There is little to surprise in Prince Charles’ choice as his new press
secretary. No big name from the PR consultancy world - no Max Clifford
or Sir Tim Bell, nor even a Jane Atkinson. A career civil servant, Sandy
Henney is a safe pair of hands and someone who knows the ropes - after
all she has been working there for three years.
Arguably, however, the challenge which faces her is greater than that
faced by any of her predecessors. The Wales’ marriage may be over but
for Charles it is just the beginning. And let no one at the Palace
imagine they are now shot of Diana - they have made that mistake before.
As soon as the Palace made Diana and Fergie outsiders it lost control.
They became, in PR terms, loose cannons. The thought of Diana hawking
herself around American chat shows - gagging clause notwithstanding - is
likely to haunt the dreams of Palace officials for many years to come.
Throughout this most public of marriage breakdowns, Diana has grasped
the importance of good PR in a way the Palace in only now catching on
to. Where the Royal PR machine has appeared arrogant, ponderous and, at
times, downright dishonest, Diana has been bold and fast on her feet.
Her judicious use of the press leak has consistently caught Charles and
his advisers off guard, most recently during negotiations over the
marriage settlement. Her decision earlier this week to dump around 100
charities and focus her energies on just six on the principle ‘less is
more’, was hailed by the London Evening Standard as proof of her mastery
of spin doctoring
How long this has been planned and what part, if any, her media adviser
Jane Atkinson played in this, if any, we can only guess at but at the
very least it demonstrates that Diana is very much in control.
For too long, both sides have engaged in knee jerk PR - a public
slanging match, no less public for the fact that it has been filtered
through those mysterious friends. It has done both sides much harm.
The challenge for Henney is to look beyond that. As a brand, Prince
Charles is in dire need of some fresh thinking - the danger now is that
he and his advisers might think they can simply return to the old status
The truth is that the game has changed. In these days of stakeholders
and general scepticism towards institutions, a constant diet of Royal
occasions and official functions is simply not enough. At its crudest,
Charles has to decide exactly what it is he represents - and PR can help
in that process. He then needs to communicate that with a clear and
coherent PR strategy.