Following the sacking of BBC Radio 5 Live’s presenter Danny Baker, Charlie discusses his thoughts on the incident and the crisis management lessons to be learnt.
The sacking of Danny Baker, a presenter on BBC Radio 5 Live, caught my eye this week as it had a number of both good and bad practice crisis management elements. I thought for today’s bulletin I would discuss the crisis management lessons to be learnt.
The incident involved Danny Baker tweeting a picture of a well-dressed couple hand-in-hand with a monkey, with the caption ‘Royal baby leaves hospital’. This was not long after Harry and Megan’s first son Archie had been born. He quickly deleted the tweet, but by then it was public knowledge. When questioned by reporters over the issue he made a jokey, half-hearted apology and was subsequently sacked by the BBC the next day.
When I was young, I was taught that sex, politics and religion were not suitable subjects to be talked about down at the pub. These were the days before Brexit! For brands, whether they are corporate brands or individuals, race is a toxic issue and you want to avoid being accused of racism or being associated with an individual or action which is deemed as racist. I have talked on a previous bulletin about the efforts Starbucks went to show they are a company which would not tolerant racism.
There is a dialogue about racism in football at the moment, and this is often manifested by spectators directing monkey chants at black players. We have also discussed the H&M advert, which featured a young black child with the slogan ‘Cheeky Monkey’ on his hoodie. This led to a number of their stores being ransacked in South Africa. The introduction of a monkey in a picture or a slogan in regard to any issue involving race is immediately going to be controversial, cause upset and anger. In this case, Danny Baker posting that image with one of the royal baby’s parents being mixed race, immediately introduces a race element. I suspect he hadn’t considered how controversial the image that he tweeted actually was, and just thought he was having some fun at the expense of the royals.
We all make mistakes and we say, post and write things we later regret, or meant in a different way and didn’t realise people might find it offensive. In crisis management terms, if this does happen to you, the best way thing to do is to come out straight away and make an apology. The apology must be sincere and genuine. If this is the first time it has happened and it’s not part of a similar pattern of events, most people will give you the benefit of the doubt and believe you. In Danny Baker’s case, he didn’t do this, he came out with a half-hearted, jokey apology and claimed he didn’t really understand who he was tweeting about. We have talked a lot in previous bulletins about how giving a half-hearted apology breathes further life into the story and destroys any sympathy you had. You must be seen to be genuine, otherwise you are causing further damage to your brand and personal credibility.
I don’t know Danny Baker and I have only listened to him a few times on the radio, but his reaction to the controversy and his sacking was to hit back at the BBC by saying that the handling of the incident was a ‘masterclass of pompous faux-gravity’. To me, his reaction echoes that of Tony Haywards and his comment ‘I’d like my life back’. They are angry about the incident because it has had an impact on their lives, and they have lost something. They are not upset about the victims or the people they have affected, just that the situation is very inconvenient for them. On a previous bulletin, I discussed Equifax’s statement on their website after a data breach, which was of a similar tone. They didn’t apologise and when reading between the lines they were much more concerned about the impact on their company, than the loss of their customers’ data. It just seems to me that when certain people and organisations are confronted by wrongdoing, they are affronted and more concerned by what people are saying about them, rather than be being empathetic and understanding towards their victims and the impact the incident has had on them. Danny Baker may be one of these people.
The BBC showed good crisis management by quickly sacking him, and I suspect they have learnt a lesson from previous controversies. Good crisis management says that we should act quickly and decisively if required. Do not wait until you have a lot of public pressure to sack someone, as this will gives legs to the story and reflect badly on your organisation. If someone is sacked and the sacking is deemed to be fair then the story quickly dies, even if the individual themselves thought it was unfair and continues to complain.
What makes crisis management interesting is that we are always dealing with people, and people react differently to incidents and do not always follow the textbook response.