The Royal Family: PR’s Favorite Case Study
by Lauren Bingham.
The British royal family is one of the most iconic and long-standing institutional monarchies in the world. For centuries, the monarchy has symbolized tradition, continuity and stability in the United Kingdom and beyond.
In light of the royal family’s recent involvement with the media, some have been left questioning the monarchy’s relevance and value. Prince Harry and his wife, Meghan, the Duchess of Sussex, have provided PR practitioners with valuable lessons in crisis communication and public statements.
Recent history of the British monarchy
A large turn of events played out for Harry and Meghan to take steps down a path toward such independence. The couple’s relationship blossomed quickly when they started dating in 2016. Just a year later, the happy couple announced their engagement to the world. Rumors began to float in the media that the royal family did not fully approve of Meghan, but the palace quickly released a statement to the public to tell their audience otherwise. This American actress was invited to accompany the family on many occasions, and it was obvious that this prince with a troubled past had found his happily ever after. After what seemed like the wedding of the century, as laid out by Vogue magazine, Meghan and Harry had quite the spotlight cast on them. This came with scrutiny from the public, claiming that she was “not fit to be a
royal,” according to Royal biographer Angela Levin. Family dynamics began to shift just a year after that, when the newlyweds announced their split from Prince William and Princess Kate of Wales. As time advanced, Harry and Meghan separated themselves further from the royal family. This slow departure was caused by both tension between them and the other members of the family and significantly hateful messaging from media outlets. There would always be the fact that Meghan was different than the rest of them, and the dynamic of the newlyweds’ relationship was not made for the monarchy.
The Duke and Duchess of Sussex departed from the United Kingdom to reside in California, having been dismissed from both their royal titles and their duties. In the past year, Harry and Meghan declared themselves financially independent from the royal family in early September 2020. Then Queen Elizabeth II died on Sept. 8, 2022, uniting both the family and the United Kingdom for what seemed like the first time in a while.
The couple’s next steps
This unity between the two opposing sides was short-lived, however, due to the release of the Harry and Meghan Netflix documentary in December 2022. Prince Harry’s memoir, “Spare,” which was released just a month after, heightened the tension
between him and the royal family. Both of these moves played as strategic PR efforts to tell their truth about the royal family and to clear Harry’s and Meghan’s names. As one could expect, these strategies only led to more news media buzz, like Vogue magazine’s highly opinionated culture piece soon after the release of the documentary.
First came the documentary
I’d like to call Harry and Meghan’s Netflix documentary the ultimate battle for a public relations victory. However, the question is: Whose victory was it, if anyone’s at all?
Both the couple and the royal family received mixed feedback from the audience after their attempt to speak about the royal
family’s mistreatment and silence toward the couple. With the documentary’s whopping two out of five stars on Rotten Tomatoes, critics seemed to see right through the ex-royals’ sob story. However, some fans explained that Harry and Meghan’s PR team could teach a class on how to fight the spread of misinformation in the media.
Then came the book
Harry and Meghan’s next PR move was seen through the release of “Spare,” Prince Harry’s memoir, where he disclosed his journey overcoming the most difficult times in his life, such as the loss of his mother, Princess Diana, and his recent expatriation.
For Harry, this book release was his chance to regain a good relationship with his audience, clearing the air of rumors and telling his side of the story. Looking at this move through a public relations lens, Harry opted for a more substantive approach than dramatic, opinionated pieces floating in the press.
While taking the high road may have been the team’s motive for promoting the memoir, the public still gave mixed reviews. Some readers saw right through the honesty plea, saying things like “I sincerely wish you do something meaningful with your life, instead of swapping financial support from the RF with money gleaned from attacking the Royal Family.” Others reacted just as they hoped for, commenting that Harry comes off as “incredibly down to earth, accepting his faults, and humbling himself in a way unseen from a royal. I’d have a beer with him.”
From a PR perspective
Every aspect of the royal family’s relationships with its audience and the news media can be studied and critiqued by PR practitioners, especially since each communications team has participated in both significant crisis management and promotional efforts. The professionals work well under pressure to adapt to seasons of positive or negative public opinion.
While the buzz around the royal family is enthralling, I’ve had a complicated relationship with Harry and Meghan due to their negative portrayal in the media. However, a good PR team has the ability to do so much for their client when it comes to crisis management. This rings true for any side of conflict — whether it be the royal family dealing with the aftermath of the Meghan Markle and Oprah Winfrey interview or Prince Harry facing public dialogue and rumors of opposition with both his brother and father.
By watching Meghan and Harry’s PR team, as well as the team working for the rest of the family, practitioners can learn
communication best practices — crisis communication, improving public opinion or drowning out false info. So, while the British royal family will still be one of my favorite bits of pop culture journalism to catch up on, I’m always evaluating what is and isn’t best practiced in communications.
No amount of press releases, public statements or staged photo ops will ever hold the impact of an honest message. Honesty in public communication quiets the noise of rumored nonsense that flows through pop culture media. Strong, clear and transparent messaging that values accountability and diversity resonates so much deeper with audiences than dramatized stories written solely for clickbait.