Princess Pandemonium: Lessons in Crisis Communications

We know what you are probably thinking…not another KateGate thought piece.

But as crisis and strategic communications advisors, we believe the Crown’s missteps surrounding Princess Catherine’s leave and the Photoshop fail heard around the world offer valuable lessons about the importance of adept and coordinated communications during crises. 

photo of kate middleton and children with question mark overlay

Like many amateur photographers, we do occasionally experiment with editing

Rumors flourish in a vacuum.

  • Though the Palace communicated some information about Kate’s surgery and related break from public appearances, theories about the “real” reasons for her leave – ranging from the implausible (a “BBL”?!) to more serious rumors about the health of both Kate and her marriage – ran rampant on the internet, and the wave of internet conspiracies was then covered by mainstream media. In their belated attempt to quash the rumors, the Royal Family instead fanned the flames by releasing a plainly doctored photo that turned simmering public speculation into conspiratorial mania. When dealing with a crisis, it’s vital to strike a balance between providing sufficient information to prevent rumors without fueling the conversation unnecessarily: be forthright, accurate, and consistent.

Failing to nip misinformation in the bud can have lasting repercussions.

  • In today’s world, news can come in many forms – a traditional article, a Reel from a news influencer, an AI-generated blog post – and once something is reported as a “fact” in the press it can be very hard to correct. One article in a niche outlet or post on X can have an outsized impact once it is aggregated in a newsletter or picked up by a bigger outlet. It is important to understand when to engage to correct the record to prevent an inaccurate report from gaining traction with the media and third-party influencers. Kate is certainly entitled to privacy, especially when it comes to her health matters. But a different approach to crisis communications, including more strategic engagement with the press early on could have helped quell rumors before they gained traction.

The media can be an ally.

  • The Royal Family has famously held to a “never complain, never explain” public relations strategy, often relying on a pretty picture to tell a thousand words. But in this case, their reluctance toward transparency and engagement with the media has not served them well, and their reliance on an altered photo told the completely wrong story. The rare “kill notice” from the Associated Press, Reuters and Getty, followed by the implausible explanation that Princess Kate herself was trying her hand at Photoshop, generated scrutiny of previously shared images and has impaired their credibility as a trusted source of information. In a crisis, no “spin” can make a crisis go away, but a well-managed response – including smart engagement with the press – can minimize the duration and impact.

Once credibility is lost, it’s hard to regain.

  • KateGate illustrates how poor communications can intensify or even cause a crisis and impact long-term credibility and brand value, so that even genuine attempts at transparency – like Kate’s public appearance earlier this week – are questioned.  It may take some time, and a change of strategy, to win back stakeholders who have had their trust broken.

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