The Duke and Duchess of Sussex’s decision to step back from public life is perfectly understandable. Their treatment by certain sections of the press and the level of scrutiny they’ve had to endure must have been unbearable.
But from a public relations perspective the handling of their announcement could arguably make matters worse for them, at least in the short term.
Hang around with PR people for long enough and you’ll eventually hear the word ‘stakeholders’. This bit of jargon is shorthand for everyone else who’s interested or involved in the thing you’re talking about. In Harry and Meghan’s situation there’s a long list of stakeholders, including their close family who are reportedly upset and hurt by their decision and the way it’s been announced. There’s nothing more frustrating than reading in the papers something you should have been told by someone close to you, and rushing this announcement without squaring their decision behind the scenes has reportedly caused further rifts.
As well as keeping your stakeholders happy, those of us who have worked in both the press and the world of PR know that journalists need to be carefully handled. Though there must have been some instant gratification in abandoning the royal rota system and denying access to specific publications, it’s likely to increase editors’ determination to generate stories about the couple. The couple can expect to be pursued by the media outlets they’ve shunned, who were already hostile and won’t hesitate to intensify their attacks.
The Duke and Duchess must have anticipated the reaction their announcement would receive, and it will be intriguing to see how this plays out over the coming weeks and months. Whatever happens, this feels like a case study that PR people will be talking about for years to come.