Rhys Ifans has been commanding attention for all the wrong reasons, testing the very limits of the notion that there is no such thing as bad publicity. There can have been few publicists who didn’t experience an internal cringe on behalf of the luckless PR that had to deal with his catastrophic interview with The Times.
It begs the question of when exactly the point comes that it is imperative for a flak to intervene. The interview scenario is tricky to negotiate. A decent publicist will generally maintain a peripheral role. By and large, well briefed clients who know their subject and the objective of the interview need little more than a good introduction and the support of knowing their PR is close at hand. It’s always a sign of defeat if the journalist references the presence of the PR muscle.
But there are obvious exceptions to this rule, as Rhys’ antics have proved. If a client is really likely to do their reputation damage because they are not in a position to represent themselves, or their organization, properly, it’s the publicist’s job to find a route to deflect the calamity. My advice has always been to be creative in the upstream of the crisis; don’t get overwhelmed when control has been lost. Save the client from himself – and use humour when the alchemy fails. Neither client nor journalist is edified by situations like this. Although there is a cheap thrill to be had in an interviewee misfiring badly, journalists want the story. Sadly in this case the interview became the story, with the journalist being abused and bearing witness to someone executing a spectacular Hari Kari, inside the belly of the movie junket process. Alas the future publicity process for this truculent turn is forever stained. His lack of etiquette will brand him as a bad boy for good. Redemption via Comic Relief may be the only option.
I was blessed to work with Richard Harris, a man not disposed to the oleaginous process of PR. In my experience he understood the need to create chaos. His off screen antics forged a unique cult status. He proves that the contemporary promotional system does allow for mavericks. Producers enjoy working with talent who understand how to “give good marketing.”
Ifans will live to enjoy the delights of a future fat junket. PR folk usually take the blame: it’s a case of ‘the client is always right’. Many feel the best strategy is to ensure that these situations don’t arise in the first place. Not always possible, but there are numerous stopping off points en route to an interview that allow for potential hazards to be identified and creatively tackled. If the interview is heading the wrong way, the creative turn it into an opportunity, not allow a repetitional crisis. The lame damage limitation forced into service post publication as the interview went viral suggests unease from both camps. Reports suggest his behaviour may have been the result of an adverse reaction to medication.
Somewhere in London today, a publicist is wishing deeply that they’d done things differently. The sad thing is that I don’t know a thing about what Ifans was promoting. The real crime was Ifans’ refusal to commit to the process, allowing antibiotics to create a powerful narrative without a marketing punch line.