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A reputation management pro on Prince Andrew’s Newsnight interview

Prince Andrew reputation management

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Prince Andrew’s damaged reputation

The damage Prince Andrew has inflicted on his own reputation with his Newsnight interview is a story that will play out for some time. Reputation management expert Fiona Fenwick discusses the fall-out from the prince’s interview with journalist Emily Maitlis, and what could have been done to produce very different results.

This short episode is from a long interview Fiona had with host Sheelagh Caygill about reputation management, crisis communications, and her book, Stand Out and Step Up, A Reputation Toolkit For Life. The full episode will be released in coming weeks.

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Prince Andrew’s Newsnight Interview

Additional podcasts with Fiona Fenwick: Managing Your Reputation – Your Most Important Asset, and How to Become An Influential Communicator

Prince Andrew’s Newsnight interview podcast transcript

Sheelagh: Hello listeners. In this episode of the Communicate Influence podcast, II talk to Fiona Fenwick about Prince. Andrew’s Newsnight interview. Fiona is a reputation management expert and has worked with brands, sports teams, organizations, and individuals to help them manage and improve their reputations. Fiona’s also author of the book Stand Out and Step Up: A Reputation Toolkit For Life.

Today on the communicate influence podcast. We’re lucky enough to have a guest Fiona Fenwick, who is a reputation expert based in New Zealand, to explore a very current issue that lots of people are curious about but particularly those in public relations and crisis Communications, and that’s the issue of prince Andrew and his tarnished reputation.

Fiona, thanks very much for joining this episode on such short notice.

If you’re in trouble, hire the best reputation manager you can afford

Fiona: I’m absolutely delighted, Sheelagh. Thank you so much for including me and I’ll be thrilled to share some insights into this quite extraordinary situation. I’m sure like me Sheelagh you know, you look at situations like that and say:

Surely people in those situations who must be able to afford the best, they must be able to recruit the best. They must have the right people there and then a situation like this occurs and you go “How on Earth did that decision happen?”

I wrote a blog last week on it because it just kept coming to my mind after hearing this whole debacle unfold was that whole Hans Christian Andersen fable The Emperor’s New Clothes.

Sometimes people in certain roles just cannot get the feedback, the knowledge that they need. Now, it could be their own doing because they may just appoint people who will just tell them what they want to hear.

Living in an echo chamber?

We all know that now through the whole sound echo piece of work that’s going on that we, you know, we listen to media that we like that agrees with us. And you know, we may be recruit people who are mirrors of our self and tell us things and they don’t disagree with us. But frankly, I would want a person in the room who was going to disagree with me if required was given permission to do that.

Sure, I’d want them to do it in a respectful way. Nobody wants to be around a pain in the neck. But you need somebody who’s going to challenge you. You think with that Prince Andrew situation, I think frankly there wasn’t enough maybe nouse or challenge or connectivity to the real world for that to ever have ended well from that situation.

Sheelagh: Mmm, now didn’t Prince Andrew’s PR manager or aid or assistant or whatever they’re called leave right before the interview?

No clarity around Prince Andrew’s situation

Fiona: Well my understanding, you could could be correct (and this is fascinating in itself – we’re gleaning all this information from the snippets that we’re being fed) and therefore we’re being manipulated into a way of thinking

What I read was that she actually left the role after the interview and was an advocate for the interview being done.

But you know what? The fact that there is no clarity around that just demonstrates again that there just isn’t a clear communication flow.

But my understanding from what I’ve read is that she was instrumental in that decision happening, but then was swiftly removed or left after the interview happened. And I think to be honest probably the that was the right call. But really I personally don’t think that that was the best advice to to do the interview, and I think that’s putting it mildly.

Entering a dangerous situation with a tarnished reputation

Sheelagh: Let’s take a little bit deeper into that Fiona. I mean, Prince. Andrew’s reputation was already tarnished before he gave that interview. There was his friendship with Epstein and you know his reputation for partying and being a bit of a womanizer. So in terms of the interview, it was just kind of the nail in the coffin. Now, what what would you have done in that situation? Would you have advised that he do an interview and deliver a completely different message? That’s that’s a tough situation for a PR advisor to be in. What’s your take on that?

The kind of crisis role a public relations pro can excel at and relish

Fiona: I think you’re absolutely right. It is absolutely a tough position. But I think if you if you relish the role that you’re in those are the situations you really want to be involved with. I can look back on my career just as a side note and say “It was those tough ones. It was those really gnarly, to the bone critical, crisis situations that were the high points of my career.

So I think anyone in the PR space who really, really wants to to feel they have achieved and been a finger on the pulse and been at the the coalface, really wants to be involved in those situations. So that’s just an aside.

What would I have done? I think just just rolling back a little bit one thing that’s occurred to me since the even since I wrote my blog last week was again, we see these situations from a very luxurious point of View we’re seeing them from outside. We have limited knowledge, but we’re still able to form strong opinions and views.

Prince Andrew under immense pressure

And that is the way of the world. I believe Prince Andrew over the last maybe six to 12 months has been living under immense pressure him and his team. I would have loved to have been a fly on the wall because there would have been day to day 24/7 pressure around the whole aspect of the relationship with Epstein, what may happen, what may come out in the media , and what and there and also media scrutiny.

So they’ve been under intense pressure now, we don’t see that when we’re picking up the headlines or on our phones and seeing stuff. We’re just seeing the story as its unfolding. So one thing in terms of mitigation looking at the situation, it may be they felt there was just nowhere else to go because they were under such intense scrutiny that they felt “Frankly were getting much scrutiny, and this is so this is so intense, and we’re under such each such constant barrage from the media we need to do something!”.

Pressure and scrutiny could have forced Prince Andrew to do a media interview

And therefore that might have pushed him over the edge of doing the interview, right? So us looking as professionals looking in going that’s just crazy. It’s very easy to do that as I say when you haven’t had that kind of pressure on you.

However, however, that’s a slight mitigation certainly isn’t a mitigating factor. It’s just a slight thing. I’ve thought about over the last few days when I’m being compassionate.

Looking at it, when you sit down with someone. In a situation or an organization that’s in a situation that something has gone wrong . . . the wheel has come off. Something is either, they’ve transgressed, there’s something illegal, or a brand impact on reputation, there’s a problem.

How a reputation manager can handle the Prince Andrew situation

You sit down with the person who basically makes the decisions and I’m talking at the highest level. You don’t sit down talking to you know, a person who knows them or a person who’s going to speak on their behalf.

You sit down. And and you talk to that person and you discuss it and you get honesty. Now, for me, a big flag is if you don’t get to sit down with that person who is basically the key decision maker or the team of key decision-makers, if you’re not getting into that space then I wouldn’t touch it. Because you’re never going to know if you’re getting the true story.

I need to see the colour of the eyes of the person who is in that situation to hear them. And if I feel- even if they have done something that is wrong – if you hear them and you feel that they want to go a certain way either by apology, or by making it right or doing something to to help the situation, then you need to know as an advisor that there is a trust there and there’s an honesty there.

Trust and honesty essential for reputation management advisors

If there’s a trust and honesty, you can start working away through any situation. And I’ve worked with some Sheelagh that have been pretty bad. But the at the end of the day the reputation of the individual or organization has actually been stronger and more positive than it was before the situation started.

Now that’s kind of hard to believe, but I’m sure we can all think of situations in our own and personal situations or from our you know, things that impact things impacting on the global stage, of people who maybe have done something wrong but of Hold it well, and therefore they have actually enhanced their position or their brand or whatever afterwards.

Now, pulling it back to prince Andrew as you asked. If I had sat down (and I thought about this) if I had sat down had been the person that had been asked to to see what could be done to to manage this situation, it would be down to absolute honesty. And that is “What are we dealing with here? Or what are the key the key issues that are being asked about?”

BBC Newsnight interview with Andrew not that hard-hitting

And if there was an honest answer to those then there is a way of communicating that so during that interview (and everybody talks about it being, you know, forensic and hard-hitting, and deep into it) I’ve got the greatest respect for the interviewer, but I actually don’t think it was that hard hitting to be honest.

I think it was a platform for him to choose how he was going to manage this. Now to be honest Sheelagh,

An authentic and genuine apology and approach needed.

I would have thought a situation where he said expressed deepest remorse for his ill judgment about the relationship with Epstein, especially after the facts came to life. His lack of character judgment before that. Well, you know, we can all say we meet people and we’re not sometimes the best of character judge. But after it was made very clear to him what that person was involved with, then, you know, apologize for still being involved having known those behaviors.

And also empathizing with the victims, which is absolutely up there as, you know, as the top thing that anyone should do. Apologizing to your customers, your family, your clients, that’s absolutely up there but it’s got to be authentic. It’s not just the words, right? So by doing that and then by saying I will do anything I can to share knowledge about anything that will help the investigating authorities. Bring Justice and bring closure if possible to the people affected.

Now, if he was able to say all of those things, I think the interview would have been a great thing. If he was not . . .

Sheelagh: Just quickly to interject – I’m just wondering how much being a part of the royal family is responsible for that because it’s not the first time that we’ve seen a lack of empathy from the royal family.

You know, you go back to Diana’s death in 1997 and the queen was criticized. Now, whether that was, you know, well deserved, or she was taking care of her grandsons in Scotland . . .we are not sure. But the point is that people want leadership and empathy from her. And often it doesn’t seem to happen. There’s a sense of entitlement with with the members of the royal family where they just can’t grasp the need for empathy

Fiona: You’ve hit it on the head, absolutely. A lack of empathy, and I think it’s on public record. I think generally for everyone that the queen absolutely got that wrong. But the piece that was put in place was for the royal family to become more connected, to become more empathetic with the people who they – and let’s face it – still rule. So that was a piece that was put in place and that’s what makes this absolutely incredulous.

Yes, we know there’s a there’s a pervasive sense of entitlement. And and I think that that is probably unlikely to ever disappear even in the younger generation.How can you not have a sense of entitlement when you are entitled? How is that ever going to happen?

But what you can do is you can put conduits in place that keep you connected with the outside world. Those are as I’ve referred to before those. Is in the room those people who will challenge, those people who respectfully will share with you what the pulses of the nation, and the international climate. Now, I think some of the Royals have been quite smart at doing that.

But my worry is that there are so many facets to the royal family that people like Andrew, for example, who normally can just get on and live his life in a as you say still in a very entitled way that, when it comes down to it, if you’re not having that conduit with the outside world and you’re not getting those reality checks things like this will happen.

And this has been a perfect example that it will continue to happen unless they put measures in place to have people like you and me Sheelagh who could actually go and sit and have a sensible question and answer session and input that sense of realism where it actually doesn’t exist exist at this moment in time.

Sheelagh Caygill

Sheelagh Caygill is an award-winning writer, journalist, podcaster, and poet based in Toronto, Canada.

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