Oprah's interview with Prince Harry and Meghan Markle offers lessons in smart public relations. No matter whether you side with the Duke and Duchess of Sussex or Buckingham Palace, or have zero opinions on intercontinental royal drama, you should watch Sunday's interview for the PR tips it offers. It could help your business, especially if it ever faces its own crises.
I watched the interview with three friends and professional colleagues via Zoom. We're all writers, marketers, business owners -- and royal watchers. Here are four top PR takeaways we thought other business owners would find valuable.
1. Know and rehearse your message.
Practice most definitely makes perfect. In any media interview, especially the high-stakes ones, you want to make sure you convey a clear message. You don't want to confuse the audience or leave what you really mean up to interpretation. You also don't want to say something that sounds bad and harms your reputation or that of your business. Clearly, Harry and Meghan are seasoned at this. They trained for it as royals and celebrities. And at times, they seemed too rehearsed, so watch out for that, too.
2. Work with members of the media you know and trust.
Oprah attended Harry and Meghan's wedding. The three are neighbors now in Montecito, California. Clearly, the Sussexes know, like, and respect Oprah enough to grant her their first joint interview since their 2017 engagement. But here is the other thing to remember: Even when you know the reporter, understand that they are still a reporter with a job to do. And you still have your job to do, which is to get out the best possible version of your story while telling the truth and staying composed.
3. Recognize that each interview question offers you an opportunity.
First, truth is essential in an interview. Lying is never a smart PR move. Still, there will be questions that are harder than others to answer. The trick is to recognize that each interview question presents you with an opportunity.
You can answer directly and truthfully. Audiences appreciate truth and transparency.
You can block the question, perhaps declaring it off limits, or somehow out of bounds. You might say can't comment in an ongoing legal matter, for example.
You can do something that PR pros call bridging. You briefly acknowledge the question but subtly take your answer to an area that you are more comfortable discussing and more specifically to one of your key messages.
4. A good defense is a good offense.
When you have a story to tell or case to make to the public, get out ahead with an entire PR plan. And don't count on just one media interview to do the trick.
Leading up to the big Oprah interview, there were several pieces of PR that trickled out, humanizing the couple and their story. Back in November, Meghan wrote an op-ed in The New York Times in which she talked about having a miscarriage. On Valentine's Day, the couple announced they are again expecting a baby. And in late February, just days after it was announced that the Sussexes could not return as working royals, an extended interview with Harry and fellow Brit ex-pat James Corden aired on The Late Late Show with James Corden. In that interview, Harry said it was "never about walking away" and he "will never walk away" from his family or a life of service. That's a memorable key message if I ever saw one. Interestingly, my friends and I didn't think any key messages landed as strongly in the Oprah interview.
Sometimes you have to have an entire, well-timed media plan. What that means for you and your business, will no doubt be different from what it means for a celebrity couple. Just don't put all your storytelling in one basket. And remember to come prepared.