If the US and UK are two countries separated by a common language, the Sussexes and Windsors seem to be a family in their choice of language, tone and medium used, separated by an unusual communication strategy. Harry and Meghan’s well-known, sensational prime-time television interview with Oprah Winfrey and her 17 million-strong audience threw the royal family the gauntlet. Buckingham Palace might have made fun of this slap in the face, but in his short and dignified response he returned the thrown glove with an invitation not to spit publicly but to chat privately.
Corporations and executives similarly have personal and professional personalities who share their preferred communication strategies during times of crisis. And lessons can be learned from the alternative approaches of the centuries-old institution of the monarchy, the young prince and his modern wife.
For anyone suffering from the slings and arrows of outrageous criticism, a response can be vital to mitigating the damage caused, rehabilitating reputation, and regaining some degree of control. An appropriate response can draw a line in the dispute and prevent private or professional dirty laundry from being (continued) broadcast in public.
Using the media to make a point can be an extremely successful strategy. Not every founder or organization can draw the same public spotlight as a prince and his Hollywood actress, but they may not want to. Once you’ve harnessed the power of reporters, photographers, newspapers, and broadcasters to get your message out, you may have lost control of your communications altogether.
Whether we are public figures or individuals, VIPs or CEOs, business leaders, heads of state or families, ensuring fair and accurate portrayal can be critical to our continued success. But where confidential information suddenly leaks, stories quickly spread on social media, or mainstream media unexpectedly knocks on our doors, we may feel like we are out of control. Buckingham Palace may have felt similarly, having to sit down and watch with the rest of us as his own family and solid drama unfold in the media. Buck House could have rushed to respond and delve into the hurtful allegations, but to a wider audience this may have looked like an uncomfortable revenge. Alternatively, it could have made a passionate plea for fairness, but then an unhelpful and unworthy “he said, she said” could have been the result. Quite the puzzle.
Silence in the face of grave allegations is seldom golden: it will leave too much room for others to populate with their views; What fake news can be if left unaddressed will quickly turn to the accepted truth. While unnecessary delays in answering may suggest that the answer is too considered and insincere, answering too quickly can embroil both parties in a verbal boxing match. a protracted and public struggle from which neither side can easily break free. Passion does not have to be met with unnecessary emotions; Frustration and anger can be eased through sadness and regret. a heated accusation chilled by a quieter counter; and what is not said between the lines can speak volumes.
Regardless of our area of life – consultant, royal family or just private family – our answers should be real, truthful, thoughtful, sensitive to the questions raised and in harmony with the zeitgeist in the face of a reputation crisis.
In this Hollywood v London case, the media strategies were chalk and cheese. Whatever your best choice for your messaging, make sure you have an appetite for the ramifications.
Amber Melville-Brown is the director of media and reputation practice for Withers international law firm.