Crisis management for celebrities – the true story behind that Prince Andrew interview 
April 5, 2024

Crisis management for celebrities – the true story behind that Prince Andrew interview 

We regularly provide media training and crisis management for celebrities. With our media training for celebrities such as actors, writers and filmmakers, we’re helping them to get their messages across and maintain more control of an interview. We’re helping them tell the kind of stories and anecdotes that journalists are always looking for.

Prince Andrew’s disastrous interview

Crisis management for celebrities is a very different matter and two new dramatizations of Prince Andrew’s disastrous interview with Emily Maitlis on Newsnight reminds us why famous people such as politicians, actors, writers, influencers and brand ambassadors, as well as their agents and managers occasionally need advice and support. 

In case you’ve forgotten what happened in this situation, Maitlis and her producer Sam McAlister managed to persuade Prince Andrew to do an interview about his friendship with the convicted paedophile Jeffrey Epstein. He was also asked about allegations of sexual impropriety. 

Crisis communications for prominent people

What did Prince Andrew do wrong? What can other prominent people in similar positions learn from it? His first mistake, many would argue, was to do the interview at all. We’d argue that he could still have done an interview but in our crisis communications for prominent people we help their advisors to look at two essential factors.

The first is the medium – who should they be doing an interview with? Usually if a celebrity or well known figure is in trouble there will be no shortage of print and broadcast outlets keen to speak to them. 

I’m sorry

We work closely with celebrity publicists, advisors to prominent people, agents and managers to help them identify the best outlet. All of our media trainers are working journalists (operating under strict NDAs) and they’ve carried out interviews with prominent people many times and so they know what’s going on in the mind of the interviewer and their editor.

Emily Maitlis is probably one of the best interviewers working today – but that doesn’t mean that she was the right choice for Prince Andrew’s team. Identifying an interviewer who can help the interviewee is the key here. This doesn’t mean one that is soft. It means finding one that will do the kind of interview that is competent and rigorous but will allow the person being interviewed to put across their points.

And those points or the message is the second factor any publicist or PR will have to think about. As we say in our crisis communications courses for celebrities and high-profile figures – you can only have one message. There will only be one headline and one soundbite. The news bulletins will not start their report on this interview with “X did an interview today and talked about their experience of Y.” It will be something along the lines of “X has admitted that…” or “Y has revealed that….”

In the case of Prince Andrew, we would have recommended one simple message: “I’m sorry.” This would be his headline or soundbite. Note that he’s not admitting to any wrongdoing. He would explain that he was sorry for the embarrassment that he had caused the Royal Family and the country, and he was sorry for what seems to have happened to many of the young women involved in this situation. 

Crisis communications courses

As we say in our crisis communications courses for law firms, for architects’ practices and for clothing manufacturers – once you have apologised or at least expressed sympathy it’s very difficult for the journalist to go anywhere else with the story. What else can they do? Ask you to apologise or sympathise again? Contrition or at least an expression of concern also sounds natural and human to your audience. As you probably know from your experience of family, friends and colleagues, once someone has apologised or expressed sympathy it’s difficult to go on beating them up. 

The other mistake Prince Andrew made in terms of his message is to try and justify himself. It’s a natural human reaction but the simple truth is that if you as an individual or an organisation are in trouble and have done something wrong you can explain but you can’t excuse. By this we mean that you can put the situation into context, but you can’t that argue you’re actually not to blame at all. Once you’re debating with a journalist in these difficult interview situations then essentially, you’ve lost.

Did he really just say that?

Normally in our Media Training courses we’re all about helping our clients and their PR advisors to make news and to sound interesting. It’s about grabbing the headlines and gaining column inches. However, in crisis communications you want to do the opposite as it will just detract from your key message.

It’s one of the few instances when you actually want to sound boring when you’re talking to a journalist. The problem in this case is that Prince Andrew gave us some interesting and quirky facts. Here we heard that he can’t sweat (apparently) and that he’d been to a Pizza Express in Woking with his daughters but regarded it as being rather beneath his status. 

Emily Maitlis is pretty poker faced – it’s one of the things that makes her a good interviewer – but you could almost see her look of delight as she heard these remarkable comments coming from her interviewee. Did he really just say that? In our Media Training courses, by the way, we quite often ask people what they remember of the Prince Andrew interview, and these other two things that almost always spring to mind.

Being clear on that message of apology

Once you’ve decided on both the medium and the message, it’s just a case of preparation and rehearsal. In our crisis communications courses for celebrities, we’ll run through the interview time and again. Our media trainers know exactly what questions our celebrity client will be asked. Then by reviewing the interviews we can help them to develop the words and phrases that they need to get those messages across. We can identify difficult follow-up questions and recommend answers for them. We can also provide tips and techniques to help the interviewee to regain control of the interview and to get back on their key messages.

Being clear on that message of apology or at least sympathy and concern is essential. We have a range of other tips and techniques that can help celebrities, politicians, writers, actors and other prominent people to neutralise a negative story and two improve their image and persona after a difficult situation. 

It’s just a shame that Prince Andrew didn’t ask us to help him.

Crisis management for celebrities

Come and talk to us about Crisis communications and Media Training. We’d be delighted to help you.

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