Who is winning the PR war between Harry and the Royal Family?
Daney Parker, Editor, PRmoment.com
When it comes to the PR tactics of Prince Harry, Duke of Sussex compared with those of The Royal Family, they both take completely different approaches. Sharing everything versus saying nothing at all. As to which tactic will work best in the long term, time will tell. Here PRs discuss who they believe is currently winning over the hearts and minds of the media and the public.
The Royal Family
Anita Champaneri, managing director at agency Delicious PR: “The Netflix documentary was fantastically well made. The unprecedented information was gold dust and deny it all you want, knowing the secrets of the inside of the Royal Family is many people’s guilty pleasure. Public approval for the Sussexes was increasing, and so were the PR points, we loved the Royal love story and understood the viciousness of the tabloid press acting like baying wolves who took away Harry’s mother.
“But then quickly came the book Spare with loads of parting shots against the Royal Family, and it’s here that the sympathy started to wane. The tabloids picked apart the book to give us salacious tittle-tattle headlines which the public fell for. Nothing was in context and the PR pendulum swung back to the Windsors. They are winning the war, but they shouldn’t be. Don’t read the 50 books about them, but not written by them, read Harry’s words before judging.”
Laura Salvage, senior manager at stakeholder solutions firm Penta: “Despite the tell-all autobiography, including accusations of physical attacks by Prince William and an allegation of being ‘sacrificed’ on the ‘PR altar’ by Camilla, the Queen Consort; and despite the prince embarking on a ‘family vituperation’, data shows UK public support for the royal family is holding firm, whilst Prince Harry’s popularity hit a new low ”
Liz Churchman, client service drector at B2B PR agency EC-PR: “The media circus around the release of Spare, has been quite something. It seems every page has contained another juicy nugget for the media to report on.
“With Harry’s interviews to accompany the book’s release, it’s clear that he has been desperate to get his point of view across, but felt censored by the Royal Family and their supposed rules on media relations.
“For me, this emphasises the difficult scenarios PR teams and business leaders face when trying to control a narrative too closely.
“There’s a clear difference between providing guidance and empowering people to speak to the media and telling them they must never speak or share their views.
“Whilst it can feel riskier from a PR perspective to enable the former, the latter can build resentment and anger if your PR team is not prioritising a particular part of the business someone is passionate about, or they feel they are left unable to share their own views.
“And so, I would argue that empowering people and enabling them to speak their truth with solid PR guidance and support, in the long term is the more effective approach.”
Ryan Sketchley, editorial strategist at agency WE Communications: ”Harry has clearly been very selective about the US media outlets that he has decided to speak to - The Late Late Show, Good Morning America and 60 Minutes are all iconic US media brands in their own right, so he clearly feels they will add some legitimacy to the narrative he is trying to tell. That 75% of the media interviews he has given are with US outlets is symbolic, consciously or otherwise, that is life is largely on the other side of the Atlantic. Selecting Tom Bradby for the UK interview, who attended both Princes’ weddings and has been notably neutral throughout the whole affair, is perhaps a coded message that his talk of hope for reconciliation is more than just lip service and that he is keen to keep dialogue open with the sections of the UK media where the relationship isn’t totally toxic.’
Grig Richters, CEO of global communications agency XWECAN:
“The winner of this ‘PR war’ will be the anti-monarchists and all the critics of the royal institution. I strongly believe that this ‘war’ is not just very harmful to the family itself, but will have a long term negative impact on the entire institution and might even lead to its demise.
“If I was the royal family's PR advisor, I would advise them against reacting directly. Prince Harry will always be a member of the family, and someone needs to urgently and discreetly activate internal channels so that they can overcome their disputes. Putting this out there in the public eye is going to cost all of them dearly.”
Guy Clapperton, founder of media training agency Calpperton: “As a media trainer I’d have started with Harry’s desired endgame and worked backwards. If he wants to repair the Royal Family and bring them into 2023 then he’s obviously failing and picking up a load of hostility; if he’s aiming to cement his position as America’s own royal who doesn’t agree with everything the Brits say with no intention of coming back then things are going in his favour. However, unless we know what his ultimate aim is, we can’t say whether or not he’s hitting the target.”
Both (or neither!)
Luana Ribeira founder of agency Dauntless PR: “Harry’s willingness to talk openly and share so much of his life is endearing to the public. His relaxed, informal and amiable manner is such a contrast to what we have come to expect from the Royal Family. However, there is a danger that his attempt to rebrand himself as a media celebrity could go too far as people will expect him to share more and more to keep their attention. The Royal Family’s approach of keeping a ‘dignified silence’ means the PR war seems very one-sided at the moment. However, this also means that Harry will be perceived by some as the attacker and his approach will make it very challenging to heal the relationship with his father and brother.”
Richard Knowles, head of PR at independent full-service agency Low&Behold: “I often wonder if the people involved on both sides of the Harry/Meghan and Royal Family ‘war’ actually live in a special bubble.
“Every new interview, snippet or even silence is another way of switching people off and even turning them against both sides.
“It feels like the battle is explosive allegations versus silence, which is never a good battle to be involved with. I cringe with every new interview or quote. Every day we have more ‘airing of dirty laundry in public’, with new depths plumbed with each passing week.
“Yes, families fall out and yes in this case there are probably good reasons why each side feels as they do. But for heaven’s sake, sort this out behind closed doors, because the longer is goes on, the more people will turn against everyone involved - that’s not good PR.”
Pamela Lyddon, owner of agency Bright Star Digital: “For transparency I have worked with the King with one of his charities and so I know a bit about their comms teams… ahem…
“My response is that no one is winning here.
“Harry has all these very sad revelations as he is obviously very hurt and traumatised by his mother’s death and the family say nothing… like they have done for years …said nothing. Never explain, never complain.
“Neither side looks great and blaming the media just won't help. At the end of the day the bigger picture is this is tale of how the monarchy needs to change and it must be about love not duty. I feel for both sides, no one is winning.”
As Harry’s book is the UK’s fastest-selling non-fiction book ever, he is definitely winning in terms of getting attention. When these books are clogging up charity shops shelves in the future will be a good time to reach the final verdict as to whether his PR approach, or the Windsors’, has paid off.
Click here for Good and Bad PR’s take on Harry vs Royal Family.
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