Revolutionary Measures

Learning to keep your mouth shut – Prince Andrew

When it comes to public relations I’ve always advocated that people get out there and tell their side of the story. After all, nature/public opinion abhors a vacuum so will fill it with its own views if you don’t speak up.

But of course success depends on both what you say and how you say it, as Prince Andrew is currently finding out, following his recent BBC interview with Emily Maitlis. “Car crash” is probably the kindest description of the programme, which saw the Duke aim to address questions about his friendship with convicted sex offender Jeffrey Epstein amid claims that he had slept with a 17 year old girl introduced by Epstein.

My suspicion is that Andrew wanted to replicate the success of the late Princess Diana and her own Panorama interview. The difference is there she was very much seen as the victim of the royal family, whereas the Prince’s position is very different. Essentially it appears he believed that an interview would clear his name but I think he neglected three key factors:

1. The nature of the allegations against him

There is clear evidence that Andrew visited Epstein after he was first convicted of soliciting a minor for prostitution. There is also a photograph of the Duke that seems to show him with his arm around Virginia Roberts, the 17 year old who alleges that he slept with her. In the interview he says he has no recollection of ever meeting her, and even says he has checked if the photograph could have been faked. None of this creates much sympathy on either side of the Atlantic, particularly given the strong push by Roberts’ lawyers to get Andrew to testify under oath. The allegations against him are simply too serious to be removed through a TV interview.

2. The Prince’s manner and previous behaviour

I’ve been at a couple of events that Andrew attended, and while I certainly didn’t speak to him directly, I’d say he didn’t have the strongest interpersonal skills in the world. He certainly seemed to mean well and clearly had an interest in technology/engineering (which is what the events were about), but came across as awkward and difficult to relate to. For all I know all royals of his generation share the same traits, particularly as he wasn’t being groomed for potential future kingship. However, this manner came across in his language and behaviour in the interview, which didn’t earn him any sympathy. Saying that he felt he’d “let the side down” through his visit to Epstein doesn’t come across as remorseful in an age where we expect public figures to show more empathy. He’s also not helped by his previous behaviour – being branded “Randy Andy” in his navy days for his sexual exploits, as well as being alleged to have used his connections to benefit from deals with shady oligarchs from Kazakhstan.

3. There’s an election on

While the public like the chance to peer into celebrity/royal private lives at the best of times, we’re currently in the midst of an election. So frankly, anything that isn’t about manifestoes, political posturing or Boris Johnson wearing boxing gloves is going to hit the headlines. This is not the time to bury such news, or think the that media and public will move on quickly. I even heard Alistair Campbell being asked on Radio 4 if this mirrored the Royal’s (in)famous annus horribilis when Diana died and Windsor Castle caught fire. Clearly, that’s a real stretch, but demonstrates the media’s appetite to keep the story running.

Most people believe that Andrew forced through the idea of doing the interview, against the better judgement of royal PRs. However, there’s one tantalizing, Machiavellian alternative. Perhaps he’s just been sent out to show what old-school royals are like in order to both deflect attention from Prince Harry and Meghan Markle and to show instead how much more in touch with both their feelings and the population they are. Or perhaps the royal family is bored with the election too. If that’s the case, Alistair Campbell has nothing on the Queen when it comes to successfully spinning a story for the greater good……

November 20, 2019 Posted by | PR | , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

A Royal PR car crash?

There’s nothing like a royal story to get the press excited, and the Duke of Edinburgh’s recent car crash is no exception. It even kept Brexit off the front pages for a few days, providing a welcome bit of relief for everyone, particularly Theresa May.

Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

While the actual circumstances of the accident, which saw the 97 year old’s Land Rover flip over, are the subject of a police investigation, that hasn’t stopped the media analysing the situation in meticulous detail. It is a perfect opportunity – the crash site outside Sandringham is easily accessible to journalists, there are plenty of local witnesses to the aftermath and the injured occupants of the other car involved are clearly upset about their treatment and want to state their case. To top it all, the Royal Family hasn’t helped its cause – Philip was back driving a (new) Land Rover on the Sandringham estate just a couple of days after the crash, without wearing a seatbelt. And the Queen was then spotted in the back of another car without a seatbelt on her way to church.

Amidst all the furore and discussions about whether the Palace has apologised to those in the other car, the whole case is in stark contrast to the generally successful public image projected by the younger royals. Indeed, Prince William is busy interviewing Sir David Attenborough at Davos on saving the planet, while Prince Harry has launched the Invictus Games, openly discussed mental health and married a smart Hollywood actress. PR guru Mark Borkowski described the Royal Household’s response to the Duke’s accident as “DIY PR”.

But is it actually that bad? Clearly there isn’t much of a media relations strategy going on at all, but that’s unsurprising for three reasons:

1.The Duke of Edinburgh doesn’t give a damn about his public perception

In fact, he’s always delighted in being rude and not caring what people say. So any crisis PR team would have their work cut out getting their client to recognise there is an issue, let alone deal with it.

2. There’s a police investigation going on

As with any traffic accident, the police are looking into the circumstances and deciding next steps. So any admission of guilt to the injured parties would be prejudicial to the Duke’s case in any investigation. Not to mention that insurers always counsel never to admit to anything to avoid it being taken as declaring guilt.

3. No-one was expecting the Spanish Inquisition

It feels like the Royal Household thought this was a minor story that would blow over quickly. Hence not seeing driving a new car two days later as being a trifle soon. I think they also counted on public sympathy for Philip – he’s had health problems over the last year, and being independent enough to drive himself around at 97 is quite a feat.

What they didn’t understand is that the news agenda was waiting for this type of storm in a teacup story. As I said it is a change from Brexit and allows monarchists, anti-royalists and those in between to all give their opinions. A quick scan of the headlines backs this up – The Guardian has “Prince Philip’s crash should mark a turning point in our royal sycophancy”, The Independent has “Prince Philip has every right to drive at 97” and the Daily Express has “Diana caused Prince Philip crash.” While I may have made the last one up, it gives a flavour of the coverage to date – which shows no real signs of stopping.

Does this mean the Duke needs to take PR lessons from his grandchildren? Not in the least. Whatever your views on the Royal Family, and the Duke of Edinburgh himself, he’s being himself – and in many ways any negative coverage he gets acts as a lightning rod for the monarchy as a whole, making the rest of them look better. So less a PR car crash, and more an example of why you need a range of personalities within your organisation in order to appeal to everyone.

January 23, 2019 Posted by | Marketing, PR | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Why Royal PR should be a model for us all

A few weeks ago I talked about the breakdown of trust between the public and traditional institutions, be they the media, government or business. Yet arguably the most traditional institution of all – the British monarchy – is actually bucking the trend and engaging and resonating with the public more than ever. From the Queen visiting those affected by the Grenfell Tower fire to Princes William and Harry talking openly about mental illness, the Royals are increasingly seen as understanding, and empathising with, the mood of the country. This is in stark contrast to current political turmoil where the Prime Minister seems too scared to engage, while her cabinet squabbles around her. The Queen even seemingly managed to get a cheeky shot in about Brexit, wearing an EU blue hat with flowers resembling stars to open parliament.Queen Elizabeth

It is worth noting that it hasn’t always been like this. At the time of Princess Diana’s death the Royal family, particularly the Queen and Prince Philip, was seen as outdated and out of touch, hidebound by protocol and simply unable to understand the mood of the country and the wider world. That led to a major change around in how the Windsors approached PR, which has evolved into the machine that we see today, which is driven by four key factors:

1. Trust
We are in an age where there is a breakdown in trust, but that doesn’t mean that people don’t want to believe in someone or something. In fact, many are desperate to find somewhere to put their trust that isn’t going to let them down. The monarchy fills this space admirably, seen as working hard while taking the time to listen and engage with people’s concerns.

2. Range
The sheer size of the Royal family, and the number of generations it contains, mean that there are a range of characters and ages for different people to identify with. From the Queen and Prince Philip through Charles and Camilla down to Harry, William, Kate and their children there is someone for everyone to support, trust and relate to, dependent on their views and age.

3. Impartiality
I’m not comparing the Queen to Donald Trump, but in the same way that he has a multimillion dollar fortune to fall back on, so has she. That means she is seen as generally impartial, without an agenda or wider policies to push. I think many in the US see Trump in the same way, even if he definitely does have an agenda/ego driving his actions. This ability to be independent means the Queen is above politics and doesn’t get drawn into a blame game around events such as Grenfell.

4. Vulnerability
In the past the monarchy was seen as aloof and simply not affected by outside events. Since Diana’s death that has changed and it has opened up, demonstrating that the Royals are human too. The younger princes have discussed their mother’s death and the impact on their own mental health, while the continued illnesses of the Duke of Edinburgh has led to widespread sympathy for the Queen, who, after all, is 91 herself. We empathise with humans, and the Royal family continues to show that despite their wealth and power they are human too.

What lessons can communicators draw from this? I think the biggest is to take a long-term view. The reputation of the British monarchy was at an all-time low after the death of Diana, with many questioning their continued role. Rather than a knee-jerk reaction, the institution has changed how it operates, and in particular how it communicates, giving individuals more freedom to talk about the topics that they feel passionate about, all within an overarching framework that demonstrates empathy, authenticity and value for their audience. It may not be perfect, but other communicators looking to build genuine trust should see what they can learn from the Royal family’s success.

 

Photo Nasa/Bill Ingalls via Wikipedia http://www.nasa.gov/centers/goddard/news/topstory/2007/queen_egress_8.html

July 5, 2017 Posted by | Marketing, PR | , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments