Three PR lessons from Harry, prince of publicity
Prince Harry’s publicity tour is in full swing. While very few of us are as high-profile as Harry, there are some key public relations lessons that we can all learn from. Aaron Kwittken, chief executive KWT Global, offers three specific pieces of advice.
His Royal Highness the Duke of Sussex (aka Prince Harry) recently joined Late Late Show host and fellow Brit James Cordon for a 17-minute segment. The duo schlepped around Los Angeles on a double-decker tour bus (a first for the royal, he said) – and tried to enjoy an afternoon tea, which fell apart hilariously on the 405.
They popped by the Fresh Prince of Bel-Air’s house – with Cordon determined that there would be nothing cooler than a REAL prince living where the FRESH prince was filmed. They even Facetimed the Duchess to run the idea by her. Harry asked the owners if he could run inside to use the bathroom – a surprising and amusingly humanizing moment for the super famous royal. Last but not least, the duo took on a military-style fitness test, showcasing Prince Harry’s military background, not to mention his youth and apparent vigor.
The pair have been pals for years – Cordon even attended Harry’s wedding to Meghan Markle in 2018 – and it showed. The piece was lighthearted and charming. Viewers likely came away feeling the prince was as likeable as ever, charming and funny, accessible and human. Shades of Diana were unmissable throughout.
And that’s exactly the point. Harry seems to be more Princess Diana than Prince Charles. Warm, clever, philanthropic and highly strategic when it comes to managing his public persona.
Lesson 1: be deliberate, but make it look natural
As a piece of public relations, the Cordon segment was genius. What felt whimsical and off-the-cuff to most was likely in reality an incredibly well-planned narrative, carefully constructed for maximum and very targeted impact. Kicking off with the Harry standing on a sidewalk to be picked up, shooting the breeze atop the bus, connecting with a shared American cultural touchstone via The Fresh Prince house, and only then delving into the dicey issues of his decision last year to leave the royal family – was strategic, well-timed and smart. His team got the viewer on side, established a sense of what a real and relatable person Harry is – then dropped the hammer.
His words around his and the Duchess’s exit were likewise carefully executed – with a focus on their stated commitment to family and mental health – but not without a biting and succinct indictment of the British press he clearly and famously loathes. Finishing with the military fitness exercise was, besides flipping back to the light and fluffy after serious bits, was a reminder to the viewer that the Duke is still young, full of life and promise. The stark contrast with an aging and outdated monarchy back in Britain was hard to miss. He presented a human construct in real life against a long-standing, storied social construct.
Lesson 2: lead with humility and humbleness but land your narrative
Harry’s next big interview will be with Oprah and is slated to air in the United States on March 7. Oprah is masterful at getting even the most hardened of guests to open up and her long-standing friendship with Meghan will likely create an even more trusting, truthy environment.
People go on Oprah because they either have something to say, something to admit or both. In this case, I am going to guess that Harry and Meghan will have a lot to say and I expect that they will approach a wide range of sensitive topics gracefully and humbly. At the same time they will likely send a very clear message about the media, mental health, freedom from the royal family and how public service is truly universal and remains a top priority for the couple.
Lesson 3: you do you and don’t be afraid to share your journey
Since their arrival state-side a year ago, the Duke and Duchess have kicked off a number of projects – most recently Spotify podcasts, and a partnership between their Archewell Foundation and Chef José Andrés’ World Central Kitchen, to create Community Relief Centers in regions of the world prone to climate disasters.
They also founded a production company and signed a multiyear deal with Netflix, which will pay them to make documentaries, docuseries, feature films, scripted shows and children’s programming. From a PR standpoint, the Late Late Show is a soft but powerful kickoff to many of these – a thoroughly resonant approach to engaging the Duke’s newly-adopted American populace.
It’s likely not the last time we’ll see Harry in this vein, leveraging humor and a common touch approach to establish and separate himself ever more firmly in the minds of the public from his royal roots. The less we can see the mechanisms behind such appearances, the more powerful they’re likely to be – which he knows all too well. He is, after all, descended from the most famously beloved royal – likely of all time – a connection that it’s impossible to overplay.
Aaron Kwittken is chief executive officer, KWT Global and HL Group