The #SussexRoyal PR disaster which has gathered almost terminal momentum recently could have been avoided if they had heeded advice and precedent and had a plan from the beginning which took into account the rules and boundaries of Royal media relations. There is no doubt that being a top tier member of the Royals is an impossible job with a damned if you do, damned if you don’t attitude chasing every move. But there is a lot of experience and precedent within Palace walls and with this to guide and help acclimatise newcomers, Her Majesty may not have had to step in with an emergency sticking plaster over bitter headlines this week. A desire for a progressive role is one thing but it’s also worth remembering that disruption can come with a price.
Understanding the big picture is key to seeing disruption as opportunity, but context is everything here. Someone should have warned the Sussex camp that best defences can’t always protect you from your own issues and perhaps they did, but too late on. You can’t reinvent the PR rules unless you understand them.
For all the reasons we can’t know, Meghan and Harry have been architects of the PR negativity that has clearly affected them and accelerated their decision to live life ‘independently’ and outside of the Palace walls. Let’s hope with time they can take a more balanced view when dealing with the press because their attempts to control the UK media have backfired and fuelled a thousand headlines and these are not likely to stop any time soon.
Common sense and a good deal of pragmatism are key to dealing with the press. To get them on side requires stealth and patience and the building of relationships widely. You can’t win the war these days with social fuelling a headline culture, but you can win a battle here and there. Isolation will only deprive you of support as the Sussex’s have found and whilst working hand in hand with the Palace may not have been part of their original plan, doing so would have saved them from where they find themselves today. Apart and alone. Their ambition to rewrite the rules may have stemmed from Prince Harry’s wish to protect his wife but trying to do so from behind a huge wall, defiantly and defensively, has left them further on the outside than they may have actually planned. But then, they didn’t listen to advice and as they have found out, the truth is a bitter pill we tend not to take until we have no choice.
Being a member of the Royal Family comes with enviable privilege and luxury but also duty and rules. It’s inconceivable that Meghan wasn’t aware of these, but perhaps the reality is always different to what we imagine before we dive in, especially when emotion is involved. Playing the Royal game means giving the people what they want, a glimpse of a baby here, the name of a puppy there and so on, but it would appear that Harry and Meghan tried too hard to grasp on to privacy and power and in doing so, refused to let the British public in more or less entirely whilst at the same time espousing opinion and a lifestyle and a controlled narrative that was open to critique. This was a mistake. Meghan isn’t the first to fall foul of the headlines. Other royal brides have also come under intense and vicious scrutiny by the press, but in the main they recovered in the end by keeping their heads down. That said, perhaps no other bride has arrived with such laser sharp and singular ambition as the Duchess of Sussex. She was always more about power and recognition than duty.
If you want to re-invent the rules you have to do so slowly and carefully and certainly not by blacklisting the media. The Palace have quietly learned this with the image of the Queen and her three heirs a signal of a more defined and leaner leadership to come.
It’s hoped as they develop a new path for themselves, they have learned to listen to sound advice and can accept their own blind spots, what they are most afraid of and what bits they would like to forget. If they can get out of their own way now there is a real chance they can succeed in carving out something valuable and worthwhile. But they need to be careful and take stock. They raced in wanting to shift ground from the get-go and got too quickly frustrated when they found obstacles and objections in their way. Let’s hope they slow down.
They have faced undeniably critical headlines recently and these negative perceptions will take time to shift, but with careful and thoughtful PR planning and most of all, a better understanding of the mood of the crowd, it is possible.
“The two most powerful warriors are patience and time.” Tolstoy