February 6, 2020


February 6, 2020

Group Gordon’s Hillary Wasserman examines what the royals can teach us about effective communication.

On January 8, the Duke and Duchess of Sussex – otherwise known as Meghan Markle and Prince Harry – posted an Instagram that stunned the world and nearly broke the internet. The couple announced that they would be leaving the royal family to move to North America and pursue financial independence. The ensuing fallout has captured the attention of millions of people and spawned endless sensational media headlines.

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“After many months of reflection and internal discussions, we have chosen to make a transition this year in starting to carve out a progressive new role within this institution. We intend to step back as ‘senior’ members of the Royal Family and work to become financially independent, while continuing to fully support Her Majesty The Queen. It is with your encouragement, particularly over the last few years, that we feel prepared to make this adjustment. We now plan to balance our time between the United Kingdom and North America, continuing to honour our duty to The Queen, the Commonwealth, and our patronages. This geographic balance will enable us to raise our son with an appreciation for the royal tradition into which he was born, while also providing our family with the space to focus on the next chapter, including the launch of our new charitable entity. We look forward to sharing the full details of this exciting next step in due course, as we continue to collaborate with Her Majesty The Queen, The Prince of Wales, The Duke of Cambridge and all relevant parties. Until then, please accept our deepest thanks for your continued support.” – The Duke and Duchess of Sussex For more information, please visit (link in bio) Image © PA

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As a fan of the royal family, I couldn’t get enough of all the news and speculation. As a PR professional, I couldn’t help but imagine the nuanced communications strategy that the public doesn’t get to see. The more I considered it, the clearer the level of detail that went into this rollout became – and also where the Sussexes made some missteps. Here are three key lessons for PR strategists.

Give stakeholders advance notice

The Sussexes’ announcement on its own was a major bombshell. But, it made further shockwaves when the press and the public learned that few, if any, of the other royal family members were notified in advance. The Queen’s terse statement was a shocking revelation that the drama was unfolding in real time.

No one with a stake in the matter should be surprised when an announcement goes public. Work closely with external partners and internal stakeholders to loop in all appropriate parties to ensure a smooth rollout and let internal drama play out in private.

Go where your audience is

The Sussexes very easily could have broken the news in an exclusive story with the print or television outlet of their choosing. Their decision to do so on Instagram is telling. Working with the press would be off-brand and off-message, especially because egregiously racist and sexist media coverage of Meghan was a significant factor in the royal rift. The Sussexes instead capitalized on a captive audience in their millions of Instagram followers, while also positioning themselves as a modern couple by choosing this 21st-century platform.

Smart PR strategy requires a keen understanding of where your audience gets their news and how to reach them with the appropriate level of filter on your message. That doesn’t always mean the front page of The New York Times; sometimes it’s a story in a niche trade or a segment on a local TV network – or a social media post.

Prepare for any possible scenario

The Instagram announcement was relatively short and lacked many of the details that onlookers were craving. Meghan and Harry directed interested parties to their new website, where they provided FAQs on two of the most contentious parts of their announcement: their media policy and funding. The robust website accomplished several goals, including offering transparency, reinforcing the thought that went into the decision, and preempting tough media questions.

Anticipate questions or points of confusion and provide as many specifics as possible to avoid distracting from important media moments.

It remains to be seen how this unprecedented split from the royal family will play out, but we can expect more savvy – and possibly not-so-savvy – communications from Meghan and Harry.