By Jim Selman
I’ve previously celebrated the extraordinary talent for marcomms demonstrated by the late Queen during her 70 years on the throne. The question is now whether Charles can drive reputation in the same way.
It is of course true the operating environment has changed immeasurably since the beginning of Elizabeth’s reign. Technology, marcomms, our national culture, politics, diplomacy, and public opinion are now constantly shifting. Interdependent forces in our society make the current task of driving reputation much more complex.
Back when Buckingham Palace hired its first communications secretary in 1918, the job of managing royal reputations was arguably a lot simpler. People in the same social circles as Britain’s first family owned the media. This was exemplified during the 1930s. Fleet Street collectively agreed not to print anything related to the King’s relationship with Wallace Simpson. Meanwhile, media across Europe and the U.S. were very active.
In the years since the relationship between the royal family and key stakeholder groups has shifted. These stakeholders include the government, the media, the Commonwealth and the public. In particular, in 2012, polling saw 73% of the public view the monarchy as a good thing. This dropped to 56% by May 2022. While the monarchy may technically embody Charles’s position, the other immediate members of his family also impact its reputation.
While the late Queen’s reign was so successful from a marcomms perspective, Charles’s approach is likely to be quite different. The Queen’s skill in stakeholder engagement was significant. Many occurrences where her assistance was successful during a challenging moment in the UK’s international relations may never make the history books. Is it a case of diplomacy versus activism?
Charles is known for being outspoken as part of his personal brand. Most Brits now support this idea. 53% said they think it is appropriate for Charles to speak out on issues that he cares about as king. We have already observed a shift in Charles’s visibility as he took on the role of monarch. But it feels right that perhaps a modern monarch can use a combination of both diplomacy and activism to support our national agenda. Particularly when it comes to some of the most critical challenges facing our country and the planet, such as the environment.
The King aspires to be a “high-profile, high-impact monarch both at home and abroad”. He has a 10-year plan of significant recommendations. From education and economic disparity to international relations and sustainability. Diplomacy will still be a crucial aspect of the King’s role in more delicate geopolitical situations. For example, where the presence of the monarch can be valuable. The King’s continued interest in Ireland is an example of this. This could be a desire to continue building on the late Queen’s historic visit in 2011.
The new King’s role as a national symbol of unity will be critical. Current polling suggests less than half (45%) believe Charles will do a good job. Although fewer than half as many (19%) think he will do a bad job. So will the “proof will be in the pudding?”
There is often a need to find quick wins to drive reputation during a period of change. Some of this can already be observed with quotes about a “slimmed-down monarchy”. The Carolean age will mark the “transition from the magical monarchy to the public service monarchy.” This feels very current and representative of the public mood. Underpinning what could be a well-thought-out strategy to continue to evolve the role of the monarchy. It won’t just be a symbol of national unity but an active and direct contributor to our national agenda.
I for one, look forward to seeing what is possible.
Jim oversees the business operations, growth and staff development at Allison U.K., which recently made the 2023 Sunday Times Best Places to Work list and named in PRovoke’s Top 5 Places to Work in EMEA for four years running.