obliged for the article. Cool.

- NY
(10/25/2013 5:05:56 AM)
WVk1TT A big thank you for your blog.Thanks Again.

- NY
(12/11/2012 7:49:39 AM)
Or...the FCC rule limiting free flow engagement has limited its ability to compete with other interactive platforms. What if this engagement occurred on ytube..facebook..or an internet blog...we would call it bullying ..

Come on...the fact hospital screwed up..and attempted to cast blame on the nurse..they are the culpable party.

(12/11/2012 7:10:38 AM)
Even as country audiences tend to be patronized by more sudsy and soppy approaches, Jaye makes the point well. That is, we (radio) have been training our audiences to have certain expectations from different genres of radio.

Indeed, even though crackpot, fraudulent, and sophomoric stunts are pulled out of the rabbit on a regular basis, the kind of cruelty with which this most recent episode has been labeled may be somewhat misplaced and certainly inaccurate.

Given the frailty of radio these days, one might not be so surprised at the desperation exhibited by programmers and performers to attract some attention.

And whoever suggested there was no such thing as "bad publicity" had their heads in entirely the wrong place.

- Ronald T. Robinson

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