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Gen Z Gen Alpha Public Relations (PR)

After KateGate, the royal PR maxim ‘never complain, never explain’ has got to go

By Maddie Davies, Digital PR manager



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April 2, 2024 | 7 min read

In an era defined by social shares, the royal adage ‘never complain, never explain’ has lost efficacy, says Maddie Davies of Propellernet. The Kate Middleton fiasco shows the Royals are alienating young audiences.

A person with long brown hair holds a crown over their own head

/ Jared Subia via Unsplash

The saying “never complain, never explain“ is attributed to Benjamin Disraeli, but encapsulates the approach of the British upper classes, not least the royals, to how they conduct themselves publicly.

While this approach might have sufficed for decades, recent PR blunders prove it is inadequate in 2024 and fails to resonate with younger generations – particularly gen Z and gen alpha, who prioritize transparency above everything.

First, let’s delve into some recent royal PR mishaps. From Prince Andrew's catastrophic BBC interview with Emily Maitlis to the Duke and Duchess of Sussex's decision to step back from royal duties, the royals have found themselves embroiled in numerous controversies of late.

However, the most recent PR disaster follows ’#KateGate,’ in which the Palace’s communication, or lack thereof, has left royal followers asking the question: “where on earth is Kate Middleton?“ Due to the lack of public relations, royal watchers have taken to social media to discuss potential theories, igniting conversations like never before.

Then, Kensington Palace’s release of the infamous Mother’s Day photo added even more fuel to the fire after Getty, AFP and AP all quickly issued a kill notice once they noticed the image had been altered. The following day Kate supposedly issued a statement apologising for any ‘confusion’ the family photograph may have caused.

Previously, communicating with the public via visuals such as the Mother’s Day post, was the royal family's way of telling a story without having to explain much. It’s because this fiasco came from a previously well-oiled machine that the series of mishaps seems suspect, even to those not immersed in the world of PR.

Royal PR approach alienates younger audiences

Sure, the traditional “never complain, never explain“ mantra may have previously worked as a quick fix when looking to lose a story in the middle of a crisis, because what better than to just keep quiet? However, this silence in the face of public scrutiny has become increasingly untenable in today's hyper-connected world.

Gen Z and gen alpha, raised in the age of social media and easy access to all kinds of information, are naturally skeptical of opaque and evasive communication. Recent research from Forrester found that 71% of consumers say they: “relate to authentic brands and want to support them.” Younger consumers value authenticity, honesty, and accountability from public figures – and this includes the royal family. The royals’ reluctance to address controversies head-on and provide transparent explanations will only alienate these younger demographics.

Of course, people of all ages understand the need to withhold sensitive and personal information – especially when it comes to health. But all the missteps and the seeming over-engineering of events has of course led to skepticism and people setting out to try to find the truth for themselves.

What this unfortunate series of events says to us in PR land is that due to these subpar statements and misleading photographs, Kensington Palace’s ‘invisible contract’ with the media may be disintegrating before our eyes. In an age where every word and action is scrutinized under the magnifying glass of social media, transparency reigns supreme and is imperative to fostering trust and credibility.

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The Kategate takeaway

So, what can we learn from the ’#KateGate’ fiasco? Firstly, it's crucial to acknowledge the shift in media consumption and adapt communication strategies accordingly. The days of top-down comms are out. Authentic engagement that establishes meaningful connections with audiences is very much in.

Secondly, honesty is the best policy. Attempting to kill controversy with silence only serves to fuel speculation and encourage consumers to reach their own conclusions. Brands should embrace transparency to demonstrate a commitment to representing their target audience that will resonate deeply with younger generations.

Lastly, never underestimate the power of social media and digital platforms. The next generation of consumers – gen Z and gen alpha – are more media literate than their predecessors. They are keen to understand public relations strategies and happy to criticize them if they fail. This should signal to the Palace that the “never complain, never explain” mantra no longer serves them or those they are trying to speak to.

By actively addressing concerns in real-time via public-facing platforms, public figures, and brands can prove their transparency and quash conspiracy theories before they even start.

Embrace authenticity for real appeal

The “never complain, never explain“ approach is increasingly out of sync with younger audiences. Recent PR mishaps underscore the importance of embracing authentic communication in the face of controversy, and the need to adapt strategies to align with evolving media landscapes. In this way, PRs can hopefully forge stronger connections with audiences and navigate the peaks and troughs of modern media without conspiracies following us around.

Has the Palace underestimated the savviness of the general public and simply failed to keep on top of containing misinformation? Or is this all orchestrated and are they intentionally being ham-fisted at the expense of the Princess of Wales’s reputation?

Gen Z Gen Alpha Public Relations (PR)

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