Analysis: Hot FM fires DJ after infidelity allegations: When personal and business mix

Hot FM has fired comedian Mohammad Shukri Mohamed Sahar from his radio presenter role after he reportedly violated the service contract. According to Harian Metro which quoted Ripple group general manager, audience and marketing Anida Mohd Tahrim, Shukri (pictured) was found to have breached the agreement terms of his contract following an internal investigation. A+M has reached out to Media Prima for more details on the exact violation. 

He was initially temporarily suspended on 24 January as part of the investigation surrounding allegations against him which were circulating online, Harian Metro said. According to Harian MetroShukri was reported to have had extramarital affairs which was later revealed the affair on Instagram. He later on sought forgiveness by proposing to his wife again on Instagram Live. Shukri, who has been hosting Hot FM's Hot Morning Gang for four years, said he accepts Hot FM's decision and Mark Adam will be taking over him for the show, Harian Metro reported. 

It is not uncommon for brands to distance themselves from their representatives when they get embroiled in a personal scandal to reduce the potential fallout on its brand image. Brands including Accenture, Gillette, AT&T and Buick were quick to drop professional golfer Tiger Woods as their brand ambassador in 2009 after his infidelities, reckless driving conviction, and sex-addition rehabilitation came to light. Likewise, Anheuser-Busch and Nike were also among the brands which distanced themselves from former road racing cyclist Lance Armstrong after doping allegations surfaced.

Archana Menon, country manager for Mutant Communications in Malaysia, said the more visible you are in an organisation, the greater the impact you have on the company’s reputation. In this case, the employee’s personal brand is closely aligned to the radio station’s brand, and his actions have consequences on brand reputation.

"At the very least this is a public perception disaster for the radio station, and it can likely cause financial damage, too, if advertisers choose to pull their commercials from the radio station," she explained.

According to her, social media has escalated to a point where the reputation of individuals, and the organisations that they are linked to, can be impacted in a matter of minutes.

Behaviour and statements, in public, have a lasting impact on reputation. It is not a one-time activity. This is something every employee must take into account prior to joining a company, and during their tenure.

Similarly, chief strategist at Be Strategic, Ashvin Anamalai, said the personal lives of public figures hold a lot of weight. Public figures have a responsibility to conduct themselves to high standards, and this is even more imperative when the audience is from a more conservative community.

In the case of Shukri, Anamalai said he not only represents the station, but also a renowned media and entertainment group in Malaysia. "So, a lot of factors such as brand equity, brand value and stakeholder relationships are always monitored very closely," he added. Based on this, Anamalai supports the station's move to distance itself from scandalous chatter. As Hot FM is amongst some of the most relevant media outlets in the country and is closely followed by consumers aged 18 to 24, any anomalies will be heavily scrutinised.

"Hot FM has built and sustained a brand over the last 15 years by entrusting the right people as representatives of the brand to millions of listeners and negative blips such as this is just bad for business. To me, the decision to distance itself was fairly straightforward," he added.

The term "cancel culture" has grown more prominent in recent times and Zeno's 2020 Strength of Purpose Study revealed that 88% of Gen Z and 85% of Millennials were more likely to act negatively towards a brand they disagreed with. The younger generation is also most likely to champion on behalf of brands with a strong purpose, with 92% of Gen Zs and 90% of Millennials indicating they would act in support of a purposeful brand.

Every brand or media outlet carries a certain set of values and beliefs and has its responsibility towards its audience or fans, Leon Tang, senior partner and COO Southeast Asia at SLPR Worldwide Group, said. When the brand does not walk the talk or at least show that it does, Tang said the risk of causing certain level of damages to the reputation of the brand "will be medium to high".

"From a PR perspective, this incident is categorised as one of the red flags in crisis communication, since the nature of business of the brand itself is a broadcast media, where majority of the listeners are youths and families aged 18 to 34 and are of Malay profiles. It definitely has a certain direct impact towards the brand’s reputation," he said. Hence, the station's decision before and after the investigation was "the needed move" from a PR perspective. 

Doing so allows the station to portray itself as a brand that takes such matters seriously and is committed to remain true to its brand values and beliefs. Most of all, Tang said it demonstrated a certain level of responsibility towards its listener.

Even though we always say personal is personal and business is strictly business, but the reality of business is personal and involved stakeholders.

"In this particular incident, I would say that the impact is direct and severe as the announcer has been considered or perceived as the face of the station. Hence, there is a high possibility that fans, listeners and third-parties might associate Shukri's actions, values and beliefs with whichever brand or firm that he represents," he explained.

Photo courtesy: Shukri's Instagram

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