A right Royal PR success - a lesson for big business from Harry’s wedding

by Stephen Benzikie

by Stephen Benzikie

THE British Royal family is often referred to as ‘The Firm’ by some of its own members. It’s a tightly run operation, in which key players are expected to pull their weight in service of the country. The corporate analogy is not wasted on the sizeable organisation that is the House of Windsor, with some commentators estimating a boost to UK GDP in Q2 from tourism and spending around the wedding of Prince Harry and Meghan Markle.

The event has been hailed a huge public relations success by the media and those in the PR industry itself.  The perception of the Royal Family at home and its reputation elsewhere in the world seems to have been significantly enhanced in recent months, with a further surge in support for the monarchy over the wedding weekend.

So what’s changed? The Royals themselves, apparently. In the relatively short time since Prince William’s wedding in 2011, the Windsors have been seen to embrace social change,  become far less rigid in their own protocols and welcome multiculturalism into their own family to an extent that many in the UK would still struggle to match. Few would have predicted the Queen having tea with Doria Ragland, an African-American social worker who would become her grandson’s mother-in-law.

It’s more than just the ‘look and feel’ ofe Royals or a new, more human tone and softer positioning: it’s about actions. Princes rdingly on a wide range of issues. Some would say the weekend’s wedding showed the Prince of Wales in a much warmer light - and as a more appealing future King - than ever before. Giving Meghan away in her father’s absence and repeatedly offering his hand to her mother as they walked together, Prince Charles endeared himself to a public in whose eyes his future reign has been eclipsed by the eventual prospect of William taking the throne.

Some of these are small things, some much bigger, but they show that good PR is about more than just communications. That said, Communicator of the Week must surely go to Bishop Michael Curry, the African-American Anglican primate from the US whose 14 minute sermon at Harry and Meghan’s wedding overcame guests’ early sniggers to land powerful punches rarely delivered from British pulpits.

While the Royal Family is undoubtedly constrained in many ways regarding its communications, actions and ‘corporate’ behaviour, equally it is sometimes able to take greater risks than other institutions. This is perhaps because it is subject to a different, somewhat less direct accountability. Government is about elected politicians delivering partial remedies to recurring human problems. Almost doomed to failure,  such leaders are regularly voted out and replaced. Corporations, even private ones,  are answerable to shareholders for delivering acceptable returns.

Public relations in business is dominated by communications strategies supplemented by often tokenistic corporate responsibility initiatives. Much of our time as PR advisers is spent developing narratives, telling stories, fine-tuning messages and painstakingly crafting statements. CEOs seek PR strategies that build or restore reputation, but too often they see these as ranging from clever corporate positioning at the strategic end to supportive media coverage at the tactical end. Ultimately, actions speak louder than words and big business will rarely improve reputation without behaving differently or delivering tangible deeds.  

Companies facing a crisis, planning a transformation or looking to accelerate growth can absolutely count on PR and communications to make a major difference. Good advisers can help to implement real organisational initiatives that build support and move a corporate strategy forward.  But change is about doing.