Two royal family members made the headlines this week but for very different reasons. For those interested in corporate communications and media interview skills, the very different approaches to interacting with the press of the Queen and her grandson, Prince Harry, offer some interesting lessons.
For somebody who never does interviews, the Queen is a skilful communicator. If one of the key elements of effective corporate communications is managing the message, then Her Majesty and her press team are very successful. They ensure, for instance, that every image is carefully constructed and conveys a particular idea.
What is the significance of the Queen’s 96th birthday picture?
Take the photograph released by Buckingham Palace to mark the Queen’s birthday this week. It shows her Majesty with two ponies. Slightly odd, perhaps, but the theme is clearly about modesty and a woman who, despite her wealth and status, enjoys the ‘simple life’. Contrast this with how she appears at a state banquet or when opening parliament. We’ve written before about her careful choice of colours and jewellery when delivering a speech to the nation on television. As we explain in our media training courses, what you wear on television can say much more than your words.
See the official portrait below.
When the Queen speaks, she makes every word count. Although we know that she doesn’t write her speeches and television broadcast scripts herself, their correct and formal yet simple and direct style help to emphasise the idea of someone dignified, serious, unflappable and, of course, devoted to duty.
What is happening with the Queen and Prince Harry?
However, a glance at the front pages of the newspapers yesterday provided a striking contrast between her majesties style of communication and approach to media relations and that of her grandson Prince Harry.
If the Queen errs firmly on the side of caution and ensures that nothing she says could be considered controversial, Prince Harry manages to do the absolute opposite. “Prince Harry was last night accused by Royal staff of ‘breathtaking arrogance’,” the Daily Mail told its readers. On the other hand, the Metro focused on his reference to his late mother and his belief that she watches over him. Meanwhile, other titles picked up on his refusal to say anything nice about his father or whether he’ll attend the Platinum Jubilee celebrations.
To what extent the prince’s comments are deliberately provocative, designed to draw attention away from his grandmother’s birthday, is unclear. In our Media Training courses, we are very focused on the importance of developing a message that is relevant to the audience and sticking to it. In our message development and testing sessions, we look at the message and the form of words and the medium to evaluate how it might land with target audiences.
Prince Harry’s comments provide a clear example of how a message can be spun out of control and even wilfully misinterpreted by the media. If His Royal Highness ever did one of our Media Training courses, he would know about the importance of focusing on one message so that you gain more control over the resulting media coverage. Almost all the newspapers have a different take on his comments, each picking up a particular angle, showing how a lack of focus and “message discipline” can result in spokespeople losing control of the narrative.
Why are the Royals good at media communications?
However, it must be said that The Duke and Duchess of Sussex are skilled at ticking the human box and including a good measure of emotion in their public utterances. This is something that, on the rare occasions when she is criticised, Her Majesty, it said, is sometimes lacking. Such emotional openness, soul searching and even breast-beating could be more appropriate to the Sussex is the younger target audience.
Overall, though, we would say that the Queen’s carefully controlled, scrupulously well planned, and tightly executed media operation is a better model for those in corporate communications to adopt. It’s certainly something that we advise the participants in our Media Training courses to put into practice.