It’s only March, and we’ve already seen the interview of the year. Oprah’s interview with Meghan Markle and Prince Harry was watched by an incredible 11.3 million British viewers on Monday night, with many more watching on catch up.
The interview addressed issues of racism, intentional complacency and dangerous disregard for mental health, as Meghan intended to set the record straight about the wealth of negative media stories ran about her, and the couple’s decision to step down from senior royal duties. The interview has shocked the world and has many questioning the morals, and therefore place, of the Royal Family and wider Institution.
With the favour and loyalty of the public instrumental to the success of any monarchy, the Whitehouse PR team have predicted how the Palace may respond to these devastating and damaging revelations…
One route which the Palace comms team may go down is the sacrificial one. With many stories about Meghan seemingly leaked from inside the Palace and the communications team criticised for not taking action to correct false and misleading claims as they do for other members of the family, it may be agreed that one person takes all the blame to save the reputation of the Institution. A member of the team could agree to be let go, and then leaked to the press that it was because they were behind these damaging decisions.
Arguably, right now, there is hardly anything the Palace can say which would make anything better. A flat denial of all allegations revealed would incite a public backlash and make the Royals appear corrupt and immoral. An apology, and therefore acceptance of wrongdoings, would be so far removed from usual Royal protocol that it would risk creating too much uncertainty about an Institution which is founded on tradition. At this moment, simply saying nothing might appear to be the least disruptive option; however, although it would save a quick initial reaction from both the media and public, it would slowly breed resentment through the appearance of disinterest – a repeat of 1997.
Now, we know we’ve highlighted the risks to the Royal Family of an apology or a denial – but there is another option – and one we would recommend. The comms team at the Palace can tread carefully and accept wrongdoing without further damaging the Family. Firstly, they must acknowledge that hurt has happened and, whilst they are investigating it, that they regret that the situation came to this and that Meghan and Harry have suffered.
Then, a public announcement can be made that they will be looking into all that has been revealed and will be working to ensure the Palace is a safe space for all members of the Family – there will be some predictable negative reactions to this along the lines of the validity of internal investigations, but it is the first step in a wider strategy which will repeat this narrative of learning and improvement.
The team could then create a plan to tackle all claims made in the interview – for example, a commitment to increase diversity in the senior Royal team; new hires in the comms team; the appointment of a new mental health specialist in the HR team; a re-evaluation of the integration process for new members of the Family. The Palace can then issue a stream of positive updates throughout the coming years, highlighting its commitment to learn from the experiences of Meghan and Harry, as regretful as they are that they had to experience it, for self-improvement.
This route cannot, of course, tackle all of the issues raised in the interview (most pointedly, that of a senior member of the family bringing up concerns about the colour of Archie’s skin – this issue is best resolved within the family and out of the public eye), but it strikes the right balance of accepting blame and being willing to modernise an ancient Institution.
The Oprah interview has shown the secret pain and trauma suffered by both Meghan and Harry – and any plans by the Palace must always keep this in mind and ensure that their wellbeing is at the heart of what they now do. For the Royal Family to weather this storm it’s imperative that they show that tradition cannot stand in the way of learning and improvement – that they can move The Firm forwards through some tough, but needed, introspection.
It has also shown the damage complacency can do – by not addressing the misleading stories made about Meghan, the Royal team now have to deal with a scandal. Reputational management spans more than just the press, and all businesses can reap the benefits of a forward-thinking plan.
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The Whitehouse team are expert political consultants providing public relations and public affairs advice and political analysis to a wide range of clients, not only in the United Kingdom, but also across the Member States of the European Union and beyond. We work in a number of sectors including human rights and equalities. For more information, please contact our Chair, Chris Whitehouse, at firstname.lastname@example.org.