Anyone who enjoys a good car crash interview should read Decca Aitkenhead’s encounter with the new boss of adult performer website OnlyFans in last weekend’s Sunday Times. The subject of media training comes up a few times, and, like many interviewers, Aitkenhead takes a dim view of it. The interviewee, Amrapali Gan, who recently took over from the site’s founder ends the interview with the words, “This has been so lovely!” even though it has been anything but.
“I don’t know which media training company coached her to sign off with a sentiment so laughably implausible, but would guess it’s the same one that told her to begin every answer to a difficult question with “So …”,’ suggests Aitkenhead. We provide media training for tech companies, social media sites and media companies, but I’m not sure that we would have advised this kind of farewell to a journalist. In fact, it tells you something interesting about this toe-curling interview that we’ll come to later.
The arrival of a new CEO following in the footsteps of a founder will always appeal to the media, and we often provide media coaching for CEOs who find themselves in this position. The fact that Gan is a young American Asian woman in charge of a website where women are primarily known as erotic performers rather than senior managers and leaders adds a twist that would appeal to a journalist. Again, we work with PR companies and in-house Comms teams to help them to ensure what works well for a journalist also works well for the person being interviewed.
As the piece explains, Gan wants to be transparent and “to clear up the confusion.” That “confusion” presumably being that OnlyFans is a pornographic website. The only problem is that, during this exchange, Gan can’t really marshal any evidence to suggest that it’s not. Aitkenhead, meanwhile, does a little bit of cursory research and finds plenty of evidence that it is precisely that.
Gan tries to dodge the question in a way that makes for a great read (or listen if she was doing this on the radio) but is doomed to failure. In our media training workshops for media companies, we advise people, as we do with all of our clients, not to try to avoid a question. We can help, though, help you answer it well and then move on.
In this case, Gan asserts: “So, we are an adult platform, meaning we’re for those 18 and over; we have very liberal content policies. So yes, we do allow adult content on the platform. And that’s something we have become known for.”
What sort of content is on OnlyFans?
After which, her interviewer naturally concludes that it is a porn site, then? Gan tries the line that she’s obviously been given: “We are an inclusive content platform. So you can subscribe to creators that may be sharing adult content or something on the spicier side. You can also subscribe to creators that might be doing yoga or race car drivers. We have over three million content creators on the platform.”
The problem is that having asserted that the site’s “creators” are not just doing porn, she has no figures or evidence to back up this assertion. As her media training provider, we would have ensured that she did have some examples or evidence if she was going to make this claim. She does give examples of individual artists who are categorised as being “SFW” or safe for work, meaning non-X-rated.
Gan goes on to give another claim that she can’t substantiate. “Safety is a buzzword for Gan — yet she doesn’t immediately know how many moderators she employs to monitor the site for anything illegal or in breach of its terms of service,” writes Aitkenhead. The site’s PR later emails her to say it employs over 1,000 moderators. Aitkenhead, having done her research, has spotted that Gan has previously claimed, “While we do use some automated technologies to help us prioritise content, ultimately everything on the site is reviewed by a human.” With a quick bit of maths, Aitkenhead reveals that, given the number of hours of video uploaded, this simply isn’t possible.
We advise people never to make claims that they can’t substantiate. Gan, her PR and media training company, should also have been ready for questions based on a BBC Newsnight investigation into OnlyFans and child pornography. Aitkenhead asks: ‘What percentage of turnover is she [Gan] spending specifically on moderating content and removing these “bad actors”? The answer: “That’s something that I am personally very passionate about. I’m not going to reveal any figures.” Given her commitment to transparency, why not? She won’t say; she just repeats: “It’s a priority for us.”’ But wasn’t this the woman who was all about transparency?
There are other examples where Gan makes assertions that she can’t support and blocks questions that she can’t answer – or would, it seems, simply prefer not to. We work with several organisations with complex messages to put across, and that face awkward questions. A crucial part of our media training for media companies and other organisations is to help them to find answers to these questions which are honest and work not just for the organisation but for the individual spokesperson.
Gan was never going to get an easy ride, but her message about change and reform is a good one for OnlyFans as a company and the media. The only problem is that it isn’t true, or to put a kinder interpretation on what Gan says; it’s just too early to make these claims. In some media training courses and message development and testing workshops, working closely, as we do, with PR companies and in-house Comms teams, we have to advise clients to hold off from doing a media interview.
Media Training London
Finally, a word about that sign-off that Aitkenhead is so scathing about (“This has been so lovely!”) when it was obviously anything but. It might work for a Californian like Gan talking to a US business publication, but with a British journalist, especially one looking for a negative story, it just isn’t right. Our verdict, overall? Great interview, terrible media training.