It might be a tabloid sensation but does tonight’s Harry and Meghan interview have anything to teach those working in media training and corporate communications? At Communicate Media, we work with everyone from celebrities preparing to do interviews to launch films and books to law firms who might be called on to comment on an issue and hotels who want to be prepared to handle a crisis.
First, it has a huge human element. The Duchess of Sussex’s experience might be very different from anyone talking from the point of view of an organisation but human stories are an essential part of all good communication. If you’re promoting a product or defending your actions, then identifying and introducing human stories and anecdotes will help to engage your audiences. It’ll make it easier for people to relate to your comments and it’ll bring them to life.
Not only does have Meghan have a good human story but she also has an unusual human story. From what we’ve seen of trailers for the show she’s peppered her comments with anecdotes and examples.
The Duchess has been clear on her messages and knows how this will fit with her brand image.
Whether you believe her claims or not, the idea of the young woman of colour innocently entering a very conservative institution and hoping to bring with her a breath of fresh air but falling foul of snobbery and racism is a powerful narrative. David and Goliath, new versus old, a clash of cultures – it’s all great storytelling stuff. The anecdotes that we’ve heard in the leaks and trails have been very much supportive of her narrative.
Meghan has clearly chosen her interviewer carefully. Oprah Winfrey is not only TV royalty but she’s made a name for herself by asking people about their personal stories. She can be tough (ask Lance Armstrong about that) but she’s essentially a more inquisitorial interviewer, encouraging her interviewees to bare their souls.
Not only does the big interview heavily tick the topical box but the content of the allegations are topical themes. Racism, sexism and bullying have been very much in the news at the moment. Trends and underlying themes are an essential part of newsworthiness. They, and the Duchess’s allegations, also press the “trouble” button – another element of a story that makes it appeal to conventional and social media. Most of our clients are trying to avoid trouble but as we point out during our media coaching and media message development sessions, identifying a threat or risk and then providing a solution works well in a media interview.
We wrote about Prince Andrew’s decision to be interviewed by Emily Maitlis about his relationship with disgraced financier Jeffrey Epstein. It made for a great piece of car crash television, which prompted many people to ask whether a forensic, hard news presenter was the best choice from Andrew’s point of view. Clearly not.
You can’t normally choose your interviewer but during our media training courses, we always recommend that interviewees work with their Comms teams or PR advisors to ensure that they know the style of the interviewer.
What of Buckingham Palace’s response? It’s been more active, shall we say, than you would normally associate with the palace’s media operations. As we advise our clients during our crisis and issue management responses, we recommend expressing sympathy and concern. This is not the same as accepting blame, of course. We then suggest that organisations avoid getting into a tit-for-tat argument but issue a line and then stick to it.
The Palace’s announcement of an investigation into allegations of bullying was unusual but it makes good sense. We always advise organisations in these situations to make it clear that they’re taking action. An inquiry works well here as it shows that you’re doing something. However, it also means that if you’re asked for any details about any allegations by a journalist you can simply refer to the investigation and explain that you’ll have to wait until it’s complete.
Who wins in the tussle between Meghan and the Palace remains to be seen but there are some useful lessons to be taken from it by those interested in media training and corporate communications.
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