Charles desperately tries to put the 'PR' back into Prince

To say that Prince Charles needs a bit of help with his image is a bit like saying Saddam is not very well liked in Washington. So it comes as no surprise that he (Prince Charles, that is) has at last turned to the web (www.princeofwales.gov.uk) as a way to communicate with people without the mediation of journalists, editors and commentators.

To say that Prince Charles needs a bit of help with his image is a bit like saying Saddam is not very well liked in Washington. So it comes as no surprise that he (Prince Charles, that is) has at last turned to the web (www.princeofwales.gov.uk) as a way to communicate with people without the mediation of journalists, editors and commentators.

There are plenty of pictures and news on his daily activities, self-penned speeches and articles, and information about the Prince's Trust and various charities he is involved in - all worthwhile and logical stuff to have on the Prince of Wales's web site.

Many of those visiting the site, however, will be doing so to see whether he has anything to say about Diana. Or about his lover Camilla Parker Bowles. On those subjects he is silent, as of course he has to be. The problem about royal glasnost of this sort is that people always want more.

As well as the media - the mediators of his views whom he both needs and hates - he will now have a direct audience of visitors clamoring for information and responses to their questions.

One thing that separates the web from print or broadcast media is that communication can move in many directions. And through the site's e-mail facility, Charles can now hear directly what people all over the world think of him. Some of the 'best' messages, we are told, will even be posted in the forum section. So far, these are all very respectful, and don't ask any of the 'wrong' questions.

But this is where things start to go wrong. Charles may have woken up to some of the possibilities of the online world, but his advisers don't seem to have thought through all of the implications. Going onto the web opens you up to people like nothing else. People will expect real interaction.

They'll want answers to their questions, even the difficult ones. The site already tells us that e-mails cannot be answered individually, but if people start to sense that their words are simply disappearing into a bottomless bucket, the site will, despite his best intentions, simply emphasize a sense of remoteness.

If Charles wants a direct channel of communication with his subjects, critics, newspaper readers and so on, he cannot treat the web like traditional media, where statements can be launched from behind a wall of press officers and unofficial spokespeople. It can be a highly effective PR (or, in this case, an 'image-righting') tool. But only if Prince Charles really starts to use it to communicate, not just serve up press releases and speeches.

So get behind that keyboard, Chuck.

 

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