With the news that Meghan Markle and Harry Windsor are going to set up their own studio which will be making overtly political documentaries, it is worth considering the lessons that can be drawn from their closest contemporaries – the Obamas.
Barack and Michelle have both done brilliant things in their post-Presidency, learning the appropriate lessons from President Clinton and from Tony Blair. If you spend your time doing political work, you leave yourself open to the continued grudges and attack of a hyper-aggressive political press pool/lobby without the protective shield of a press team or even power. Eventually your mistakes come to justify you in a way that they didn’t when you were in power.
The Obamas know better than this and are busy casting themselves as the friendly parents of America. Michelle’s podcast with its mix of her charm and modern discussion and serious issues is a brilliant way of building her brand once the spotlight has switched off. The Sussexes are in a similar situation and they would be well advised to enquire whether they might appear on that podcast, or even launch their own.
But that isn’t the route they are going so far – they are using Meghan’s Hollywood contacts to launch their own production studio with Netflix. This is good business for Netflix and potentially good business for the couple, but they should learn from the Obamas again on what to do next. Which stories will they tell?
One of the first things that they did post-Presidency was to launch their own studio Higher Ground Productions. Their first project was the brilliant documentary American Factory, which was nominated for an Academy Award. It told the story of Chinese investment in a Detroit motor factory and the battle for US workers to set up a union in the face of the aggression from their communist bosses.
President Obama, as the architect of the Motor City bailout, loomed in the background of the story but the film was told with the barest mention of his accomplishments. This wasn’t a puff piece in the style of the Jordan documentary, this was a look at a complex issue told by working people. It worked extremely well as a film and as a branding exercise.
The Sussex’s should take this example as their lodestar by ensuring that they tell the stories of others and that they ‘give a platform’ for those who the world needs to hear but can’t. Any story about the Hollywood elites or the Royal Family would be a clumsy disaster. It would seem self-centred and egotistical to the punter and would be subject to vicious legal wrangling from an already paranoid Palace in post-production.
As with everything they do, they are watched, discussed and criticised, and if they fall into the trap of attempting to justify their actions by telling their own story, all the wise old heads in the tabloids will nod smugly and say ‘I told you it was just all about them’. Tell someone else’s story instead.