R. Kelly’s Dec. 21, 2015, appearance on HuffPost Live host opposite Caroline Modarressy-Tehrani could quite possibly be one of the worst promotional interviews of the decade. The self-proclaimed pied piper of music has been pushing his newest project titled, The Buffet and someone on his team felt the HuffPost Live was a great place to get a bit of album promo. Unfortunately Kelly’s team must’ve failed to research the type of interviews conducted on HuffPost Live, and instead of creating a great opportunity for publicity, they set their client up for failure.
Although the entire interview was a train wreck, at one point R. Kelly simply answered a question with “f–k that” and threatened to walk off. Later, he questioned the reporter’s intelligence and asked her if she was a drunk before walking off after assuring her she was beautiful. It was embarrassing and didn’t do much for Kelly’s public persona.
A conscientious public relations professional has the burden of fielding press opportunities for clients much like a wardrobe stylist has to sort through current trends to find ones that are suitable for his orher client’s taste, body type and overall image. If you have a client that has a short torso and chunky thighs, a thorough wardrobe stylist probably wouldn’t pull a minuscule mini dress for said client, and in the same vane the HuffPost Live is no place for talent that isn’t intellectual by nature or who isn’t an extremely polished conversationalist. In plain English, that was not the correct promotional opportunity for Kelly. Aside from Kelly’s past, he is not the type of interviewee who would shine when being interviewed by the HuffPost Live. To take it a step further, although there are always outliers, Kelly’s audience is not represented in demographic the HuffPost Live serves. Obviously, booking a client who has unanswered issues in his past involving underage girls and has not exhibited the ability to field questions in a diplomatic manner would not make a great candidate for anything Huffington Post related.
This was a definite crisis, but it wasn’t Kelly’s fault anymore than it was Caroline Modarressy-Tehrani’s fault. Modarressy-Tehrani was doing her job as a host for one of the most prestigious, journalist-driven platforms available. (Let’s not forget that the Huffington Post has obvious feminist ties by origination, another characteristic that should’ve made it clear to Kelly’s team that this wasn’t the best place to garner support for his new album.) The Huffington Post has a reputation for no-nonsense journalism with a conservative edge. To accuse Modarressy-Teharani of being “mean” or “negative” toward Kelly is to accuse her of doing her job, which isn’t an insult. Just as it wouldn’t make sense to accuse a prosecuting attorney of being “too hard” on a defendant, it makes no sense to accuse Modarressey-Tehrani of being “too hard” on Kelly.
When you sign up to do an interview, especially a live interview with any branch of the Huffington Post, one should prepare their client to answer hard-hitting questions from a seasoned journalist based on a conservative vantage point. This type of interview is very different than one Kelly would’ve encountered at a radio station or even an urban blog that focuses on music and Black celebrities.
As a publicist, I know certain interviews I have the ability to control and others I do not. If I have a personal longstanding relationship with an interviewer and they have given me a verbal commitment of not bringing up a certain subject with a client, then I would consider booking the interview, but not with a high-risk client like Kelly. Even under those circumstances the correct protocol would be to prepare the client to handle any hot questions, just in case the interviewer went left. If I had a client with a background like R. Kelly’s I wouldn’t want him to be vulnerable in any interview I could not control. There is no way R. Kelly could demand the type of demand that would make him a priority and allow his team to call shots with Huff Post Live.
I hope this is used as a lesson for other publicists and managers looking for creative publicity opportunities for clients. Your first check point is to make sure that your client’s demographic aligns in some way with the outlet. If it doesn’t align directly you should at least be realistically targeting their fan base. Your second checkpoint should be to research the outlet and watch or read their past interviews, this is the only way you can prepare your client for the interview. Lastly, make sure your client has a plan A and plan B if they encounter difficult questions during the interview. You never want your client to come off as difficult or argumentative. One bad interview can equate to hundreds even thousands of disgruntled fans. No single interview is worth that. Look for opportunities for your client to shine, leave everything else on the cutting room floor.
Check out Kelly vs. the HuffPost Live here: http://huff.lv/1RB8ASh