All Apologies

 All Apologies

The PR Verdict: “B” (Good Show) for the Australian DJs who staged the tragic Kate Middleton prank call.

The two Australian DJs who made the prank call to Prince Edward hospital have broken their silence with an explanatory interview with Australian media. Solemn and deeply apologetic, Michael Christian and Mel Greig, the two DJs behind the Kate Middleton-related hospital prank call that led to the suicide of the nurse who put them through, say they are “incredibly sorry” for what transpired. Speaking on behalf of the pair, Christian said both were “gutted, shattered, heartbroken.”

The fourteen-minute interview covered the predictable: Whose idea was it? Was this terrible outcome ever anticipated? What was their reaction on hearing about the suicide? And what happens now? At every turn, both gave a good interview. Prank calls have been around for years, they said, and they had no idea how this could happen. The call was meant to be nothing more than a funny routine prank. And, of course, they said they were very sorry.

The interviewer asked if responsibility stops with the DJs or with management, which approved the prank before the segment aired (as did the radio station’s legal department). The answer? No one could have expected the tragic outcome. While neither DJ blamed management, both pointed out that they had not acted alone. The interview ended with confirmation from management of the radio station that it has banned any future prank calls. Might this be the end of the matter?

The PR Verdict: “B” for DJs Michael Christian and Mel Greig. A redeeming interview for the pair, and quite possibly for management.

The PR Takeaway: Take Your Lumps and Don’t Blame are the right tactics in a case such as this. This interview improved both DJs’ personal standing. By the end, it is clear that they’re stunned the prank caused the damage it did. With advertisers leaving the station in droves and the company’s share price falling, the temptation might have been to blame the radio station’s management for what happened. Instead, management might now want to thank its two employees. They avoided adding another layer of blame that would have shifted the focus from personal blame, but prolonged the crisis by looking at management’s role in the whole debacle. With this apologetic interview from the two protagonists, management might have just saved its skin.

For the full text and video excerpts of the interview, click here.


The Royal Revelation

 The Royal Revelation

The PR Verdict: “A” (PR Perfect) for Buckingham Palace.

KATE EXPECTATIONS trumpeted one headline, announcing the news fans of Britain’s royal family have been waiting to hear: Princess Kate is pregnant. Press officials for Buckingham Palace made the announcement yesterday afternoon but the royal family barely beat the media. Had they not rushed the news, the headlines might have been altogether different.

The princess’s last experience with the media came a few short months ago, when she learned that for her, there is no longer any such thing as privacy. Even sunbathing on a secluded estate is meaningless when you’re royalty, and among the most popular members of the royal family at that.

Typically, pregnancy announcements are made well after the risky first trimester; Kate is a mere 10 weeks along. In her case, the revelation was forced when she was hospitalized due to hyperemesis gravidarium, a serious type of morning sickness that can require IV fluids as no food or liquid can be kept down.

Had the media got wind of Kate’s unexplained hospitalization, or heard that she was pregnant through the inevitable loose lips, the headlines would have focused on the worst: the princess and royal heir in danger! However, the royals seized control of the situation quickly. The announcement? We’re pregnant! (And oh, by the way, Kate’s in hospital, but just as a precaution.)

The PR Verdict: “A” (PR Perfect) for the royal family for scooping the media and accentuating the positive aspect of the news.

The PR Takeaway: When revelations are inevitable, make them quickly – and to your own advantage. By making the announcement themselves, the royal family were able to focus on the aspect they wanted – the pregnancy – and not Kate’s illness. Imagine for a moment if the media had made the announcement; the sensation would have topped those topless photos. Secrets cannot be kept, but they can be controlled. How it comes out depends on the one doing the telling.

How to Stop Royal History from Repeating Itself?

 How to Stop Royal History from Repeating Itself?

The PR Verdict: “C” (Distinctly OK) for the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge. (Pictured: Left, Kate Middleton; right, Princess Diana.)

There has been much agita concerning the photos of a topless Duchess of Cambridge taking a break while on a recent private summer holiday. So far, a French and Italian magazine have each said they will publish the topless photos, as has an Irish tabloid. Taken by a lone paparazzo hiding in bushes over 1.5 km away from the pool at the estate where the couple were staying, the photos have created a groundswell of concern. Is this the beginning of history repeating itself with a whole new Diana saga?

The young Royal couple has announced they are fighting back. Unhappy about the invasion of their privacy, they are now seeking an injunction against publication and have also announced they intend to pursue charges against the as yet unknown photographer. The warning shot has been fired and the media is now on notice that the couple will defend themselves.

The PR handbook for dealing with breaches of privacy is limited, and despite legal remedies there is no silver bullet when it come to reclaiming privacy. Other than total withdrawal from public life, what else might the Royals have up their sleeves to muzzle what could become an insatiable media curiosity?

The PR Verdict: “C” (Distinctly OK) for the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge. Using the established legal rulebook makes sense but is unlikely to change the long-term narrative.

The PR Takeaway: Borrow from history to make a striking point. The ghost of Princes Diana wafts in and out of the press coverage regarding the topless photos.  By referencing Diana’s own haunted relationship with photographers, Prince William in particular could change the relationship dynamic with the media. Appealing to the public for privacy, rather than the media, is likely to meet a more receptive audience. A PR strategy that educates the public and chokes off demand for invasive press coverage may be what’s needed if legal remedies disappoint.

Can public sentiment, rather than insatiability for scandal, be used to regain celebrity privacy? Give us your PR Verdict!

Guest Column: The Trouble With Prince Harry? None At All

 Guest Column: The Trouble With Prince Harry? None At All

The PR Verdict: A (PR Perfect) for Prince Harry.

The headlines are too easy: “The Trouble With Harry.” “Dirty Harry.” Prince Harry’s escapade in Las Vegas—a strip poker game that ended with photos of a naked royal—was almost a gift to the tabloids. And yet the Crown may have a PR ace up its sleeve in Harry.

Harry has always been the heir apparent for royal scandal. As third in line for the throne, the pressure to conform to royal standards of propriety is relatively low. Need we go into his father’s anatomical declarations of love for Camilla Parker Bowles? Please, let’s not.

And yes, the young prince occasionally acts out. But this latest adventure had a curious side effect: Harry’s generation seems smitten with him. He is like his peers, caught in some NSFW (Not Suitable For Work) photos. Among Harry’s generation, fame—in any context—is gold. Sealing the turn from scandal to success was Harry’s appearance at a charity event, where he acknowledged his escapade with self-effacing humor (read about it here). Scandal averted, Harry is now the unlikely hero.

The PR Verdict: A (PR Perfect) for Prince Harry. If Buckingham Palace is smart, they’ll continue to rap Harry’s knuckles—and keep him in front of his adoring public, continuing his mother’s legacy: Could he become the People’s Prince?

The PR Takeaway: Mini-scandals can move the PR dial. After doing something naughty but harmless, a public appearance for charity and self-effacing humor are the golden tickets to winning the public’s, and the media’s, hearts. The ploy was used to excellent effect by Fred Willard in the US; days after the actor was caught with his pants down in an X-rated movie theater, he joked about the incident brilliantly on late night TV. Prince Harry should continue to do good works, which offset his occasional lad-like behavior; both bring a younger generation closer to the Crown.