Royal Wedding a PR hit even though palace press team 'lost control'

While the wedding of Prince Harry and Meghan Markle captivated millions on Saturday, the couple "may come to regret their aggressive approach" to press relations for some time, according to Royal comms experts.

The new Duke and Duchess of Sussex emerge from the West Door of St George's Chapel, Windsor Castle (Credit: AFP Photo/Pool AND AFP Photo/Ben Stansall)
The new Duke and Duchess of Sussex emerge from the West Door of St George's Chapel, Windsor Castle (Credit: AFP Photo/Pool AND AFP Photo/Ben Stansall)

The build-up to the wedding was dominated by Markle's father Thomas, whose staging of paparazzi photos and very public eventual decision not to attend making front page news over several days.

BBC Royal correspondent Jonny Dymond wrote about US entertainment website TMZ's closeness to Thomas Markle: "TMZ has functioned as a rival press office, issuing apparently well-sourced bulletins on Thomas Markle's health and state of mind that left the palace blindsided."

'The machine' will want control

A former Royal comms consultant, speaking to PRWeek on condition of anonymity, was critical of Kensington Palace's handling of the matter, such as Meghan releasing an "unnecessary" statement in which she said she had "always cared for" her father.

This contrasts with the Royal press operation's treatment of Gary Goldsmith, the Duchess of Cambridge's uncle. Goldsmith's lifestyle and criminal conviction for assaulting his wife have given him many column inches, but he "was never given any oxygen" by the Royal family. As such, his behaviour has not tainted the Windsors, she argued.

PRWeek's source referred to "the machine" to describe this tight-lipped approach to comms usually used by Royal press teams and by Buckingham Palace in particular.

The press offices of Clarence House and Kensington Palace currently enjoy greater autonomy than in the past, when Buckingham Palace comms chief Sally Osman trialed a merger of the teams.

"For Meghan and Harry to have wrestled any control from the machine is an achievement," she said.

Although she pointed to successes of Kensington Palace's press team in the past, she went on to say: "In the meetings post-wedding, I think Buckingham Palace will be able to put a strong argument around why they should have more control.

"There's a reason why the Queen has remained untainted by scandal. The really successful brands - the Queen, Madonna, Kate Moss, Apple - they don't speak," the source went on to say.

Read next: The dud and the Dianas of Royal Wedding brand campaigns

'Bridges have been burnt'

Duncan Larcombe, a biographer of Prince Harry and former royal correspondent who has now entered the world of PR, was more critical still.

Larcombe, a consultant at 72Point, said Kensington Palace "hadn't banked on" Thomas Markle being willing "to do deals with the media", and as such "lost the 'control' that was at the heart of their PR strategy".

He also claimed that just one print reporter was allowed into the chapel for the wedding, and that photographers were charged £733 for their positions.

This, and a lack of detail provided by the couple ahead of the big day in an attempt to "maintain control every step of the way" constituted a "declaration of war by a prince whose hatred of the media seeps through every pore", Larcombe said.

"Of course the day itself was a triumph as the golden couple wed in front of an estimated 1.9bn viewers. But the newly-crowned Duke and Duchess may come to regret their aggressive and unprecedented approach to public relations - make no mistakes, bridges have been burnt and it will be many months, even years, before Fleet Street’s finest will be willing to forgive," he commented.

Of the future, he said: "If Sally [Osman] has any sense she will trying to fill Charles and Camilla’s diaries with join engagements alongside Meghan and Harry, so that the Prince of Wales is able to bask in Harry and Meghan’s limelight."

"That’s dependent on how willing the respective press offices are to work together. If Prince Charles misses the chance he is in real danger of being eclipsed by William/Kate and Harry/Meghan."

Read next: Prince Harry's statement on girlfriend was a watershed moment but you mess with the press at your peril

The Twitter reckoning

According to Brandwatch data, the wedding was mentioned a whopping 5.2m times on Twitter on Saturday alone, with more than half (53 per cent) of those mentions coming not from the UK, but from Markle's homeland, the US.

Prince Harry himself outshone his bride by being mentioned nine million times, with his bride accruing just one million mentions. The Queen was mentioned 173,000 times and David Beckham was the most discussed celeb guest with 90,722 - more than any other royal.

The nuptials outshone the day's other big match, Brandwatch found - the FA Cup final was mentioned 494,326 times on the day, and more than three-quarters of these came from overseas (US 37 per cent, UK 22 per cent, others 41 per cent).

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