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Effective Naturally

Perspectives Blog

Topical Pondering - The Tragic Royal Prank

Rick Marton - Sunday, December 09, 2012

Every action has a consequence.

An apparently 'light-hearted' prank phone call has caused a tragic consequence. It's a prank that's about as funny as yelling out 'bomb' in an airport.

Mel Greig and Michael Christian of 2day FM didn't intend for this to happen. But it did.

The outcome has been tragic human loss and pain for the loved ones of Jacintha Saldahna. 2day FM has suffered brand damage and a huge loss in advertising revenue as a result of pulling all ads off air. It will also weigh heavily on the minds of these presenters for the rest of their lives (although their careers may weirdly so, benefit from this).

The CEO of 2day FM said that whilst this is a tragedy, these outcomes were not foreseeable. Maybe not suicide (suicide is not a simple scenario), but there would most surely be pain.

People who drink drive, never intend to kill someone. But we know that there are risks associated with that behaviour.

In this particular situation there is world wide condemnation on one side, and others saying it was just a prank on the other…

I feel something important has been missed:

This was more than a prank. A prank usually ends up in people, including the person who was pranked, having a laugh at the situation. Who out of this scenario would be laughing? This laughter and entertainment could only come at someone else's expense.

This phone call asked for people to a) risk their career by sharing private information and b) to make public the private medical conditions of a human being who is entitled to her privacy.

Up until the news of Mrs Saldanha's passing, the Royal Family acted with dignity about the 'prank' to keep the situation light out of respect for the embarrassment nurses would be feeling. The CEO of the hospital, whilst reviewing phone protocols said "I think this whole thing is pretty deplorable, our nurses are caring, professional people trained to look after patients, not to cope with journalistic trickery of this sort." Both of these parties handled it the right way.

But let's get back to the many points at which 2DayFM could have avoided this outcome.

1. They could have decided that the idea was dumb.

2. The phone call was pre-recorded, so they had a chance to decide then "what are the effects of airing this?"

3. The lawyers and producers who gave it the all clear could have advised that this might have consequences.

4. After it aired and the feedback was negative, the announcers and station could have stopped gloating about it and promoting it.

5. They apologised, but then the station continued to promote it and replay it.

6. Even after the death was announced, someone in programming should have remembered to move all reference to it, even if that meant sending someone in to the station to change the scheduling of promo spots when the station was apparently running on autopilot. the outcome of this was that a lady's voice who had since died was still playing as a promotion. 

Station management had the chance to ask themselves "are we risking this nurses career and would we want our medical conditions shared with the world?" At each step they decided that publicity was more important.

This is why there's a difference between a prank and blatant disregard for others. The stupidity has gone to the core of the entire station, not just the two presenters.

Amongst this, and remembering I write about brand, there was a smart strategic move made by management that will likely minimise the damage to advertising revenues in the medium term.

2day FM pulled all advertising before any more advertisers felt they had to distance themselves after Telstra and Coles pulled their schedules. This was a smart strategic move because it saved the domino effect of falling advertisers that was allegedly about to continue with Woolworths and Optus. By proactively removing all advertising, this saved their clients being put in the tough position of publicly distancing themselves from the station, which makes it easier for them to return when things 'blow over'. Assuming it does.

I find it hard not to be angry, but blame won't help the situation. We cannot cause further pain to the presenters who are no doubt, as any human would be, crushed by the ramifications of their actions. I hope the many people responsible look at every step of this tragedy and dig deep in to their hearts.

Rather than anger, I have a fear. 

As a human race have we forgotten about respect for each other? 

This tragic story gives all of us something to ponder and a lesson that none of us should ever forget...

Every action we take has an effect on someone or something. Brands (especially consumer brands) need to take responsibility for their actions and act with a moral conscience. As individuals we must ask ourselves at that moment we go to do something "would I want this done to me and what are the potential outcomes?"

If there is anything positive to come from Mrs Saldanha's passing, it's the opportunity to remind ourselves that thoughtlessness and disregard for consequences often leaves pain for the victims and the instigators.