News Feature

By The Drum, Administrator

November 20, 2003 | 5 min read

I'v made a PR cock-up and it really is a big one.

It figures that the more well known you are the more interest the general public will take in every little thing you do. It’s a fact that, as your level of fame rises, the level of interest from people you have never and, in all likelihood, will never meet grows inestimably.

This being the case, it’s not much of a surprise that the royal family are among the most scrutinised people in the country. As celebrities go, they’re not exactly D-listers.

It’s also the case that, at least as far as the UK and US populations go, there’s nothing quite like a royal scandal.

Now, just in case some of our esteemed readership has been crouched under a rock somewhere for the past month, a royal scandal is exactly what we’ve got. Royal aides, spokespeople, journalists and, of course, Prince Charles himself, have all managed to whip the country and, I daresay, other countries as well, into a state of near-frenzy.

By the time The Drum hits desks there’s no telling what the situation will be with this most recent of royal rumours but, from a marketing point of view, it’s the early stage of the situation that draws the most interest.

Specifically, the Prince’s decision to issue an official denial of a rumour that hadn’t actually been widely circulated up until that point.

Flora Martin, managing director of Citigate Smarts, comments: “I thought he was mad. Everyone just thought it was another Prince; he just should have left it! All he did was draw attention to himself. I really don’t think that anyone was going to suggest it was him. Normally, I would have advised that a statement be issued, to attack it head-on, but in this case I would say discretion is the better part of valour.”

Sharon McKewan, managing director of Bright PR, agrees that the Prince was perhaps a little rash. She says: “I think they acted too quickly, without waiting to see how the story unfolded. Given the situations that have happened in the past, they have perhaps been keen to respond quicker. But in this case I think it added fuel to the fire.”

Others, however, disagree that the situation was handled badly. Given the nature of the worldwide media, coupled with the fact that the court injunction issued to prevent the media describing in depth the allegations against Charles was limited only to England and Wales, was it perhaps forward-thinking to issue a statement?

David Southern, associate director of Harrison Cowley, believes so: “Despite the allegations not being in the press in the UK, they were printed in the Italian press and, as importantly and perhaps even more damaging, available worldwide on the web. Anyone who was interested enough in the accusations could easily find out the nature of the claims relatively quickly. We’re in an era of global communications and Prince Charles’ advisors have acted accordingly. To have adopted a ‘wait and see’ approach when the story is circulating around the world would have been extremely naive.”

Kelly Kilner, PR manager at Fifth Ring, agrees that a change in the times brought about a necessity for action on the part of the Prince.

She explains: “It was crucial for Prince Charles to proactively quash the rumours that were floating around on the home and international news arena. What choice did the royal household have? I don’t believe that the statement has fuelled more speculation. However, it does remain a key news story, given that there is a current cultural obsession with tittle-tattle on the celebrity/royal news front.”

Regardless of whether or not issuing the statement was the right thing to do, it’s now a done thing and, for right or wrong, the media has jumped on it like a hungry dog on a bone. Maggie Wright, managing director of Maggie Wright Associates, believes that the world is underestimating the Prince’s PR team if it believes this wasn’t expected. She explains: “It was an unexpected move by the Prince and has attracted even more media attention to the allegations. However, it wasn’t as if the reaction wouldn’t have been known or anticipated by his media advisors, who are all experienced professionals. If the goal was to kill the story then it clearly hasn’t worked. But they could have something else in mind.”

Alex Barr, a director of The Big Partnership, agrees that the Prince Charles PR machine may have a couple of tricks left up its sleeve.

He says: “My initial thoughts are in the short term people will regard it as the wrong thing to do. It puts you in the spotlight and most people didn’t know who was involved in the allegations, despite the allegations themselves receiving a lot of coverage.

“In the long term, I believe it will prove to be the right decision, however. The Sunday Herald published the allegations; the rules preventing their publication only apply in England and Wales and you’ve got the internet and the international press all free to publish what they like. In the long term, I think he will be vindicated, they may even have information that we don’t have.”

While the handling of the allegations will continue to be a subject for discussion, only time will tell whether the royal spin doctors have bedded down for a long-term strategy or just a quick fix.


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