A small but essential PR win for the Today Network

Tonight, Southern Cross Austereo made one of the key public relations plays of its prank call crisis. Judging the move purely in public relations terms, I think it is going to work.

By announcing a substantial donation – and linking it to the return of advertising to Sydney’s 2Day FM – the company reduces the likelihood of a backlash against advertisers.

In truth, the promise of donating “profits” until the end of the year is almost meaningless. How do you calculate a station’s profits on any given day?

I’m going to have a go here, but the point is, that the number almost doesn’t matter – looking at early sentiment on Facebook and Twitter, the move is turning the tide of sentiment. I’ve even spotted a fan campaign launch on Facebook for the reinstatement of the Hot 30.

Early, confused reporting helps SCA’s PR battle. I’ve already heard bulletins reporting this is from the whole company, not its Sydney station only. And others failing to differentiate between revenues and profits.

Journos – me included – never were much good with numbers.

But let’s take a look at the numbers anyway.

Last year, SCA’s metro business declared an underlying profit of $99m on revenues of about $274m. According to Commercial Radio Australia figures, the Sydney market brings in just under a third of dollars into the metro market. Assuming the split is similar for SCA, let’s guess that its Sydney operation is worth $30m profit. And let’s assume (conservatively) that this splits $20m-$10m between 2Day FM and second network Triple M.

That hypothetical $20m is the profits across a whole year. The 19 advertising days remaining of the year amounts to 5% of the year. Which comes to $1m.

But there’s another reason that this number is an entirely hypothetical one. This broadcast went out nationally. The hosts happened to be sitting in a studio in Sydney, but it went out across the whole Today Network. So if you’re going to link advertising profits to the donation, why make it from Sydney only?

But it won’t come to that. I think the PR battle has been won. SCA has calculated that a donation of $500,000 is the business cost of getting advertising back on air. And I think the public are buying it.

Of course, there are still plenty of hurdles for the company to overcome.

Not all advertisers will be keen to risk it, even to reach the Today Network’s big, young audiences. I know of at least one major advertiser which took an early decision, which hasn’t been publicised, to pull ads from across the network. I suspect they won’t be back on air soon.

But advertisers who want to be on air will know that the risk of an anti-Alan Jones style campaign backlash against them is much less.

Still to come of course are plenty of hurdles. There are lots more negative headlines to come. I’m sure that media watchdog ACMA will announce an early start to an investigation in the next few days. And the nurse’s funeral and memorial service will focus minds painfully, as will her inquest and any associated police investigation. And some time late next year, ACMA will presumably publish some findings.

And as long as nobody within the management of the company has taken responsibility for the broadcast, there’s unfinished business.

But tonight’s announcement feels like the company has taken a first step towards a return to a normal footing.

Tim Burrowes


  1. Brendon
    11 Dec 12
    10:52 pm

  2. Bit too much spin for my liking, Tim.

    Combine this with the spinfest of those interviews last night (“…I don’t think anyone could have forseen where this would go…”) and it leaves a bitter taste in a lot of mouth.

    It’s not about the money. It’ should be about a *genuine* effort at apologising for being the catalyst of an appalling outcome, rather than protecting the bottom line.

  3. Justice
    12 Dec 12
    12:12 am

  4. You are so willing to forgive these serial offenders.
    Anyone can see this is an attempt to buy public sympathy.
    Anyone can see how cynical this exercise is.
    Heads have to roll at 2Day FM, before we find out about yet another scandal.

  5. Nick
    12 Dec 12
    12:36 am

  6. Major unfinished business #1 is to admit that not getting permission to broadcast does break the code as well as offending common sense and good practice. Surely the need to get permission is all about both privacy and avoiding embarrassment / humiliation leading to unforeseen circumstances, though I’m not saying they could have foreseen such a tragic ending and I do worry about the toll this is taking on whoever the actual decision makers were.

    Let’s imagine if they had contacted the nurse, she would have likely said no, none of this would have come to light, yet alone have such tragic consequences.

    I suspect that what is more likely to happen, if SCA is lucky, will be revelations about how the nurses were treated by the hospital taking the focus off the prank itself, or other reasons that reveal why Jacintha Saldanha was so distraught, but that’s just a hunch.

    Focussing on the numbers is no bad thing. Some sections of the media are too fond of weighing up the cost of transgression against the gain, and in usual circumstances that cost is being sued for damages that are less than the revenue gained by running such pieces. Noone in the station would have predicted this tragedy, so the amount of the potential fine is the only thing that might have deterred them. This needs to be looked at too.

  7. Jason
    12 Dec 12
    8:29 am

  8. Southern Cross Austteteo still know how to spin a story.

    They say “Profit” not the word “revenue”.

    The 2Day FM license is run at a loss. The business model of SCA is that 2Day FM must win no matter what – no matter the cost. With 2Day winning in the ratings Sydney, it attracts a massive amount of agency money to prop up the SCA network nation wide.

    When I was at 2Day FM between 2001 & 2009, the 2Day FM station would make a 17 cent loss on every $1 of revenue. But WSFM would make 39 cents out of every $1.

    So, from my past experience. No profit is made. If SCA change their press release to “revenue”, it would be a different story.

    also…… Southern Cross Austereo have done a good PR job by centralizing the problem to just one station, 2Day FM. The Hot 30 goes to 40 other stations nation wide including Fox, B105, SA FM & the regionals (Star & Sea’s).

  9. Catherine White
    12 Dec 12
    10:02 am

  10. The public will perceive this latest move by Southern Cross Austereo as a cynical PR driven move. Sadly, the mismanagement of this tragedy has aggravated the situation, in which case this financial outreach really is too little too late.

    The family of the deceased, and the Australian public need more; such as appropriate jobs lost, (including decision makers) and a full and complete enquiry from the ACMA.

    NB: that Kyle Sandilands ratings are taking a hit is gratifying, but let the free fall at 2DayFM continue.

  11. Nick
    12 Dec 12
    10:15 am

  12. I’m mystified as to how you can think this is a PR victory for SCA.

    Linking the donation to the advertising profits on 19 days worth of revenue looks niggardly in the extreme, and what’s more comes across as a pretty cynical move to give the advertisers a reason to come back to the station.

    As such it’s quite likely to inspire revulsion.

  13. Nick
    12 Dec 12
    10:35 am

  14. Crunching those numbers a bit more:

    500,000 AUS$

    = Slightly shy of AUS$ 27,000 for every year Jacintha Saldanha might have expected to work up to the age of 65


    = slightly less than 0.5% of SCA’s recorded profits for the last financial year


    = approximately 4 months and 18 days of Ryan Holleran’s ANNUAL salary


    = 2 days 18 hours and 40 minutes of lost advertising revenue.

  15. Rebecca
    12 Dec 12
    10:44 am

  16. Is anyone else appalled at how the PR has been handled for this? It seems to be one mistake after another, unclear messages, and lack of contrition compouding a horrific situation. Who is running the show over there?

  17. Mick
    12 Dec 12
    1:25 pm

  18. They should close this serial offending offensive station and they can take a few more with it. This what happens when you have self governing parasite vermin. Humanity is not a consideration and death is just an issue that can be “managed” the parasite vermin way. Just wait till some of the vermin parasites get ill and need a nurse; there would be no amount of money that would “manage” that situation.

  19. Joey P
    12 Dec 12
    2:00 pm

  20. It’s interesting that while the two DJs get pillored by everyone, the fact remains that 2DAY has a process to handle these prank calls before they go to air.

    Clearly senior management along the line have been involved and have stuffed up but they’re not in the firing line. At least not in the public’s eye.

    The SCA network will not come out of this well…even though they could never foresee this. Nothing will overcome what happened with UK nurse Jacinta Saldana. But perhaps a better, more human radio culture is one result of this awful tragedy.

  21. ratsrepus
    12 Dec 12
    2:45 pm

  22. In a land where footballers are paid millions of pounds a season a 300,000 pound check for Christmas may as well be 30 pieces of silver. And will represent the same to the Family of deceased.
    In the end it won’t be the amount you send but the way you are trying to buy your way out. Holleran needs to fall on his sword. Then these guys need to make an apology in person to the family. Fly them over there tonight and do it.

  23. ratsrepus
    12 Dec 12
    2:47 pm

  24. “Sorry Seems To Be The Hardest Word”.. Especially for 2DayFM. Get your DJ’s and CEO over to the UK and get them round to the front door of the Family to say sorry in person for what part they played in this. Then talk money.

  25. BK
    12 Dec 12
    3:08 pm

  26. Boring. What happened to the 24 hour news cycle?

  27. faceless executives
    12 Dec 12
    4:29 pm

  28. ring the station and ask if the front media man actually runs the station on a daliy basis – NO he does not. Programming and legal would have green lighted the decision to run the UNAUTHORISED prank which is against the code 9.3 – check commercial radio website for the code. Some people plural at SCA who were ultimately responsible should stick up their hand or hands and cop what should come – the exit lounge

  29. Freelance Fee
    13 Dec 12
    3:54 pm

  30. ‘Damage Control’ is part of PR 101 and has excellent outcomes if done well. If not, it stirs the fire.(A few months with a coked-out star of any media will bring most PR professionals up to speed. Our PR project at Uni was ‘Shane Warne is your client. How would you protect his brand for his stakeholders? What Damage Control methods could work?)

    Professional Public Relations specialists know how to provide answers and the ‘Profit’ donation is not one of them.
    ‘Throwing money’ eg. a donation,and sending off a media release about it, is about the last resort and usualy has a very cynical response by the time it is put into place.

    Very few professional ‘Damage Control’ methods seem to be have put into place as soon as the tragedy unfolded. One of the aims in a situation such as this would have been to ensure the fallout to ‘innocent’ victims was minimised as much as possible, as soon as possible. A good PR professional doesn’t believe in ‘Hindisght’ ie: we shoulda. They cover all the bases in the right now.

    I felt the Company’s PR appeared very amateurish for a media company of this size, and ‘coulda’ avoided so much pain.

  31. James Smith
    13 Dec 12
    6:52 pm

  32. Of course it’s cynical. It’s also entirely what you’d expect from Austereo. Ever notice how it’s only the full time radio shock jocks who get into this sort of trouble? It’s never seems to be the comedians who have stood in front of an audience and understand better where the lines are. I suspect the main reason is that comics with a suitable profile can tell management to get stuffed and go back to putting on live shows if they don’t get renewed. These full time radio kids live in a bubble. The get bounced around the country to regional and secondary markets. All their friends are in radio, they are desperate to be popular and liked and ‘make it’ and their idols are people like Matt Tilley who releases prank call CDs and puts on blackface on the cover and Kyle Sandilands. The network backs these people to the hilt. Is it a wonder their staff try to emulate them?

  33. Fabfour
    13 Dec 12
    7:22 pm

  34. blood money … the family will probably refuse to take it.

  35. faceless executives
    15 Dec 12
    5:33 am

  36. Why don’t SCA name the names of the executives who approved the unauthorised recording, show them the front door, dont get 200 for passing go, and then let listeners make their judgement calls when the diaries for ratings1 2013 are in..Reckon you might see a further slide than the one across the network on tuesday