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Harmless Prankster or Vicious Bully: Managing Your Business in a Crisis

Earlier this month, 2Day FM presenters, Melissa Grieg and Michael Christian made a prank call to a nurse at King Edward VII Hospital pretending to be members of the Royal Family. What happened next was publicised in news outlets and social media platforms worldwide (if you aren’t aware of the story, click here for a run-down). Opinions were divided, but everyone can agree that this has reinforced the need for businesses to have procedures in place and expert advisors to refer to in situations like this.

At IOPR, this tragic situation made us ponder on the origins of prank calls and their significance in society. Prank calls have been around for generations, the first recording dates back to 1960 and this isn’t the first time the Royal Family has been targeted – in the 1990s, Canadian DJs fooled Queen Elizabeth II into thinking she was recording a speech for the 1995 Quebec Referendum.

Prank calls became more popular as access to the internet grew, with people able to share and record quickly and simply. There is even an entire web-based radio station devoted to prank calls, broadcasting them to over 5 million people.

Now, these calls can be a dangerous form of bullying, and can quickly escalate to a global scale with the internet and social media.

Where should the line be drawn?

Although prank calling has been a part of our culture, there are obvious dangers when it comes to the public broadcast – especially when an unsuspecting member of the public is left embarrassed or shamed – and there have never really been any measures or legislation passed to offer victim protection. Instead common sense and crisis management/public relations teams have managed to keep potential disasters from occurring.
One consideration when prank calling is to anticipate every possible outcome and have steps to take when a new direction in the call is taken. Whether the instruction be to disconnect the call at the point that any ethical lines could be considered blurred, or whether it be that recordings are discarded and not to be shared with the public, if jobs, reputations or relationships become compromised.

Understanding the risks and the implications of a prank call are also essential. In the recent case of 2Day FM, we saw a worst-case scenario example of the lives that can be ruined from a simple stunt that was originally recorded as light-hearted entertainment.

Most of us can remember back to pre-teen days of prank calling – whether it was dialling the number of your crush and quickly hanging up when they answered, or calling relatives and attempting a <really awful> accent – and of, course the consequences and responsibility for prank calling was far less back then.
Having the tools and procedures to pre-empt and then manage potential situations are now more important than ever to protect the image and reputation of organisations. The pace of backlash is just too quick to procrastinate on next steps; but it begs the question – do you have a crisis/issues management policy and plan in place?

For more information on how to deal with a potential crisis, please don’t hesitate to contact us.
– InsideOut PR

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