The key media relations lesson from ‘Megxit’

It is the story that has dominated the news for the past few days.

And while we have little to add to the endless overall coverage of the Meghan and Harry saga – or Megxit as it has inevitably been labelled - there is a crucial media relations and crisis communications element to the story which caught our eye.

Under the section of last week’s statement entitled ‘How will the Duke and Duchess of Sussex handle media relations in the future?’, it says that the royal couple will “provide access to credible media outlets”.

But what exactly makes a media organisation ‘credible’ and how would this policy work?

Perhaps the term is deliberately vague so that they can pick and choose what media outlets they talk to? Cynics might even say it means they only intend to work with media and journalists who present them favourably and don’t ask awkward questions or subject them to any real form of scrutiny.

We have already seen some evidence of this in practice. When the Duke and Duchess revealed “a world of pressure behind their brave faces” during an ITV documentary of their Africa tour, it was presented by Harry’s friend Tom Bradby.

They used that programme to highlight their unhappiness about the media coverage they had received. Meghan said “I never thought that it would be easy, but I thought it would be fair,” when asked about the scrutiny.

The strategy outlined last week looks set to build on this approach and doesn’t seem too far away from asking for copy approval for any interviews they give.

This is not a move that is restricted to Harry and Meghan. The government, for example, appears to be increasingly seeking to avoid interviewers who it thinks will give it a hard time.

Boris Johnson went out of his way to avoid exposing himself to an interview with Andrew Neil during the last election and there have been reports of threats to ‘boycott’ the Today programme.

And Alex Ferguson famously refused to do any interviews with the BBC for much of his time as manager of Manchester United.

These approaches are a worry for the idea of a free press.

But it is also a bad crisis media management and media relations approach.

Whether you are a member of the royal family, in government, or an organisation in the spotlight, you cannot run from bad news and pick and choose what journalists you will and won’t talk to.

Those media outlets that the royal couple doesn’t deem credible are not suddenly going to go away or stop reporting on them.

If anything, the coverage, at least in the short-term, will be more intense and hostile – the Daily Mail dedicated 17 pages to the announcement on Thursday. If and when they move to Canada you can be sure the paps will follow.

The same would be true for any organisation in the media spotlight which tried to choose who it spoke to.

There are, of course , some instances where organisations should be selective about the interviews they take on, but an overall pick and choose strategy like that being adopted here can make people and organisations appear defensive, secretive and further damage relationships with the media, customers and supporters.

It is impossible not to empathise with the way the royal couple might feel about some of the media coverage they have received and their lack of privacy.

But equally, stories about their £2.4, refurbishment of Frogmore Cottage – using taxpayer’s money – and about their use of private jets when they are lecturing people about carbon footprints are perfectly legitimate.

But by not engaging with that media you lose any hope of controlling the narrative and trying to turn the journalists in their favour.

Perhaps the royal couple believes that the influence of traditional media is fading, particularly newspapers with their falling sales, and that they can use social media and their own website to get their story across.

But the traditional media demise can be overstated. Yes, circulations, have fallen, but many traditional newspapers have growing digital readerships and remain influential.

Additionally, TV remains the most-used platform when it comes to news consumption, according to Ofcom figures and it is only among the 16 to 24-year-old group that the internet is more popular.

By shunning this media, or at least the parts of it they don’t deem ‘credible’, it is hard to believe that the couple will get the control they are seeking.

 

 

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Media First are media and communications training specialists with over 30 years of experience. We have a team of trainers, each with decades of experience working as journalists, presenters, communications coaches and media trainers. 

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