April 24, 2020
What Meghan Markle and Prince Harry Can Teach Us About PR Etiquette
We now interrupt your relentless COVID-19 coverage to bring you this analysis of the public relations efforts around Meghan Markle and Prince Harry’s split from the British royal family.
Through the wedding drama, pregnancy announcements, family feuds, celebrity intervention, paparazzi madness, and now, the exit, we have meticulously followed their public relations strategy. Meghan Markle and Prince Harry have not just severed ties with Windsor Palace, they’ve rejected the monarchy’s historically conservative PR strategy.
We took a break from pretending not to care about Meghan and Harry to take a look at their PR moves through a Greentarget lens. We found a few hits and some misses for the young couple:
Choosing authority over authenticity: This month Harry and Meghan shared a lengthy letter declaring that they would no longer work with four major British tabloids. This isn’t the first time the couple has tried to control the tabloid narrative this way. In January, Harry and Meghan announced their desire to choose their own press pool, excluding certain media outlets – including those same UK tabloids – from official engagements. The move was perceived as retaliation for negative coverage of Meghan, rather than an effort to support “credible” outlets. What could have been an opportunity to shake up the traditional royal rota system to incorporate social media, new journalists and other trusted media organizations, backfired and became a war on the press.
No defined strategy: Harry and Meghan communicated their messaging seemingly without input from the royal family, resulting in contradicting messages. In fact, in an attempt to beat the news cycle and a potential leak, Harry and Meghan rushed out their messaging on their own channels. This resulted in a back and forth release of statements and misinformation from media outlets that was public and messy. Even if you think the couple was right to get their message out, perhaps they needed a better strategy from the outset.
Unclear objectives: Harry and Meghan claimed their exit was in search of a simpler life out of the spotlight and away from the paparazzi. But a month into their royal-less life, they were house hunting in Los Angeles – another paparazzi hub – and are set to speak at high-profile conferences. While too early to tell, it seems the new life they are chasing closely resembles the royal life they left behind. At least, it wouldn’t fit under most people’s definition of a simpler life. Assuming their plan wasn’t to simply move to a different spotlight, the couple’s objectives didn’t correspond with their actions.
New media channels: Harry and Meghan effectively broke the mold with their personal Instagram account and website to communicate directly with their audience – something unheard of by royal family terms. This was a smart move, one that was particularly crucial in communicating their exit. It was best exemplified by complete transparency with their follows on the spring transition with a FAQ sheet released in February, and accounted via Instagram Stories, a relatively new channel.
Designate a spokesperson: While there isn’t much alignment between the royal family and Harry and Meghan, the couple made a smart decision to make Harry designated spokesperson while Meghan has stayed fairly off the radar. He has communicated their plans, the reasoning behind those plans, and personal experiences that have impacted his decision to abandon his title. Harry, amid a lot of criticism, has demonstrated a strong, unified message and avoided further miscommunications from too many voices chiming in on the same matters.
Humanizing yourself: More so than other members of the royal family, Harry has opened up about his personal experiences. In October, he made a rare statement in a lawsuit against British tabloids comparing the treatment of Meghan in the press to his late mother’s. And following the birth of the couple’s son last May, Harry and Meghan deviated from the usual royal protocol and waited days to release formal photos and speak with the press, a move that many could relate to.
Now that the breakup is official – and now that they’re in the limelight of Hollywood – Harry and Meghan will likely have a host of new PR opportunities and challenges. Will they learn from their mistakes while building on the smart moves they’ve made? Only time will tell.