ANALYSIS: MEDIA RELATIONS; Can good PR restore respect for Royalty?

The Royal family is in crisis, or so the tabloid press would have us believe. Questions have been raised over the monarchy’s future and recent attempts to boost its image have failed

The Royal family is in crisis, or so the tabloid press would have us

believe. Questions have been raised over the monarchy’s future and

recent attempts to boost its image have failed



‘The monarchy is not a product like a soap powder which can easily be

presented in PR terms,’ says Geoffrey Crawford, deputy press secretary

to the Queen. The problem is, at the moment it’s more akin to a soap

opera.



The mystique, famously held up as the monarchy’s strength by

constitutionalist Walter Bagehot, has been shattered. A recent MORI

poll - taken before the Wales’ divorce was finalised - demonstrated the

extent of its decline in public approval. In 1984, 77 per cent of people

thought Britain would be worse off without a monarchy, now the figure is

34 per cent.



And while both Diana and Fergie are now outside the Royal family, no-one

should underestimate the damage they could still do.



As Crawford points out the monarchy has lasted as long as it has because

of its adaptability and there are signs that the Queen has accepted that

reform is inevitable. Last month the Sun revealed details of the Way

Ahead group - comprising the Queen, Prince Philip, the children and

senior Palace officials - set up in 1992 to consider options for reform.



As part of that process, the Palace will have to regain control of the

PR agenda. For it has been the unprecented soul-baring of individual

family members - such as Prince Charles’ Dimbleby interview in 1994 and

the Princess of Wales Panorama appearance the following year - which has

largely been reponsible for destroying the mystique of majesty. These

exercises were part of the personal PR war between the couple -

conducted at the expense of the Royal family’s reputation.



‘They were catastrophic’ says Robert Hardman, Royal correspondent at the

Daily Telegraph. ‘The Palace tries to pump out one message, but the

agenda is being set elsewhere. Coverage is dominated by the private

lives of individuals.’



The Dimbleby programme was co-ordinated by the Prince of Wales’ press

office at St James Palace, while the Panorama interview was Diana’s

personal decision and apparently the reason that Crawford resigned from

her office at Kensington Palace. Such decentralisation in PR output may

well be at the root of the Royals’ PR problems.



When asked about future PR strategy, Crawford, based at Buckingham

Palace, is quick to distinguish the institution of the ‘monarchy’ from

the Royal family and complains that there is more interest in individual

private lives than in the positive duties of the Royals.



However, many journalists are critical of the lack of consistent

dialogue with the media. One national Royal correspondent says: ‘The

press office at Buckingham Palace is hopeless, it is so hamstrung. As

part of the court system it is restricted by its rules. Many of the

staff are not held in confidence, they are always involved in damage

limitation.’



Indeed, despite both Charles and Diana’s networks of unofficial PR

advisers, they both appear to regard PR people as functionaries rather

than people to be involved in decision-making. The appointment of civil

servant Sandy Henney as the Prince of Wales’ press secretary is an

unimaginative but safe choice. Meanwhile the Princess of Wales’

dalliance with commercial PR - in the form of Jane Atkinson - foundered

as it became clear Diana wanted someone who did what they were told

rather than gave advice.



Diana is now thought to be looking for someone to replace Atkinson but

few believe this will be anything other than a souped up secretary a la

the Duchess of York’s assistant Kate Waddington.



As for the Royal family proper, opinions differ about what they should

do to improve their PR. The Telegraph’s Hardman advises a ‘do nothing’

approach: ‘I think the Royals should keep their heads down and try to

avoid doing things that are controversial,’ he says. ‘The Princess Royal

has done the least in courting the media but has been the most

successful in improving her media profile.’



Another Royal correspondent takes a different line: ‘Some suggest a long

period of silence would be a good idea and the Prince of Wales has been

doing just that recently with select briefings in the vein of the

Government lobby. But it’s too late for that. The tabloid press corps is

too big and influential. There are professional PR consultants who could

help.’



So how would the professionals handle the challenge?



‘I’d treat the Royal family like any other institution,’ says Hill and

Knowlton’s UK chairman Antony Snow. ‘My disappointment with Royal PR is

that it doesn’t seem to follow a plan. The perception of the monarchy is

extremely mixed as to its value and its future.’



He adds: ‘It has begun to be perceived as a set of individuals but needs

to return to an institution and explain its relevance. Quick fixes on a

personal basis will not work.’



Julia Hobsbawm, joint MD of Hobsbawm Macaulay Communications, agrees

that a consistent framework is essential, although she supports a high-

profile role for individual family members.



‘There has to be a long-haul re-evaluation of what the Royal family

stands for and this message has to be compatible with the media-

saturated society in which we live. Modern celebrity status equates with

media intrusion,’ she says.



‘Royalty is inevitably influential and must face up to its

responsibilities.’



But Henney says much of the Royals’ good work, while recognised by the

regional media, is ignored by the nationals.



‘It‘s only when you’re inside the institution that you understand the

complexities of the monarchy and the roles of the members of the Royal

family,’ she says. ‘But we don’t have a monopoly on good ideas.’



It’s the nearest thing you will get to an invitation for the PR industry

to put its ideas forward. The big question is: will anyone listen if

they do?



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