Rocked by the explosive allegations revealed in Oprah Winfrey’s emotional interview with Prince Harry and Meghan Markle, the Royal Family found itself in a position experienced by organizations around the world — reputation management in the heat of the flame in an attempt to protect a valuable brand.
It can happen to any of us.
Yet with all the resources available to Buckingham Palace, its crisis communications response has been weak, its team seemingly less prepared than one would expect for a public relations crisis we all watched build for weeks. And once a statement was released, it missed the mark on some critical measures of successful crisis communications.
While our own crisis management certainly won’t be Meghan-Harry-Oprah-Queen level, there are lessons here that apply to our less-than-royal lives.
Speed matters. We operate in a world of where communication is rapid and relentless. Oprah’s full interview aired on a Sunday evening, making a Tuesday response by the palace seemed inexcusably tardy. That gap created the space for people to fill in their own ideas about how the Royal Family felt. Leaving a void in communication during a time of crisis is rarely a good idea. It’s nearly always best to respond quickly and clearly.
A statement based on an organization’s core values can be prepared in advance, and adapted quickly after details are known. In this case, an advance statement would have been approved by the Queen before the Oprah interview aired, and the palace communications team would have had a statement updated reflecting the realities of the interview ready for the Queen’s review over her Monday morning cup of tea.
Sure, the interview aired a day later in Great Britain than it did in the United States, yet there are ways to stay on top of an urgent event like this. One creative example: A Nairobi-based reporter on a recent news show shared how she used FaceTime to call her New York-based sister to watch the interview in real time. There’s always a way.
It’s not about you. The opening line of the Queen’s statement is about how the family felt, missing the opportunity to show compassion for those family members — Meghan and Harry — experiencing pain very real to them. It’s a subtle switch in perspective that communicates connection rather than defensiveness.
The statement reads: “The whole family is saddened to learn the full extent of how challenging the last few years have been for Harry and Meghan.”
A stronger opening line would acknowledge the pain and communicate action:
“The pain experienced by Harry and Meghan is unacceptable to our family, and addressing the issues raised by them will be a top priority.”
It’s not over ’til it’s over. The initial statement is only the beginning of a crisis communication strategy, and the Queen’s team should communicate consistently about actions and progress. To do otherwise again creates a void that people will happily fill with rumor and innuendo, which will do nothing to bolster a damaged reputation.
Pledge transparency, and follow through.
Cindy Miller is CEO of Cindy Miller Communications.