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A Lesson in Crisis Communication From Prince Harry and Meghan Markle

It can be better to ask for forgiveness than for permission, and recently Prince Harry and Meghan Markle have proved just that. In the past few weeks, a lot of talk has circulated in the U.S. and British media about the Duke and Duchess of Sussex’s decision to step away from their positions as senior members of the royal family. 

After years of budding tension with the British media, the pair has decided to move to North America part time, where they will seek “financial independence” and withdraw themselves from the regular spotlight and scrutiny that they face from British media. Following the sudden announcement of their exit, British and U.S. press and public alike were stunned by the news, reacting with articles, tweets, and editorials that ranged from disheartenment and regret to disappointment and anger. 
One of the biggest points of controversy from this decision was discovering that Queen Elizabeth II wasn’t informed of the couple’s decision prior to the public announcement. An article posted by the UK-based publication, Daily Mirror, said that the royal couple’s failure to tell Queen Elizabeth II about their plans “shows shocking disregard for a woman whose entire life has been ruled by a sense of public duty and honor.”

Although this royal family has experience managing abdication crises, it’s been over 80 years since King Edward VIII surrendered his crown and much has changed in the way of crisis communication since they last navigated such a  life-altering announcement. What royals and PR professionals have in common is knowing when to pull the trigger on a controversial announcement. It’s uncomfortable and will bring a lot of initial criticism, but if it’s an angle that ultimately helps bring your client to a better place, it’s an announcement worth making. The hard part begins after the fact, crisis management and communication. 

5 Tips on Crisis Management and Communication: 

1. Provide Insight and Take Responsibility

The first rule of crisis communication is to manage the situation by taking responsibility and responding immediately. Instead of arguing publicly with critics and media, all information released should be focused on accepting and acknowledging controversy and working to share key information behind the decision. Control the share of information by making your message visible through press releases and social media channels.

2. Be Proactive and Get Ahead of The Story

With critics everywhere and social media acting as the liaison between the public and the news, managing your reputation is imperative. In a crisis management situation, waiting to formulate an ingenious strategy will most likely hurt your reputation more than less perfect, immediate responses. Your strategy can be fine-tuned along the way, but keeping a line of communication open is essential. Begin planning, communicating, and accepting responsibility as soon as possible. 

3. Prepare for Backlash

One of the biggest PR mistakes to be made is discounting the possibility for backlash. Whether it’s a company announcement or new product release, you have to be prepared for positive and negative responses from the media and consumers alike. Have a responsive team ready to deal with whatever reactions are in store. 

4. Act, Then Apologize

Much like the royal couple, it can be more beneficial for PR professionals to ask for forgiveness rather than permission. It’s important to inform the media and the public of an impactful decision—especially one as controversial as Harry and Megan’s—and then extend an apology for any complications that arise (all the while staying firm on your stance). By not apologizing, you allow the media and word of mouth to shape your stance on the situation at hand. This creates more controversy and removes your ability to shape the narrative. Crisis management depends on your ability to relay information to the public and media, and if your announcement caused them distress and confusion, it’s likely they won’t be interested in what you have to say unless it starts with “I’m sorry.”

5. Monitor the Situation—Continuously 

Continuously monitor the situation. Being at the center of a major scandal becomes worse when you lose sight of how the public and media are reacting and your PR strategy doesn’t account for the situation at hand. Stay vigilant on all social media channels, even accounts your client isn’t active on. If people are talking about you, it’s in your best interest to stay up-to-date. Follow relevant hashtags, set up search engine alerts, and keep your team informed so you can update your PR strategy as needed. Monitoring will allow you to anticipate scenarios—and establishing a plan for how they can be handled—can prepare your team to better manage negative reactions and opinions in times of crisis as you move forward

It’s incredibly difficult to relay an announcement that you know will be met with intense negative reactions from all angles, and that’s where crisis communication and management comes into play. Asking for forgiveness rather than permission can be the only announcement strategy available to you, and tactfully dealing with backlash is a crucial element to making that strategy a success. These five tips should keep your PR team light on their feet and ready for anything when it comes to successfully managing your client’s next crisis. 

Are you handling an ongoing crisis or needing help creating an infallible crisis communication plan? Let’s connect! 

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