VF: The court of King Charles ‘needs a PR strategy for the modern era’

Vanity Fair has phased out Katie Nicholl from their royal coverage for the most part – every few months, she’ll write an exclusive, but the magazine’s weekly royal coverage tends to be done by Erin Vanderhoof these days. Vanderhoof wrote a new thinkpiece called “The Court of King Charles Needs a PR Strategy for the Modern Era.” It’s part history lesson and part advice-column for the new king, because it’s abundantly clear that King Charles’s current PR strategy is not working. They’ve spent years trying to shove Camilla down everyone’s throats and, no matter what, the Montecito royal court is still the biggest royal gossip story out there. You can read the full piece here. Some highlights:

The old media playbook: The royals have complained about the media as long as Britain has had journalists, or royals, but they have also seen journalists as partners. Because the monarchy’s focus is on dignity and continuity, they varied little from the media playbook established in previous generations, even as the British press slowly became a fearsome and profitable machine. The Firm managed the fallout from that era internally, with different palace offices learning to wield power with selective disclosure.

The Sussexes understand the modern media more than the Windsors: Harry and Meghan seem to have reacted with more alacrity, perhaps owing to Meghan’s previous media experience, or her American-ness and civilian background, or both; they’ve shifted their media approach to appeal to an American audience and a 24/7 news cycle. Nearly a year into Charles’s reign, the rest of the royals still seem to be relying on a playbook from another century. When the Sussexes decamped, the palace kept at least one of the social media experts Harry and Meghan had recruited, and it shows in the family’s emoji-laden Instagram captions. But Charles, William, and Kate have refused to push back against a media culture increasingly leaving Britons dispirited, polarized, and—as the aftermath of Brexit has proven—economically stagnant. It’s still unclear if the monarchy will be able to tell a story persuasive enough to sway the younger generations who view the institution with unprecedented skepticism, but it’s never been more obvious that they need to try.

The first days of Charles’s reign: The first test of the reign of King Charles III should have been his ability to carry on his duties despite the chaos in Parliament that led to the ouster of Liz Truss only weeks after that of Boris Johnson, his exit just days before Queen Elizabeth’s death. But even amid shocking political instability, headlines about discord in his family covered front pages and filled news feeds, illustrating both the ardent interest of the press as well as that of readers. And it’s more than just prurient: The family has become emblematic of a culture war in a deeply divided country. Despite its historic insistence on flouting politics, the royal family is now inherently political.

How social media changed the landscape: By the mid-2010s, the big-name British tabloids had learned to ply their attention strategies online, paying plenty of attention to the chatter on social media. And while the daily papers delivered to the various royal residences haven’t altered their design too much in decades, the ecosystem they exist in has changed entirely. Perhaps, in the decade between Prince William and Kate Middleton’s engagement and Harry and Meghan’s exit, the royals didn’t realize they were dealing with something entirely changed.

The Sussexes are a reputational crisis for the monarchy: In his first televised address as king, Charles sent his “love for Harry and Meghan, as they continue to build their lives overseas.” It signaled his knowledge that some emotional embrace of the Sussexes would be necessary, if only to prove he isn’t a deadbeat dad. They had a low-key presence during the Platinum Jubilee in June and the funeral rites in September as an act of cooperation. But any sense that the prodigal son would shy away from endangering his relationship with the family was shattered with the December release of Netflix’s Harry & Meghan. By the time Spare was released in January, the couple had already stoked British outrage and heated discussion on both sides of the pond. Harry’s memoir was so full of stunning allegations and heartbreaking asides that it isn’t hyperbolic to say it represents a reputational crisis for the rest of the family.

How the palace reacted to Spare: And yet the [palace’s] fingerprints are there. In the weeks after Spare was released, the palace remained as leaky as ever, with reports in the Independent and The Telegraph saying that internally the Windsors had decided that Harry had lost his mind. He was “taken in by the cult of psychotherapy and Meghan,” an anonymous source told an Independent writer the week the book came out. (Independent editor in chief Geordie Grieg is a longtime friend of Camilla’s.) This February, Frogmore reentered the narrative. The Sun reported that Charles had decided to offer the house to Andrew; the New York Post spoke to a source who said the eviction process began the day after Spare’s release. The couple are due to depart the house for good after the coronation.

The king’s priorities: These stories—along with confusion about whether Harry and Meghan would attend the coronation and a muted response when the couple decided to use “prince” and “princess” titles for their children—make it seem like the king has chosen his standing with the press over his relationship with them. There is some wisdom to this—opinion around Meghan and Harry has been sharply negative since the royal exit. The disapproval has even spread to their toddlers, Archie and Lilibet. In March, the data analytics company YouGov UK found that 51 percent of British adults surveyed believed the children should not be given titles. (The leftist British podcast Trashfuture, commenting on the occasionally lackluster results for children as young as two or three in monarchy-related polls, has noted the absurdity that “Britain has a baby with an approval rating.”)

[From Vanity Fair]

There’s also a lot of talk, within this piece, about how “never complain, never explain” isn’t a relevant PR strategy in the modern age. Which King Charles agrees with – in the past seven months, none of the royals have wielded “never complain” at their enemies – they’ve all been openly complaining and explaining constantly. Kensington Palace and Buckingham Palace set the tone in the 48 hours after QEII passed away, when the two royal courts got into a briefing war about how Charles banned Meghan from Balmoral, why Harry caught a separate flight up to Scotland and who came up with the idea for the Windsor Castle walkabout. It continued from there, with Buckingham Palace and Kensington Palace openly briefing the media on how they feel on a daily basis about Meghan and Harry. This IS the new PR strategy, and it’s also pretty bad. Oh well! Can’t polish a turd!

Photos courtesy of Avalon Red.

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44 Responses to “VF: The court of King Charles ‘needs a PR strategy for the modern era’”

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  1. They don’t need a new PR strategy they need to be abolished.

    • BayTampaBay says:

      The BRF has dug the PR hole so deep they will never be able to climb out of it.

      • Anance says:

        Charles’ PR strategy goal has been to ensure he is crowned King. He began actively engaging PR firms and briefing the press during the end of the Diana years. Charles, rightly so, feared he might be passed over for William – either through the public dislike of him or his age.

        It is a standard PR strategy to support a weak player by smearing those around them, either their opponents as in an election or, in this case, other family members who inhabit the same media space. Charles has been enormously successful – first with Diana, painting her as a lunatic who could not be trusted, then with William,* and finally, with Harry by riling up the racists against his wife.

        Charles will be crowned in an enormously expensive ceremony, where he will surround himself with world leaders instead of the peers and aristocracy. Another PR trick to appear more important – his peers are now the world leaders. Charles, evidently, does not care how offended the aristocracy. members of parliament, or British dignitaries feel about not attending. Nor does he care, despite the emphasis on history and tradition, that since the Magna Carta, in England, the King has been considered a peer to the aristocracy, to some extent, reigns with their consent.

        * IMO, Charles is the reason William is so lazy. At no point has he given William a role – I remember back in the 2000s Charles suggested estate management of the Duchy of Cornwall. Of course, W could have carved out his own role. But, in all fairness, William did not have his own money until he became PoW.

        At this point, William appears to be a man who just aims to have his own cash and do what he wants. His father never instilled in him any sense that he should “do something.”

    • Josephine says:

      Exactly. His legacy should be abloshing the monarchy and working to turn over the buildings, jewels and other stolen artifacts to those to whom they belong (other countries and their own public) to maintain a strong tourism industry. It would not make up for his weaknesses and his overtly racist and pathetic behavior but at least it would soften his place in history.

    • Slush says:

      This. This this this. THIS!

      Monarchy is fundamentally incompatible with modern society, and seriously f*ck these people for taking up precious recourses that the country could use to ~actually~ help people.

  2. TeamMeg says:

    This headline is the understatement of the year.

  3. Jais says:

    Like how they linked that quote about Harry being taken in by psychotherapy and Meghan to Camilla being close friends with the editor of the Independent. Camilla is something else. Charles approves all she does. All this talk about Harry being Meghan’s puppet is projection. It’s Charles who comes across as Camilla’s puppet. But at the end of the day , Charles is the father choosing good press over a relationship with either of his sons really.

    • Not a Subject says:

      Hear Hear!! (claps loudly)
      Camilla is doing the most behind the scenes. I’d also add that the last paragraph says what I think is going to bring the monarchy down. They’re not remarkable, interesting, or even nice people but the Brit media’s near 24 hour, wall-to-wall coverage makes them seem a bigger deal – they aren’t. Also, this wall-to-wall sycophancy has lulled the royals’ fragile egos: they are high on their own supply. They were truly floored when they were booed and not big news in Boston. They were caught off guard when their horrid little jeep display in Jamaica was met with revulsion. Or Prince Andrews interview, or Anne’s recent horrid interview. They don’t see themselves accurately or know quite how bad it is due to the sycophantic press THAT is the pr crisis. OH WELL!!! Let em roll (their heads that is)

  4. Becks1 says:

    Well, I agree with these excerpts, except for the bit about how Charles has to be careful in his embrace of the Sussexes bc they are so unpopular.* If they are so unpopular and disliked, that’s in large part due to Charles’ actions, and the smear campaign, and the nonstop leaking about them for the past FIVE years at this point. It’s been five years since they got married!!! Aren’t the royals and the press tired yet of trashing these two with the same old stories over and over? Move on already.

    *and I mean, I don’t even think they are that unpopular outside of some polls and some hardcore royalists. Its undeniable that their projects are successful across the board, their interviews are watched, and they are cheered loudly wherever they go. so my above comments are just kind of taking that line for the sake of argument.

    • Princessk says:

      Where in the excerpts does it say Charles has to be careful about embracing the Sussexes.

      • SarahCS says:

        ‘make it seem like the king has chosen his standing with the press over his relationship with them. There is some wisdom to this—opinion around Meghan and Harry has been sharply negative since the royal exit.’

      • Talia says:

        In the last bit about ‘the king’s priorities’ where it says he may be sensible to value his relationship with the press over his relationship with the Sussexes as they aren’t popular. I certainly read it the same was as Becks1

    • equality says:

      Easier to take this article seriously if it didn’t cite any British polls. How many were accurate concerning anyone watching the Oprah interview, the documentary, or reading Spare? If the polls are correct about their popularity, why would the book sales and viewerships not follow the same pattern? And she is talking about the wisdom of distancing himself from someone he should be apologizing to and from two innocent children.

    • BayTampaBay says:

      “Aren’t the royals and the press tired yet of trashing these two with the same old stories over and over?”

      It is never going to be over because the Sussexes generate click$ for revenue$ that no other British Royals generate. If stories on the Sussexes did not generate income for the press, the press would find a new subject to write confabulated stories on that did generate income.

      • aftershocks says:

        I think the larger aspect of what @Becks1 is saying is that this constant negative, abusive refrain against the Sussexes is very tiresome, and it’s getting old fast. Sure it’s about clicks for dollars, but it’s moreso about using the Sussexes and creating false stories about them to distract the public from more serious concerns in Brexit Britain.

        Sure, the aim is to stoke negative opinions about H&M in order to harm their wide appeal. But that tactic has proven to not work in the age of Twitter and global communication. The SS has got H&M’s backs, and they always bring the receipts!

      • aftershocks says:

        H&M are moving on, and they will continue with their good works. They’ve accomplished so much in five years that has hardly ever seriously been covered in the media to any substantive degree. But, they essentially are just getting started creating powerhouse philanthropic and entertainment arms under the Archewell logo. So, it’s questionable how long this constant OTT drama and created negativity, targeting the Sussexes, can last. Especially in the aftermath of Meg’s signing with WME.

  5. Well Wisher says:

    What he needs is to be the constitutional Head of State in a country that enjoys the fruits of a good democratic government; one that is free of media interferences.

    The people must have a way out of inflation, small business owners need to have their goods sold. They are the engine of the GDP, not top-heavy corporations.

    Stop the steady slow drip of feudalism, then King Charles 111, keep his opinions to himself and reflect that type of government.
    Now he is head of a government that wants to stay in power, as it ignore the needs of the population and an opposition, also chosen by media elites.

    In terms of a family…
    He’s got to start to listen, to decide whether the family is representative to the monarchy, or if he is the head.

    • Well Wisher says:

      Another concept is that Charles 111 recognizes that the institution is older that the latest marketing trend ‘branding’ and citizens are not mere consumers.
      He needs to be present, while anchored in the past.
      The present is based on democratic principles not capitalists. The country is the home of its population not just a market place for its 1%ers.

  6. Brassy Rebel says:

    “Britain has a baby with an approval rating.” Kinda sums up the whole royal mess right now. It’s the public’s responsibility to change things. Too many are still being led around by the nose by the media. Thus, you end up with a baby with an approval rating.

  7. Amy Bee says:

    I don’t think they can be helped anymore. Their last chance was with Harry and Meghan but jealousy and racism got in the way. One thing though, Harry and Meghan’s former social media guy hasn’t been with William and Kate since August/September last year and he couldn’t do much to improve their image when he was there.

    • aftershocks says:

      ^^ Right. Because he didn’t have much to work with. As well, when Meg was his boss, she was the one putting her expert signature stamp on the Sussex Royal Instagram, with all the style and curatorial panache that set apart her own original Instagram account. The social media guy simply helped execute Meg’s vision for Sussex Royal. WanK don’t have any style at all. Forget about them having any creative energy and vision. 🙄

      Frankly, Cain & Keen are seemingly hopeless about what to do next. They always check out what the Sussexes are doing, and wearing, in order to copy them.

  8. ML says:

    Last night I caught part of a “polish the t’ird” TV special on CRex. Essentially Junor, Jobbo, friends, explained C’s life, his relationships, Camzilla and Diana, and what makes him fit for kingship. CRex’s media strategy is essentially partly based on rewriting some history that anyone can look up—that doesn’t doesn’t hold up with the internet. Neither does “never complain, never explain” because Harry dropped receipts on how that works.

  9. Eurydice says:

    Maybe these excerpts make sense, but the article as a whole goes nowhere. Ok, history lesson, blah, blah, but the piece ends with “maybe the current strategy is OK and maybe it’s OK that nobody likes Charles because the public doesn’t care as much about the RF as the media does, anyway.” So, who’s buying the newspapers and who’s doing all the online clicking, if the public isn’t interested in the RF? Is this all some kind of media circle jerk?

    • Saucy&Sassy says:

      Eurydice, I think if you look at the polls doing with popularity it shows that the interest in QE2 isn’t there for KFC. I do agree with him that the media is much more interested in the brf. They are the ones who not only encourage but demand leaks ALL of the time. Seriously, if the media didn’t write about them for a week, I wonder what would happen? Would those same people not buy those papers? I think a very small percentage might not, but people are creatures of habit. Who knows.

  10. girl_ninja says:

    The monarch wants to stay elitist, classist and racist. So having to modernize any of it went away with Meghan and Harry. They threw her to the wolves and allowed the tabloids to lie about her by feeding misleading and outright lies about her. Down with the monarchy.

  11. harpervalleypta says:

    What absolutely amazes me is how utterly incompetent their PR people are. Here’s basic advertising rule: Be very careful about how you disparage others who do the same thing you do, because you usually end up disparaging yourself.

    It’s why car ads may say that they are safe, but they don’t say that another brand of car is dangerous. People who hear that start thinking that ALL cars are dangerous, and if you are a car manufacturer, that’s ultimately going to hurt you.

    This car is safe, this airline is safe, these tires are safe, our salespeople are honest, etc. They may then seem to hint that possibly others are bad, but they don’t say that.

    So all this PR about how “this prince is lazy” or “this royal is incandescent with rage” is going to lead many people to think “ALL princes are lazy” or “ALL royals are rage monsters”. You start tarring others with a brush, and you end up messy, too.

    Every single time they are briefing against another royal to bring them down, they bring themselves down. And they need a GOOD PR person to hit them upside the head to get that through their thick skulls.

    • MaryContrary says:

      As Charles’ MO seems to be anything to prop up Camilla, he will never be able to come to terms with your very astute observation that it brings down the institution.

    • aftershocks says:

      ^^ Right @HarperValleyPTA. I agree. The better strategy would have been to put forward a united front against the media, and to protect H&M when they were there, willing and eager to help the institution. I guess part of the problem is Chuck’s and Will’s skeletons in the closet. As Harry explains in his book, Charles despises the media, at the same time he desires to be loved and embiggened by the media. Chuck apparently sees no way forward other than pandering to the media and cooperating with them. Remaining mired in that way of thinking, Chuck and Cain will always be stuck and securely entrapped within the gilded cage. Harry has done everything he could to get through to his father and brother. Now, he’s moving on. He’s saved himself — he can’t save them.

  12. Lizzie says:

    Besides money and castles, a PR strategy is the only thing they have. Could be that’s the real problem.

  13. aquarius64 says:

    If the Waleses gain stream in local popularity, look for more cheating allegations to float from BP.

  14. LB says:

    KCIII has lived in privilege his entire life. He has more money, castles/homes and servants than almost anyone on the planet. He believes in the hereditary principle that through his birth he has been chosen by God for his position. When a black woman entered his family, he remained silent against and likely helped perpetuate the racism that drove her out. There is no way that this man has the ability to understand the “modern era” and no PR strategy can save him nor the outdated institution that he leads. Same goes for William.

    • BothSidesNow says:

      It’s quite comical to think that KFC could erase the decades of abuse and gaslighting from Diana to his underhanded leaks and racist treatment towards Meghan. KFC has cemented his own history and no amount of “recollections may vary” to clean up and erase the harms that Charles has inflicted upon so many innocent people within his family will erase the proof that is at our fingertips. This stands for TOB as well as you have so eloquently stated @ LB.

      And as @ Jais mentioned, as these articles seem to escape the true reality. We are all watching who the ACTUAL puppet master of KFC is, as it has been Cruella this entire time. Cruella has leaned how to manipulate Charles for her own bidding and has gleefully taken full advantage of that. @ Jais is simply spot on with this concept. There are no machinations with Meghan over Harry but there is with Burger King.

  15. Nicky says:

    Royal staffers (servants) are as inane as their employers.

    In Britain they’re showing a documentary about Andrew’s car crash interview with Emily Maitliss regarding the Epstein crimes.

    During that interview, while Andrew is thinking he’s convincing the bbc he doesn’t sweat and frequents pizza parlours, one of his staff lent over to a crew member and whispered “Isn’t he marvellous!?”

    So the royal staff are as out of touch as they royals themselves are and when it crashes and burns the royal staffers will realise their positions are of servants when the royals eventually take it out on them.

  16. Noor says:

    The key word for the public attitude towards royalty is “apathy”. People are not just not that interested but the tabloids and royal commentators failed to see that and they continue to hype out the royals, particularly kate and willy.

  17. lleepar says:

    Even if the BRF had a genius PR strategist available to it, there’s no central authority strong enough to enforce compliance with a single strategy. Various in-house factions would still brief against each other, destroying any illusion of royal harmony.

    • BayTampaBay says:

      “there’s no central authority strong enough to enforce compliance with a single strategy.”

      @lleepar – This is the reason why Andrew & KFCIII basically threw Christopher Geidt, a strong and able central authority figure, out of a window at Buckingham Palace. The amazing thing to me was that QEII just sat quietly and allowed them to do it.

      • MaryContrary says:

        In the Queen’s defense, she was 91 at that point. And with both Andrew and Charles coming at her to get rid of him, I think she was worn down.

    • Lady Digby says:

      Also even with top notch PR their product has not aged well over its thousand year existence, has it? Terrible product centred on inherited power regardless of intelligence and ability, very expensive to maintain, refusal to acknowledge colonial exploitation, tax and law exemptions etc., Terrible product and terrible PR with nonstop rival camps briefing against each other. Is that their idea of progress that they no longer behead just brief against? Political campaigners know that negative briefing about an opponent is a turn off for voters, far better to run a positive campaign telling us what you are going to achieve when elected. But that’s the nub because we do not get to choose to elect our head of state instead we are lumbered without a say however mediocre, lazy, corrupt , stupid and racist said monarch is and expected to be grateful because of tradition?? No amount of PR or savvy SM can “modernize” monarchy because that is an oxymoron.

  18. Goldenkatz says:

    It’s struck me over the last few weeks that the British media can tear someone down but can’t really build someone up. Sure Meghan’s “approval” ratings are low. But so is Camilla’s. And that’s from years of bad press for M and good press for C. And the reality is Brits are still watching, listening and reading more of H and Ms media output than anything that William or Charles are putting out. Making a Netflix documentary is common enough. But you have to be interesting enough for people to watch.

    Charles’ real PR strategy should be some sort of detente with Harry. Get some of that Sussex glow. Acting like H betrayed the family when they’ve scapegoated him for years is laughable. Smarter courtiers than the current cabal would see and solve that.

  19. tamra says:

    Enough of looking at them…LISTEN to them! The mumble, jumble their way through EVERYTHING! The should be talking about bringing Britain into the 21st century! Name ONE intelligent thing they have uttered in YEARS! They need to throw out some progressive ideas and get behind them! That is one of their biggest problems…FOLLOW UP!

  20. YVR says:

    PR is a two-way street. KC3 could have the best strategists on board, but if he doesn’t follow their advice, that’s on him not them. He clearly wants to do what he thinks is right, so he hires advisors accordingly. None of the BRF appear to understand the importance of implementing professional advice.

    • tamra says:

      I guess it boils down to rolling up your sleeves and getting to work! Instead, they go to and host garden parties! Do the WORK! I guess the people will have to demand more from them, since they cannot muster up an ounce of energy to get the job done!

  21. AC says:

    That’s an interesting article and I’ve been noticing for the longest time that their PR has been terrible. To the point of why their PR team is still employed. They’ve really taken a lot of mistakes and missteps . The advisers for HM have been geniuses and makes the BRF’s look amateurish.
    But let’s take a What If moment. If the BRF actually supported HM, and made them an Asset to the firm instead of a couple that they were envious of because of their amazing work ethic, charisma, and diversity. What if HM were still there and supported the initiatives of the King, I think this Coronation would have gotten the positive visibility they really wanted and needed. The BRF made a very big Mistake to force HM out of the country and also trash them along the way. Just because they couldn’t let go of their insecurities and biases.

  22. Unblinkered says:

    Replying to baytampabay above

    there’s no central authority strong enough to enforce compliance with a single strategy.”

    @lleepar – This is the reason why Andrew & KFCIII basically threw Christopher Geidt, a strong and able central authority figure, out of a window at Buckingham Palace. The amazing thing to me was that QEII just sat quietly and allowed them to do it.

    Don’t also underestimate that, at the time Geidt was forced out 2017, the UK also had the weakest most ineffectual Prime Minister of recent years – Teresa May. With The Queen greatly aged and Prince Philip retired and at Sandringham, there was no-one stopping Charles & Andrew taking advantage.
    Harry & Meghan undoubtedly suffered from Geidt’s removal