Prince Andrew lessons for clients
Thorne1983 / CC-BY-SA-3.0
Often our clients and their projects attract angry criticism, often aggressive, almost always unwarranted. There is usually pressure (often from in-house PR teams) to comment, to be interviewed, to put the record straight. Mostly DI’s advice is: ‘just like drugs, children, we just say no’. And Prince Andrew has given us a wonderful case study in why commenting is often the wrong strategy, as it usually just ‘feeds the beast’.
HRH’s thinking would have gone something like this: ‘I’ve done nothing wrong (his view). Why should I therefore be scared to face into this and just tell the truth? Outrageous untruths are being said about me and not being challenged. My reputation is being trashed. I should put the record straight. Reasonable people will hear my reasonable arguments and will think reasonably of me’.
Understandably we sometimes have clients with this mindset and it springs from three key misunderstandings:
First, the media are just not interested in the truth. They are interested in headlines – the more salacious the better – because they sell papers, generate viewers and increase clicks.
Second, one’s opponents aren’t interested in the truth either. They just want to damage you further and fuel their campaign. One of the best ways for them to do that is to pick apart your own words and weaponize them against you.
And third, the overwhelming percentage of people never read or hear your actual words, they only read or hear journalists’ commentary on what other journalists have said you may (or may not) have actually said.
So on all three tests, Prince Andrew was doomed to failure.
In simple terms, there are only usually two occasions that require public comment: when we have an announcement and want to control when/how that is made public, and when we want to correct something which has been said about us which is just plain wrong and could be damaging if it is allowed to gain traction.
If we do speak out, then we must have a clear message. But that was another area where Prince Andrew went so tragically wrong. He should have shown empathy for Epstein’s victims and condemned and disowned his former friend. Instead his key message seemed to be ‘not me guv’.
There are lessons here for all those engaged in managing the comms around contentious development projects.
We have been asked by several clients to give a presentation in the New Year on the ‘post General Election political landscape’. If this is something that would be useful for your team, please get in touch.