Kate Middleton’s reaction to PR crisis decoded – ‘hidden message, blunder and lesson for Sussexes’

By Staff

The Princess of Wales is ‘nailing’ her response to the public outcry of her whereabouts since surgery, a PR expert has argued.

Despite Kensington Palace confirming on January 17 that Kate would be taking a step back from royal duties until Easter to recover from her ‘successful’ abdominal operation, conspiracy theories and cruel speculation about the princess have been rife. The ‘Kate-Gate’ trend continues to rumble on across social media, with wild accusations levied against the Firm, including talk of lookalikes and baffling claims Kate has been cloned.

The Mirror revealed earlier this week that the senior royal’s closest aides have been working around the clock to draw up a ‘PR plan’ for a seamless return to public life after such tumultuous fanfare. Two former aides, known for being “well-established public relations experts” have been drafted in by the team tasked with devising the mum-of-three’s new schedule after weeks of heightened scrutiny.

And now, a PR and crisis management expert has revealed just how carefully Kate has been treading the online frenzy – with hidden messages and clever moves that could be deemed as a ‘masterclass’ for the Sussexes, who have been dividing fans with their choices since stepping down from royal life in Britain.

However Edward Coram-James, chief executive of Go Up, does believe Kate made a rookie mistake following the Mother’s Day Photoshop saga – and one that would go against the late Queen Elizabeth’s publicity strategy. Here, as events continue to unfold – most recently with the shock probe into a security breach of her medical records – Edward decodes Kate’s handling of her PR crisis…

Firstly, Ed points out that the first rule in crisis communications is to respond in a way that is proportional to the crisis. But in most cases, he warns that there is a disconnect between the actual scale of the situation and the illusion created on social media.

Explaining how out of 10, ‘Kate-Gate’ is only a three, he says social media trolls have treated it like an eight, and if the palace was to respond to it as an eight, that would only serve to validate the over-reaction.

He reiterates that the Palace clearly set out expectations of when the public would likely next see Kate, and that it wasn’t until after Easter. They also specified that they would “only provide updates on Her Royal Highness’ progress when there is significant new information to share” in respect of her privacy.

“TikTok trolls are predicting Kate-Gate, the suggestion being that the Princess of Wales has gone AWOL and that the Royal Family is playing cover up,” Edward began.

“That, after Easter, when the Princess has said she will return, she shall in fact not return. And that there is an explosive subplot that is waiting to be exposed. Whereas, in reality, to date, nothing has gone off script. Kensington Palace told the world that the Princess of Wales was taking time off. And, in all likelihood, the Princess shall reappear at the exact time that she always said she would.”

Edward says the Royal Family has stuck by a ‘tried and tested’ formula with statements that has ‘stood the test of time,’ maintaining their reputation. “By staying above the fray and not giving oxygen, airtime or comment to unfounded gossip, the royals have, time after time, succeeded in giving themselves the appearance of being the mature adults in the room,” Edward noted.

“If they stop being above the fray, and indeed start to join the fray, then they lose their allure or ‘otherness’ and just start to become like any other attention-seeking, scandal-laden celebrity family. It’s at that point that the wider public might question their relevance.

“This is the tightrope that their PR team must walk. The PRs must make the royals appear to be young, relevant reformers who understand and adapt to the realities of 21st-century living, while protecting the sense that, even though they understand the world, they are not of the world. They must make them modern but must ringfence and retain their core values.”

He added: “This whole saga with the Princess of Wales and King Charles shows Brits often forget how much we rely on the royals, until we feel the deafening loudness of their silence and their absence. As such, the role of the Royal PR machine is a very, very difficult job. It requires total discipline, both from the PR team, and from the principals.”

Farm shop ‘message’

So far, the only times the public has seen Kate since the operation in January have been during unofficial outings. First, there was the drive with her mother Carole, then a trip in the car with Prince William, and lastly, the walkabout carrying her shopping with her husband at their local farm shop in Windsor. And Ed says the appearances send a very careful ‘message’ to the public.

The only actions that Kate’s team has taken to date have also been (close to) pitch perfect,” Edward continued. “These are probably (but not definitely) highly curated and very much planned messages to the public.

“They give photographers the opportunity to photograph the Princess, thus reassuring the world that the rumours have no footing. But, they are so unofficial – no public comment, no press release, no media interviews or press events, but instead unannounced and low-fuss outings with her family – that it gives plausible deniability to the royals in terms of making it appear uncontrived and without intention or agenda. Again, a masterclass in crisis communications.”

Response ‘blunder’

When the mum-of-three released a family photograph to mark Mother’s Day, glaring editing mistakes were spotted and the photo was soon killed by photo agencies including Reuters, AP, Getty and AFP over the manipulation.

While Edward highlights that most photographs released online are heavily edited, either airbrushed or with filters, he reckons Kate should have left the editing to professionals as the fiasco added more fuel to the fire. Rumours swirled that her face had been cut from a former Vogue magazine cover shoot, and that her face was edited onto the body of their nanny.

After the photo was pulled, Kate said in a statement: “”Like many amateur photographers, I do occasionally experiment with editing. I wanted to express my apologies for any confusion the family photograph we shared yesterday caused. I hope everyone celebrating had a very happy Mother’s Day. C.”

Criticising the move, Edward said she should have taken a leaf out of the late Queen’s book and remained silent: “I fault neither the Princes of Wales, nor any of her team, for doing a bit of editing to a photo that they knew would be seen by millions of people. The only remarkable thing about that photograph was that it garnered so much scrutiny.

“The only pertinent response, that can cool the flames, is no response. My one critique of the Princess’ PR or crisis communications strategy to date is that she gave gravity to such criticisms by responding to them in her subsequent statement.

“My advice to the Princess: the late Queen had it right. ‘Never complain. Never explain.’ You’re just about the only family in the world that is able to stand by that principle so diligently. So, stand by it. Panic breeds panic. And explaining, however well-intentioned that may be, often comes across as panic. So, stick to the script. You told the world that you would not be commenting until after Easter.”

‘Learnings for the Sussexes’

The expert says that when the royal family stray from their time-tested mantra ‘Never complain. Never explain’, “all hell breaks loose.” Nodding to the Duke of York’s disastrous interview with Emily Maitlis, and the Duke and Duchess of Sussex’s bombshell chat with Opera Winfrey, Edward said: “When things do go off script, it usually ends very badly for the royals that deviate”.

He compares the communication surrounding the two estranged brothers, William and Harry, and their wives, offering a scathing review of the Sussexes’ strategy. “From a PR point of view, the Princess of Wales is nailing it,” Edward asserted.

“Nothing gives credibility to conspiracy theories more than reacting to them and nothing frustrates people more than over-communicating. It’s one of the great lessons that should have been taken from the PR problems faced by the Sussexes in the past few years.

“One of the stunning differences between the Wales’ PR strategy versus the Sussexes is that Kate and William have worked out the importance of proper expectation management. By combining good, clear expectation setting that neither over nor underpromises, and then living out and adhering to the timeline that they have clearly laid out with no further fuss or comment, they get huge media attention, often with very little effort.

“Whereas the Sussexes, by not properly setting expectations, instead so often make a lot of noise and then over promise, and arguably not deliver. They exhaust themselves, and, arguably, the readers/viewers, and get very little positive press in return. In this case, Kate tells the world that she’s going off grid for three/four months, and that they won’t hear from her in that time.

“She then goes off-grid and people don’t hear from her. People decide that, actually, they quite want to hear from her and start to panic. The Princess of Wales, as usual, remains above the fray and stays true to her word. Then, by April, in all likelihood she’ll return to the public eye with no great fanfare, and with nothing more than a ‘well that was a whole load of fuss over nothing’ glimmer in her eye.”

Share This Article
Leave a comment

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *