Marketeer of the month

By The Drum, Administrator

November 27, 2003 | 5 min read

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 ain’t exactly D-listers.

It’s also the case that, at least as far as the UK and American 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 Adline 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 officially deny a rumour that hadn’t previously involved his name.

Nick Brown, managing director of NP PR, comments: “I don’t think he should have done this and I don’t know why he did. I understand that the statement was agreed but whether Prince Charles realised his Private Secretary was going on TV to deny an allegation that at that stage did not exist in the media is still puzzling. It is almost as though he was being undermined by his own staff. I would never have advised this approach at all. While it is sensible to be proactive, there is no point in telling the world that the allegation was against Charles. How many of us thought that it might have been another Royal before Prince Charles was put in the frame?”

Paul Carroll, chairman of Manchester’s Communique, agrees that the Prince’s strategy was a little baffling, stating: “Well, my first view is that they shouldn’t have issued such a strenuous denial over a rumour because that only fanned the flames and made people want to know what those allegations were. Nobody in their right mind believed them anyway because the guy that made them was so discredited. It almost gives it legitimacy by denying it.”

Steve Dann, managing director of Birmingham-based Seal Group, is another who believes the unreliability of the source had already done enough to discredit the allegations. He argues: “Limiting potentially damaging publicity through effective crisis management is one of the greatest measures of PR effectiveness. In this case I think Prince Charles was wrong to make a statement, particularly as the fanciful allegations came from a former Palace employee who apparently had a history of mental health problems and substance abuse.”

By issuing a statement denying any allegations against him, Charles put his name into the mouths of every gossip in the country. But, as others point out, his name was already being uttered freely in several other countries. The injunction to prevent detailing the allegations only applied to the English media, meaning that newspapers and television stations around the world were free to make them public.

In light of this, it would seem likely that Charles’ name would have emerged anyway. Is it possible that the Prince’s advisors were thinking ahead? David Southern, associate director of Harrison Cowley, believes so.

“After careful consideration, certainly yes. 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 that 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.”

Whether for the best or not, the statement has now been made and tongues have been a-wagging. But how else could the situation have been handled? Brown believes a more careful strategy would have been preferable. He explains: “It would have been better, in my opinion, to wait until asked outright about the allegations. Who is to say that they would ever have come out? Certainly by communicating it to the world Prince Charles’ team have made sure everyone now knows. I think it was daft to do this. The best strategy is to brief journalists off the record that crazy allegations have been made and that the media should ignore them.”

Carroll, at Communique, is also keen on the “honesty with journalists” approach. “In this case I would have done non-attributable background briefings to the press, just letting them know the lunacy of the claims.” He says, “The press being the press, they would have still tried to spin it out but there would have been a lot less airtime and column space devoted to it.”

The main point of contention seems to be whether there was any long-term thinking behind the statement. Some think there was. Others disagree.

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 for a quick ... er, fix.


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