I remember my mum saying to me when I was a kid that she wasn’t keen on one of my mates ‘because he doesn’t look you in the eye when he’s talking to you’.
For good or ill, I’ve often taken on board what she said particularly when meeting someone for the first time.
The way in which we communicate – the agreed sets of behaviour, the language that we use, the way we give eye contact and use hand gestures are so much part of our daily life that we seldom stop to think about it.
Watching the tv interview which Prince Andrew gave to Emily Maitlis on BBC Newsnight brought back some of those childhood do’s and don’ts as the prince struggled to protect his reputation in an unconvincing and uncomfortable interview with one of the sharpest interviewers around.
I wonder what his mum thought of it?
How should he have conducted himself?
Many words have already been written about whether he should have agreed to the interview in the first place. If the main purpose was to clear his name from the Epstein saga then most of his critics seem to have concluded that he failed and failed badly.
If he was media-coached, then either a) he didn’t take on board what he was advised or b) the coach wasn’t very good at his/her job.
If the former, it illustrates a problem that’s true of some CEOs and politicians never mind royals.
Why ? Because if they think they know better than you then they’re probably not going to take on board what you say.
During the training sessions the person being coached will need to be able to take direct criticism of their performance even though they may be much more used to dishing out stick than receiving it.
Consistency is the key
Andrew started the interview by trying to establish distance between himself and Jeffrey Epstein – “It’s a stretch to say we were close friends” and he was “not a very, very close friend.”
Yet in the same interview he seemed to contradict himself by admitting that “I had to go and see him and talk to him” in person after deciding to end the “friendship” when Epstein was released from jail following his 2008 arrest on prostitution charges.
Arguably that sounds like a pretty ‘close’ relationship’.
Rigorous interview coaching would normally iron out such inconsistencies and adopt a more consistent narrative.
A new crisis?
As the pressure mounted the prince started to make more blunders by justifying his association with Epstein, referring to its “seriously beneficial aspects”, and calling the paedophile’s behaviour ‘unbecoming’, in what surely has to be one of the most extreme examples of British understatement ever, worthy of Monty Python if it wasn’t such a serious issue.
To be quickly followed by ‘I’m sorry, I’m being polite.”
Andrew is NOT used to being regularly interviewed on tv let alone grilled by someone as sharp as Emily Maitlis. It’s difficult to disagree with the former Palace PR boss Dicky Arbiter who told the Daily Mail, “If it was done as a means of crisis management, then all they have done is manage to create a new crisis.”
As the interview progressed what little control he’d exercised began to fall apart as he increasingly lost eye contact with Maitlis, began to ramble and his hands began to take on a life of their own reflecting his inability to give clear, consistent and persuasive answers.
Pity, Praise and Promise
One of the enduring clichés of Crisis Communications UK is the mantra often relayed to individuals whose companies are going through a crisis – Pity, Praise and Promise.
An invented (but realistic) example following a crisis might be —-“First of all I’d like to send out or deepest sympathy to the victims of this tragedy, and thank the emergency services for the wonderful job they’ve done. And I can guarantee as CEO that I’ll work night and day to get to the bottom of how this happened and ensure it never happens again.”
In many crisis situations an individual may need to use all three but this case warranted just one, PITY. Yet during the interview Andrew showed not a whisper of empathy never mind pity with Epstein’s victims.
This coupled with the other blunders contributed to the view that the interview failed to achieve what his advisors had presumably anticipated.
Whether he will be doing any more media interviews in the short to medium term future must surely be in doubt.
And even if he does will he listen to and take on board the advice of his coach?
I think it might be some time before we find out.