CommCore Blog and News

Lessons From a Prank Gone Horribly Awry

Besides morality and ethics, we at CommCore believe the tragic sudden death and apparent suicide of London hospital nurse Jacintha Saldanha contains lessons about communication that are almost too numerous to list.

Saldanha was the unwitting nurse duped over the phone earlier this week by Aussie radio personalities masquerading as the British Royal Family into helping reveal medical information about Princess Kate Middleton’s condition when she was admitted with severe morning sickness. The nurse was found dead today, and would appear to have taken her own life, likely as a result of her public humiliation.

 For the hospital:

– In today’s competitive media environment all staff interacting with any aspect of the public should be trained specifically on how to handle anycalls or e-mails they receive that fall outside of standard communication matters. It is difficult enough for Subject Matter Experts to see through electronic hoaxes; this tragedy serves to remind everyone how much more difficult it must be for unprepared line employees just doing their day-to-day job. Though more serious this time, it harkens back to when hospital staff in New Jersey got in trouble when they revealed that a well known rock start was at their hospital.

– Institutional security doesn’t end at a locked door or filing cabinet, or between the covers of a corporate crisis plan. It extends to every point of contact with the public, no matter how seemingly innocuous.

– Think of everyone who might be affected by a crisis, not just the obvious headliners. The hospital apologized publicly to the Royal Family for “inconvenience.” There was no mention of standing behind the poor woman who answered the phone and turned out to be the true victim. Whatever support or counseling the hospital may have given her, it would appear it wasn’t enough.

For the radio station:

– Just because a lawyer signs off on something clever  — as happened here — doesn’t mean it’s a good idea. In fact, cynics might argue that’s a good enough reason to think twice or more before doing it.

– Social media is a double-edged sword, and must be treated accordingly. In radio it’s an integral part of successful promotion repertoires, as it is in so many other industries. Even pulling back on its edgy online postings before the nurse’s death — as the radio hosts did after the station’s initial apology — may not be enough to stop a problem because once it’s out there virally, it’s out there for good.

– Any edgy gag affecting unsuspecting real people has the potential cause irreparable harm. Put yourself in their shoes first and imagine what it might feel like before pulling the trigger on your idea.

For the public:
– Don’t believe everything you are told or hear.

For professional communicators:
You have a responsibility to be…responsible. Funny, yes, where appropriate. Deadly funny, no.