'Job-share' issues face new royal comms director

When the UK royal family said it was merging its media setup, the press had a field day.

LONDON: When the UK royal family said it was merging its media setup, the press had a field day.

Headlines declared that the Queen would be “job sharing” with Prince Charles, whose communications team has been integrated into that of his mother and sons, all newly located within Buckingham Palace.

But the coverage touched on a core truth. According to insiders, the restructuring signals a transition of duties and narrative away from the 87-year-old head of state as she cuts down on public duties and foreign visits.

"It is inevitable there will be a shift in media focus," argues London Evening Standard royal reporter Robert Jobson, pointing to the increasing profile of the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge as they assume more public engagements.

It is Sally Osman who the Windsors have entrusted with shaping the newly merged operation as director for royal family comms, having been attached to the role last July as comms secretary for Prince Charles.

James Roscoe will still lead PR duties for the Queen, while Ed Perkins will continue to lead communications management for the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge and Prince Harry. However, the new setup is designed to enable Osman's 27-strong team to work more flexibly across the royal role.

The move is intended to allow the royal household to speak with one voice, but will also present challenges. One PR figure with insight into the royal household spoke of the “notorious politics” between staff. However, the source was careful to exclude senior comms figures from this tension, adding that “if anyone has the experience to handle potential difficulties, Osman does.”

One look at her resume shows why. Working for Greg Dyke at the similarly political BBC, Osman oversaw a newly integrated corporate and publicity operation. Then, after a stint advising Chinese government figures, she again led a business attempting to integrate its communications, this time at Sony Europe.

Those who know Osman speak of her sensitive management of staff and her discretion, but head of UK PR for Sony Electronics Lucie Speciale also points to her iron will, which one agency figure terms the “velvet sledgehammer.”

“She was a leader in a culture change in which silos were knocked down and [she] was able to make comms more centralized and more focused," Speciale said.

While the restructure takes shape, one of Osman's priorities is upping the monarchy's digital impact, a task likely to be helped by the Queen's reported positivity towards social media. Events such as Glasgow's Commonwealth Games and the First World War commemorations are on the horizon, but in an institution with a heritage like no other, it is the long vision that really counts.

Having inherited replenished stocks of national goodwill after the nadir of the 1990s, Osman's main challenge is handling the transition to the royal family's new generation. Former BBC head of press Donald Steel believes her “incredible strategic vision” and ability to stay above the fray will come in handy.

Drawing parallels between the BBC and Buckingham Palace, he added that “they're both institutions over which the public feels a great amount of ownership. There is a tendency to want to modernize but it has to be done with utmost care."

This story originally appeared on the website of PRWeek UK.

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