The couple can take the royal sponsorship or get commercial sponsorship. Each comes with terms and conditions, writes Terry Prone.
A“DISRUPTER” uses innovation to change how things are done. But Britain’s Prince Harry and his wife, Meghan Markle, have upended a family, an institution, and a public understanding of reputation management.
Harry’s father, Prince Charles, of all people, now looks like the senior statesman who just might manage the chaos, which is a massive turn up for the books.
Harry’s uncle, Prince Andrew, is out of the media spotlight.
The Queen has the public’s sympathy, along the usual lines of, “God you wouldn’t envy her, would you, with that family?”
And — to put the icing on the cake — Harry and Meghan have, for the first time in history, united every newspaper in the UK, from the Daily Telegraph to the Daily Mirror.
The manifestation of this startling unity takes different forms, with some, predictably, suggesting that “Our Harry” was a lovely lad before that American got her claws into him.
Running through all of the coverage, however, is the theme of the two of them being rude and disrespectful with their smartarse notification of Charles 10 minutes before going public with their statement, so that he could do nothing about it.
This promises to be a saga to rival that of Harry’s great granduncle, Edward, and his future wife, Wallis Simpson, with two significant differences.
The first is that Harry is highly unlikely to get near the throne, whereas Edward was king.
The second is that Harry’s and Meghan’s political sympathies tend to be right-on, whereas the right-wing Wallis and Edward infamously palled around with Hitler.
The situation does, however, highlight the notion of reputation management. Reputation management isn’t something to be outsourced, even to the best PR consultant. Real reputation management is a beneficial outcome of behaving properly.
It mattered greatly at periods in the past, when reputational damage could break you and reduce you to penury. Now, not so much.
Today, it’s always possible to find someone to pay for your scandalous presence or your redemption story. A simple move to another continent is sometimes all that’s necessary.
In the early decades of this century, as a royal, you could disgrace yourself, but still make money, particularly in the US, as long as you were female and prepared to throw weight loss in there. Example? Sarah Ferguson.
The weight loss thing is now so over, but as long as Harry and Meghan are prepared to make high-minded noises about climate change or diversity, they are salable on the global market, no matter how much The Firm withdraws from them or tries to restrict them.
Against that background, the public relations rationale of their metaphorical firebombing of Buckingham Palace looks less like an impulsive footstamp by spoiled brats, as widely portrayed, and more indicative of clever self-marketers with a ruthless and sophisticated understanding.
They might or might not have been advised by a PR company that sticking two fingers up at the royal family and mainstream media would be a counterintuitive stroke of genius.
It would put them front and centre of every media outlet, worldwide.
Not only that: its apparent ham-fistedness would keep them on the front pages for weeks, without them having to say anything after their initial foray. The royal family would provide the story with legs by saying how hurt they were.
Anyway, if the US is the market for whatever Harry and Meghan plan to sell of themselves, outrage in British media would be neither here nor there.
My own sense is that none of this applies.
Most of the time, when famous rich people put their two feet in their mouths, they believe they have a cunning plan, but, in fact, don’t. They’re just too mad to see straight.
Their self-esteem has been bruised by someone in media and they “Want To Set The Record Straight”. They think in capital letters and make no sense to the rest of us.
In this case, the couple can’t have believed that they could toss a Molotov cocktail at British media and expect a good outcome. Effectively, what they said to the media was, “we’re not going to be doing any of the stuff that lets you fill your pages with pictures and stories.
In fact, we’re going to buzz off for half the year, to another country, where they’ll appreciate us properly, although, of course, we’ll support Her Royal Highness the Queen, in some unspecified way that might start after we completely screw up 2020 for her.”
Or, to quote Robert B. Parker, “It might work out well if we gave each other a good leaving alone.”
The media promptly expended trillions of column inches telling the two, in various ways, to get a grip.
That’s because media commentators are possessed of a parallel delusion.
Media commentators think that if they smack wrong-headed public figures, like politicians, authors and dukes, upside the head, those politicians, authors and dukes will clap a palm to their forehead and go, “You know what? You are perfectly right. I see the error of my ways and I am possessed of a firm purpose of amendment.”
The number of times such an epiphany has actually happened could be counted on the fingers of one finger. In this instance, all the negative commentary is likely to do is confirm the Sussexes in their determination to get out of Britain to go live in a place where the cops wear red jackets and ride horses.
THE discussions, currently in progress between the two sides, are likely to concentrate not on vague notions of personal freedom, but on money.
Even if they’re jointly sitting on £24m, that is unlikely to keep Harry and Meghan in the style to which they’re accustomed. Money and logistics can be great forces for discipline when morals and tradition fail in that regard. It all boils down — as does so much of 21st-century life — to sponsorship.
The couple can take the royal sponsorship or get commercial sponsorship. Each comes with terms and conditions.
In the background to those negotiations, of course, are professionals jostling to do PR for the hot couple, motivated by a short-term win, even if an amber light warns that these two may not last any course.
That’s because, while they won’t learn from finger-wagging criticism, the Sussexes will learn, and are learning fast, from their own actions.
A middlingly famous TV actor and the sixth in line to the throne have put themselves in a strong negotiating position with the House of Windsor. W
hat they’re doing, in short, has worked.
The cost for their removal, accordingly, will be a lot higher than the cost of Wallis Simpson’s and EdwardVlll’s exits.