Public relations and the Princess of Wales

2 minute read

Laura Dale

Navigating a public relations disaster is a nightmare for any brand. Public relations nightmares are capable of inflicting irreplaceable damage to a brand’s reputation and so dealing with incidents and crises in a strategic and media-savvy way, matters.

By now, everyone will be familiar with the Princess of Wales’ cancer diagnosis. Her heartfelt address to the world ended weeks of speculation about her absence from public duties. Prior to Catherine’s video statement, a huge number of bizarre conspiracy theories flooded the internet after Kensington Palace announced she had undergone ‘planned abdominal surgery’.

These theories filled an information vacuum regarding Catherine’s health and well-being and were hungrily eaten up by people looking for an answer to the biggest Royal mystery of 2024. Rumours of plastic surgery and extramarital affairs were mindlessly shared, gaining momentum the longer Kensington Palace remained silent.

Princess Catherine
Image: Kensington Palace

Things took an unexpected turn for the worse when the Princess shared a photo of her with her children for Mother’s Day. Editors across the globe spotted the image had been digitally edited and leading photo agencies issued a kill notice. The release of the family photo reignited speculation concerning the welfare of the Princess.

Not long after this, Catherine released a video statement revealing her cancer diagnosis. Media outlets were quick to praise ‘Kate’ for her bravery in speaking out about her diagnosis. The video statement put an end to the speculation, but what was the cost of Kensington Palace’s communications team not taking control of the media narrative sooner?

Many PR professionals (me included) think a more explicit statement would have done two things: prevent speculation and allowed the Palace to take control of the narrative. There should have been a simple announcement to a sympathetic public about a popular member of the royal family having cancer.

Striking a balance between confidentiality and transparency for public figures and institutions is difficult, but Kensington Palace should be adept at this from deciding what information should be shared, to how it’s communicated and when it’s disclosed.

Public figures now face increased scrutiny in an era when privacy around personal matters is harder to keep. Misinformation spreads like wildfire on the internet, which is boosted by an algorithm-driven news cycle, so unclear messaging is a risky media strategy. Whatever the PR nightmare, messaging rooted in transparency and an understanding of how the information will be received by the public is essential.

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