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King Charles and his game of comms


By Gordon Young | Editor-in-Chief

September 12, 2023 | 6 min read

The Drum’s founder, Gordon Young, looks at how Queen Elizabeth’s comms strategy has held strong in a year that could make or break the new king.


One year after her death, Queen Elizabeth’s comms strategy appears to be one of her most significant legacies. And it’s now paying dividends for King Charles and the next in line to Prince William’s throne.

As the King marked the anniversary of his mother’s passing, it is fair to say he has confounded those who thought his ascendancy would coincide with a descent of the institution.

Certainly, King Charles’s poll ratings are the stuff of an elected head of state’s dreams. According to an Ipsos study published in May, 63% of Brits were satisfied with his job as monarch. William is doing even better, with a 73% approval rating.

The success is underpinned by a strategy that was famously summed up as ‘never complain, never explain.’ And as well as the UK, it is also delivering spectacular results in the US.

Back in 2021, in the aftermath of the Sussex’s explosive interview with Oprah Winfrey, the Royal Households were in despair, conceding ‘we have a US problem.’ But a refusal to engage with the brickbats sent his way by Harry and Meghan has paid off.

When William visits the US next week, he will be arriving as one of the most trusted and popular public figures in the eyes of Americans. Gallup says he is more highly rated than Joe Biden and Ukraine’s Volodymyr Zelensky.

So, what are the key attributes of the Royal strategy? They include…

Adaptation to changing times: The Queen adapted her communication style over the decades, showing an understanding of evolving public expectations. King Charles and William have the same insight. Since becoming King, Charles has retreated from many of his personal hobby horses that many thought would land him in trouble. Instead, many of the causes - such as environmentalism - have been taken up by William, who has more leeway to navigate potential debate.

Consistency in branding: Queen Elizabeth maintained a consistent image throughout her reign, embodying tradition, duty, and stability. This consistency has made her a symbol of continuity in the UK and the Commonwealth. The King’s coronation reflected the formula.

Accessibility through technology: Despite her traditional outlook, her team embraced modern technology; she used social media and her website to connect with younger generations. The Royal Family continues to use the likes of Instagram, where it has 13m followers. Williams and Kate’s joint account is followed by 15m.

Transparency within bounds: While maintaining the mystique of the monarchy, Queen Elizabeth was relatively transparent about her role and duties, offering insight into her daily life through documentaries and interviews. However, Team Sussex’s mistake was to overshare, undermining the mystique.

Crisis management: The Queen’s calm and measured responses during times of crisis, such as the original Sussex revelations, reassured the public. The impact of the understated line ‘recollections may vary’ cannot be overstated. It said it all without either complaining or explaining. The new King’s vow of silence on the Sussex Netflix series and Harry’s book indicates they will not be provoked.

Strategic media management: The Queen’s team carefully managed her media appearances, ensuring they aligned with her message and values while protecting her privacy. And, of course, these media appearances were used to promote British fashion brands, a tradition the Princess of Wales continues, most recently promoting Alexander McQueen at the Rugby World Cup.

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But as well as her dedication to service, the Queen also had length of service on her side. Her successors are benefiting from that wisdom.

In this day and age, a hereditary monarchy would seem to defy the laws of democratic physics. However, the queen ensured this constitutional bee had the strategy to stay airborne for some time yet.

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