When is it smart NOT to do an interview? Lessons from Prince Andrew

November began with a row over an interview which didn’t happen but perhaps should have done, while by the middle of the month all the talk was about an interview that did happen, despite advice that it shouldn’t.   Kay Burley of Sky News gained plenty of publicity by ‘interviewing’ an empty chair on her morning show, as Conservative Party Chairman James Cleverly had failed to turn up to answer her election campaign questions.  Mr Cleverly denies he was actually  booked to appear, but whether the stunt was justified or not, he was made to look pretty stupid.  The lesson?  Let down broadcasters at your peril – make sure everyone’s clear about the arrangements, and if you say you’ll do it, do.
More recently, the fall-out from Prince Andrew’s disastrous interview with Emily Maitlis of BBC Newsnight has been endlessly chewed over.   So, when is it smart to turn up for an interview and when is it better to avoid at all costs?  Generally we advise people on our media training courses to be open with the media, and to appear where possible.  If you or your organisation are the subject of public interest, it is normally the right thing to be transparent and show how you are dealing with any tricky issues.  If you are well-prepared and have some convincing arguments, you should be able to put things into perspective where appropriate, and get across some positive points as well, particularly in a normal length 2-5 minute interview.  However an issue involving a sex scandal and the Royal Family could not be more sensitive.  Here there is far more downside than up, particularly in giving agreement to a full hour-long interview with a practised interrogator who has far more experience in front of the camera than you do. Very few individuals will ever come off well under such scrutiny, and it just fans the flames of the story.  There is a well-established Royal precedent of ‘never complain, never explain’ so the Prince could have stuck to his public denials and avoided going any further.  Emily Maitlis has previously described her interview technique as ‘flirtation, seduction, betrayal’ and that just about sums it up.
If you or your organisation are ever in trouble and you feel that there is no option but to come on and make your case, for heaven’s sake prepare better than Prince Andrew.  Be ready with your best responses to any tough questions you can possibly anticipate, and where there are victims, show genuine empathy and concern.  If you have got yourself mixed up with unsavoury characters, express your regret and convince us you have learned your lesson – if possible announce some course of action to make amends.  If you have some sound-bites ready, make sure they are likely to put you in a good light rather than making memorable but cringe-worthy statements such as ‘my tendency is to be too honourable’.  Finally, do listen to PR advice, even if you think you know better!