Every PR person or journalist loves a good global PR fail. The truth is often media is so carefully managed that we rarely see what, after the fact, looks like an apocalyptically bad idea. Even since 2016, where the rules on truthfulness in media have become somewhat lax, you can often still see the logic in someone like Trump putting blatant untruths out there.
But Prince Andrew’s interview last week was just so toe-curling excruciating for a PR person to watch. So, with Prince Andrew 8th in line to the British throne, let’s look at 8 key errors he made.
1. Doing the interview in the first place
PR people are media junkies, we love consuming media and, therefore, being able to advise our clients on what to do, and, crucially, what not to do. If your client is asked to do Bill Deadman on NBC or Panorama on the BBC, then it should start ringing bells that the “opportunity” is possibly a hatchet job. The same should’ve happened here.
2. Failing to listen to his PR’s advice
Prince Andrew had recently hired a new PR advisor. But he ignored their advice and the consultant left their jobs after less than 2 months in the job. Listen to your experts!
Tied into this is possibly the biggest element of the car crash interview – a self-confidence, bordering on arrogance, that believes you can’t fail when your side of the story is told. Prince Andrew mistakenly believed he’d come off better by facing the music. How wrong he was…
Going back to my first point – the interview simply should never have happened. Even talking to journalists who rarely concede there are times you shouldn’t speak to the media (as they, er, have to get us and our clients to speak to them!) confided it was a huge mistake. Andrew, of course, pleads his innocence and that the interview itself was a great opportunity to promote his charity work. If he believes that then he’s incredibly naïve.
5. Lawyer speak, PR advice and Sliminess
The interview itself just raised more questions than it answered. Can Prince Andrew sweat? Has he ever eaten in a popular British Pizza chain? Does he know his way to the bar in a nightclub? These bizarre peccadilloes were woven in with far more serious allegations regarding sex slaves, child abuse and knowing a convicted pedophile.
6. Choice of location for the interview
There has been speculation that the Queen mistakenly signed off on Buckingham Palace being ok to use for the interview. The reporter, Emily Mattlis, was perplexed by this choice “It was bizarre giving an interview to the Queen’s son, in Buckingham Palace with everything that does with that and having to ask the type of very personal questions that I had for him.”
One of the biggest moments of the interview happened at the end. Prince Andrew chose to describe Epstein’s behaviour as ‘unbecoming’, immediately interrogated by the reporter in a jaw dropping piece of TV history “Unbecoming? He was a convicted sex offender”. He refused to regret knowing the man and said he felt it had “almost” become a mental health issue for him. That qualifier in itself undermining that it had taken any toll on his mental health.
8. Misreading the news agenda
Timing is everything in PR. We’ve all seen great stories blown off the front page by, say, the UK’s Christmas General Election. The truth is while the Epstein scandal was generating huge column inches, it hasn’t been global news for a while. Andrew’s interview made the story overtake the UK’s General Election coverage and Trump’s impeachment inquiry – quite a feat. Journalists we spoke to this week were of the view that if he had not said anything then everything would have been politics heavy until the end of the year. Epstein as a story may have died down by 2020 at which point the US Election takes over and this story forgotten about.
Clarity’s PR Advice:
The British royals are known for a usual strategy of “never complain, never explain” – never should they have followed their own family motto than with the Epstein scandal. By choosing to give the interview Andrew added oxygen to a story that would have faded in the public imagination. A PR opportunity the Royals should’ve declined in the first place.