3 Crisis Communication Lessons From the Royal Family

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The internet has been buzzing with chatter and conspiracy theories surrounding Princess Kate. While much of this was fueled by social media sleuths, a lack of communication from Kate and her team only fanned the flames.

While Kate released a video explaining her absence and that she is dealing with a cancer diagnosis, many PR and communications professionals argued it was a step in the right direction but too little, too late to contain the crisis that unfolded.

Leaders and businesses of all sizes can learn three lessons from the royal family’s outdated crisis PR playbook.

“No comment” is a comment

In today’s world, the royal family’s long-standing, unofficial motto “never complain, never explain” no longer works. When a business leader or brand refuses to comment publicly on an issue, rumors begin, and social media makes it easier for anyone to weigh in on controversies and for those opinions to be seen and spread by people worldwide.

Shying away from a crisis never helps. If you aren’t ready to immediately comment or expand on what happened, your communications team can have a placeholder statement ready to go in any crisis. From there, work on the specifics of your particular situation and get a comment or statement ready to release as soon as possible. When considering how and where to release your statement or speak publicly, consider all your stakeholders and the media they are consuming. If you’re staying quiet on social media during a crisis, you’re making a big mistake.

Communicate quickly

You can only control the narrative if you are communicating with your stakeholders in a timely manner. The longer you wait to respond, the more people will craft their own stories. While it’s clear the royal family has long prioritized privacy, they are public figures, and the public demands transparency via both traditional and social media. Unlike when William was a child, the biggest threat may not be the paparazzi; everyone with a phone is a reporter, and every statement and image can be instantly searched for accuracy.

If your PR team is using tactics that worked a few years ago, they are outdated. Proactive, timely communication rooted in an understanding of how social and digital media has changed crisis comms is the best way to own your message and control the narrative.

Take accountability

While we saw Kate take accountability for the altered Mother’s Day photo, some argue it didn’t go far enough. In fact, I think it only made matters worse. She fell short of explaining why she made the edits and why those edits weren’t disclosed. These aren’t just photos you or I are sharing on Instagram; they are used in publications and being seen by people worldwide, and it hurt her credibility. I suspect this was orchestrated by her team, and they woefully miscalculated the ramifications, adding fuel to a comms fire.

Whenever something happens to a business garnering media and public attention, someone needs to take accountability, and our best advice is for that person to be the CEO or another executive at the top. The accountability must be authentic with a clear understanding of the audience and the ramifications.

My heart goes out to the royal family. Their biggest battles are not in the press or with the paparazzi; the stakes are much higher.

Kristi’s article was originally published in Inc. on April 17, 2023.