The Royals are enjoying a remarkable renaissance, one that is strictly media managed. (Instagram: kensingtonroyal)
It’s the perfect Windsor Inc PR moment.
On the morning of October 15, Prince Harry and his American bride Meghan arrive in Sydney for a hotly anticipated Royal tour of Australia for the Invictus Games.
The tour kicks off with the sudden and unexpected message via Kensington Palace social media that Meghan is pregnant. The Royal baby is expected in the European spring.
The immaculately-timed announcement immediately breaks the internet. The Instagram post on the young Royals’ official account, @kensingtonroyal, gets 500,000 likes inside an hour.
By 8:00 the next morning, GoogleTrends tweets that the search term, “When is spring?” has spiked.
It’s the latest episode in the victory lap of a Royal family which is enjoying a remarkable renaissance — one that is media-managed within an inch of its life.
Former Royal private secretary Patrick Jephson says everything has changed from his years of working for the palace with Princess Diana, when, he says, the strategy was to lie to the public about a palace in meltdown.
“We were dealing in whatever today’s truth was and the media knew that, they could smell it and on a certain level we deserved all the crazy stories that were written because, uncomfortably, lots of them were true,” Mr Jephson told Four Corners.
The modern style of PR is a lot more subtle — you don’t see it, but it’s very complete.
“The control over what we see and read about the Royal families is pretty much controlled by them.
“And they do that through heavy investment in digital media, through a very sophisticated series of trades and favours with their favourite news outlets.”
Out of the ashes of the 90s
There has been a very conscious effort to turn the Royal ship around since the disastrous 1990s that culminated in the death of Prince William and Prince Harry’s mother, Princess Diana.
“From those ashes, a lot of lessons have been learned,” says Rita Clifton, a global branding consultant and former vice-chair of advertising giant Saatchi and Saatchi.
“There’s obviously had to be more deliberate management about how people behave, what they’re saying, what they’re wearing.”
A Palace spin doctor won a PR award for “Project Parker Bowles” – the rebranding of Camilla Parker Bowles. (Reuters: Gerard O’Brien)
One of the first major tasks for Royal image-makers was to sell Prince Charles’s mistress, now wife, Camilla Parker Bowles to both the public and to the Queen.
“They still had to convince the Queen that she was someone who could be met with, be seen in public with. That was something that took a little while,” says Royalty Inc author Stephen Bates, a former Royal correspondent for The Guardian.
“Project Parker Bowles”, led by PR consultant Mark Bolland, was so successful he was awarded PR professional of the year by PR Week.
The judges noted that Mr Bolland had overseen a “massive sea change in the relationship between Prince Charles and the press”.
Fab four: Royal watchers say the younger generation of Royals have led the rebranding of House of Windsor. (Instagram: kensingtonroyal)
In recent times, the focus has shifted to the younger Royals.
Omid Scobie, a Royal correspondent and podcaster, says the first phase of this “rejuvenation” campaign came with Prince William and his young bride, Kate.
PR consultant Paddy Harverson went on to win the PR Week Award for the flawless execution of the wedding of William and Kate.
“The Queen has referred to it as The Firm herself — it’s a business,” Scobie says.
He says “phase two” of the resurrection of the House of Windsor has come with Harry and Meghan. A couple Rita Clifton describes as “the brand innovators of the Royal family”.
“The Royal family really is back in fashion,” she says.
“What you get now is a very packaged royalty,” says Stephen Bates.
“It is a very professional operation in spin management, media management, media operations.”
Patrick Jephson says this carefully crafted strategy is now in the Royal “bloodstream”.
“There are generations now of Royal spin doctors who have come into palaces claiming to be able to portray their Royal clients in the light that they want to be seen in,” he said.
Ultimate influencers: Meghan Markle brings star quality to the Royal family. (Reuters: Mark Blinch)
Using social media to hit their mark
Often, now, the strategy is to completely bypass traditional media such as the tabloids altogether and communicate with their largely young, female fan base directly via social media.
Emily Andrews is Royal correspondent for Britain’s daily tabloid, The Sun, which roasted the Royals in the turbulent 80s and 90s. But now, she says, the control is almost all in the House of Windsor’s hands.
“They film a lot of their own content, they take a lot of their own photographs, they even write a lot of their own stories and put them out through their social media channels, so through Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, they even do SnapChat,” Andrews says.
She points to a recent example where an inhouse production company had filmed the release of Meghan Markle’s first charity project since her marriage: a cookbook with women survivors of the Grenfell Tower fire disaster.
The first the official Royal press pack knew about it was when it appeared online.
“We weren’t invited in to see this or interview any of them … So that was very much Kensington Palace controlling the message and putting their content out there.”
A tightly controlled press pack
On the Royal beat, even when media does get access, it’s limited.
Most are confined to a fixed point — a confined area outside a Royal event where the regular Royal correspondents gather to get a shot of the Royal personage as they spirit into an event.
Gone are the days when paparazzi chased the likes of Princess Diana down the street or used long lenses to breach the Royal family’s privacy.
Now, the British media, long-cowed by the Press Complaints Commission’s 1998 media reforms after Diana’s death, is roped in for a 30-second dash past their cameras.
A pool camera and reporter shadow the Royals inside the event and report back to the pack.
Decorum is everything. Stories are largely positive and pictures are flattering.
Even the youngest Royals are influencers
In an age of social media, the young Royals are the ultimate influencers.
At time of writing, @kensingtonroyal has 6.8 million followers — it picked up an extra 300,000 during Harry and Meghan’s tour of Australia.
“It’s the most amazing thing,” enthuses Rita Clifton.
Even the Royal children are huge money spinners for clothing retailers. (Reuters: Hannah McKay)
She says Duchesses Meghan and Catherine, and Catherine’s children, are huge money spinners for clothing retailers they choose to subtly endorse by wearing to events.
The firm, Brand Finance, estimates the Royals pump 2 billion pounds into the British economy each year.
Then there’s the contribution they make to charity — 3,000 charities have a member of the Royal family as their patron and the Queen’s charities alone have raised 1.4 billion pounds.
Ms Clifton believes the Royal family brand is appealing in a divided world.
“Britain is having a slight collective nervous breakdown at the moment when it comes to social, political, in some cases economic issues,” she says.
“There is something enduring about the Royal family brand — about the stability, the security, the longevity, the trust and so on, that actually is a very important property to hang on to at the moment.”
Watch Windsor Inc on Four Corners at 8.30pm on ABC TV and ABC iview.