Harry and Meghan stepping back from the Royal Family and towards a new media policy is exactly the right PR move

Silence as a PR strategy never works, argues Phoebe Netto. It encourages gossip and assumptions and untruths, which are enabled by the Royal Family's rota system. By cleverly stepping away from that and implementing their own media policy, Harry and Meghan will control the message.

The Duke and Duchess of Sussex are ‘stepping back’ as senior members of the royal family. Instead, Harry and Meghan will now divide their time between the UK and North America and work on becoming ‘financially independent’. But while everyone is focusing on rumoured rifts and their desire to earn their own money, there is a huge selling point that people are missing: a new media policy.

The new policy will allow Harry and Meghan to speak to any media they like, putting a stop to the ‘Royal Rota’ system – in which tabloid media are given stories exclusively – and to respond to media enquiries or correct stories as they wish. And it’s exactly the right PR move in order to combat gossip and mistruths and, instead, control the message.

As explained in the Sussex’s new media policy: “The Royal Rota was established more than 40 years ago as a way of giving UK print and broadcast media exclusive inside access to the official engagements of members of the Royal Family.

“Under this system, the rota, or pool, gives these British media representatives the opportunity to exclusively cover an event, on the understanding that they will share factual material obtained with other members of their sector who request it.”

The problem with this system, they note, is that it “predates the dramatic transformation of news reporting in the digital age”, including the ability to share photos to social media before putting them through the rota system.

Along with freedom from the Royal Rota, Harry and Meghan will now be free from the Queen’s restrictions on responding to media enquiries – including false allegations – and will be able to work with a wider pool of publications.

In other words: more control. More control of the message, more control over the type of reporting, more control over media relationships (which ones to foster and which ones to avoid), and more control over the frequency of stories.

Despite some real PR blunders and bad strategic media moves in the past, the Sussex family have got this one right. ‘Controlling the message’ can no longer mean ignoring negative reporting just because it is false, and can no longer mean only addressing what others want you want to address. Yet this outdated approach still happens so often, and not just within the Royal Family. 

Take Prime Minister Scott Morrison avoiding any discussion about climate change in relation to bushfires, as the nation suffers through a season of unprecedented disasters. He avoided and avoided, with pivot after pivot after sound bite, until he was forced to make a comment directly about climate change weeks later. 

When the topic is one that people are passionately concerned or relentlessly intrigued by, silence never works. Once you realise it isn’t working and the news cycle hasn’t moved on, you’re on the back foot and it’s pretty hard to recover. Prince Andrew, take note. 

Pivoting, bridging statements, and trying to steer a media interview has its place. But trying to change public opinion or somehow force people to ignore something they are already fixated on can’t be done with silence and short statements.

People like to be spoken to intelligently. Even if they aren’t expertly qualified on issues, they want to be given the dignity of a proper response. And while there will always be some aspects that a spokesperson can’t go into detail about thanks to ongoing legal proceedings, privacy, or unconfirmed details, silence is still never an option.  

The sound of silence is only ever your silence; everyone else fills the void with their own assumptions and negative reporting. It’s the classic spiral of silence theory. Instead, giving as much information and detail as you can will bring the conversation back to the issue at hand – rather than focusing on you, your personal life, or your leadership. 

And in the case of the Sussex family, that silence can now be filled with what they want us to know, rather than a void filled by unsubstantiated commentary, rumours, fake news, and uninformed analysis.

Substance is key, along with a willingness to share what you can, a respect for media outlets that value accuracy, and a quick response to questions, concerns, interest and enquiries. 

Only then can you achieve true control, which is what Harry and Meghan have been desperately craving, and what any sound media strategy should be based on.

Phoebe Netto is the founder of Pure Public Relations


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