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



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