The unambiguous apology, quickly issued, was predictable and necessary. But it was when this failed to prevent a whole new rash of near-hysterical ‘Sorry Isn’t Good Enough’ headlines that evidence of new and proactive thinking emerged.
The following day the story broke from unknown sources that a long-standing polo playing friend of Prince Charles, Kolin Dhillon, was nicknamed ‘Sooty’ because of his skin colour. In response Punjab-born Mr Dhillon obligingly issued a statement to the media absolving Prince Charles of racism.
The prince, he said had ‘zero prejudice’ while he, Mr Dhillon, regarded the nickname as ‘a term of affection’.
The blanket coverage of ‘Sootygate’ gave Clarence House a renewed opportunity to deny that any of the princes were tainted with racial prejudice. It also succeeded in spawning acres of media and chatroom opinion suggesting that in modern multicultural Britain the issue had moved beyond the meaning behind the use of a few nicknames and nouns.
As a proactive piece of media manipulation, the Sooty story succeeded in seamlessly shifting the debate from Prince Harry.
A number of editors are convinced the story was indicative of a more aggressive and savvy strategy of refocusing the
image of the core members of the Royal family in an increasingly hostile media climate. It will be interesting to watch for other signs of a new approach.
The other significant aspect of the original Harry story is the record traffic of 392,000 visitors the video drove to the News of the World website in a single day.
Much of the print media future lies online. Tabloid scandals will increasingly require video footage and this will provide challenges and opportunities for proactive and media-savvy reputation managers.
Ian Monk is founder of Ian Monk Associates and a former executive at the Daily Mail and The Sun