There’s a saying that there is no such thing as bad publicity; which is something that most PR professionals would dispute.
In our business lives, one of the biggest skills we deploy is assisting clients who have a crisis and advising them how to make the wisest choices in how to communicate about it to everyone from employees to suppliers, external stakeholders, the wider world and of course, the media.
We always advise that transparency is the best option and that any attempt to be duplicitous or hide the truth is always going to be smoked out, especially by the media. This can create a crisis situation where your credibility as an individual or business comes under fire as well.
The focus on the Royal Family during the past couple of weeks has made me think about this. In the extensive media and television coverage leading up to the 20th anniversary of the death of Diana, Princess of Wales, I chose to watch one programme.
It was called “Diana, Seven Days”, broadcast by the BBC and took a behind the scenes look at what happened during the week between the tragic and untimely death of “the People’s Princess” and her funeral.
It had interviews with the diplomat in Paris who broke the news, the courtier who planned the funeral, Princess Diana’s family and lady-in-waiting and both Prince William and Prince Harry, talking about their mother’s death. However, the most interesting parts for me were the interviews with Tony Blair and his media advisor Alistair Campbell.
Blair and Campbell disclosed how they had debated “the tone” of the Prime Minister’s media statement after the Princess’ death and had decided that “emotional” was fine. Neither could apparently remember who had coined the phrase “the People’s Princess”. Both talked at length about the advice they gave the Royal Family when the media attacked them for staying at Balmoral and not coming to London to publicly show their grief and solidarity with the people.
Fast forward to the present day and you have much debate in the media over whether William and Harry have done the right thing in baring their souls about their emotional torments or should have kept silent. Polls now show that after all the reminders of the unhappiness of the Princess of Wales, public support for Prince Charles and his wife Camilla, Duchess of Cornwall, is at a low ebb.
We are entering unchartered times for the Royal Family, as the Queen and Prince Philip start to take a lower profile and the younger members of the family step up their duties. One respected media commentator said that support for the Royal Family is currently “solid but fragile”. I agree with this as it does not take much for a media storm to arise and public opinion to shift dramatically because of it.
Wise heads, good PR planning and proactive crisis management would be top of the agenda if I was involved (and what a challenging and fascinating task it would be).
For me, it is a classic example of how the statement that there is no such thing as bad publicity doesn’t always ring true.
Felicity MacFarlane is an Account Director at Indigo