'Good PR is knowing what to share and what not to' — has Harry damaged his reputation beyond repair?
From fights with his brother to drug use and his frank views on killing people in the army; revelations in Prince Harry's autobiography Spare have shocked and, predictably, caused a media storm
Jan 09, 2023 09:36:00 AM | Article | John Harrington
The allegation that his brother William physically attacked Harry in 2019 over his and Meghan's treatment caused a big stir. The prince came in for particular criticism for his attitude to killing 25 Taliban fighters while in the army, comparing the experience in his book to taking chess pieces off a board.
Elsewhere, he discussed losing his virginity to an older woman in a field behind a pub, how he took drugs including cocaine from the age of 17—and having a "frostbitten penis" at William and Kate's wedding. The prince also mentioned contacting a woman who "claimed to have powers" to communicate with his late mother.
The Palace has so far not commented on the allegations.
It's been an unusual launch from a comms perspective. An apparent mistake meant the autobiography was available to buy this week in Spain ahead of the intended publication date on 10, January.
The Duke and Duchess of Sussex continue to divide opinion in the UK, with many of their supporters appalled at their treatment by the Royals and the UK media in recent years, which led them to relocate to the US. The issues were brought to life in the couple's high-profile interview with Oprah Winfrey in 2021 and late last year with their six-part Netflix series.
Will some sympathy subside following the new revelations, especially given the couple's stated request for privacy? And what do they mean for the prince's reputation and that of the Harry and Meghan 'brand'?
Sophie Attwood, director of PR consultancy Sophie Attwood Communications, said some of the events described are "more akin to a Jeremy Kyle show or gossip magazine than a member of the royal family".
"That in itself could be extremely damaging to his brand," she states.
"From a PR perspective it’s essential to all brands, and Harry and Meghan have most certainly become a brand in their own right, to gain the trust of their ‘consumer’, or in this sense the general public.
"It’s clear that Harry believes that by sharing these things he is providing an honest insight into his experience. By giving the public this previously unheard-of access to his private life it’s as if he is seeking to gain our trust in relation to other events that he speaks of - such as his side of the Royal divisions.
"And whilst effective PR is built upon trust and a dialogue with the consumer, or in this case the public, the key to good PR is knowing what to share and what not to. It’s the details that are omitted that are always done so after much consideration, thought and reflection as to the impact they will have on the brand and its trust markers."
She added: "In this instance, one would question why his PR team did not step in and suggest the omission of the frostbitten penis, the sex with an older woman in a field, or numerous other extremely personal insights which once shared can never be unshared.
"Regardless of your feelings towards Harry and his divisions with the Royal Family, most PRs would agree that whilst sales of his book are sure to reach astronomical levels, the extreme oversharing has come at a cost - and sadly his brand may never recover."
Carla Speight, who also runs an eponymous PR and marketing agency, said: "Harry's PR team, instead of being strategic and cautious, are handling the communication channels quite irresponsibly.
"Harry's being allowed and encouraged to talk about stuff that we've never heard before. It just highlights the American-style press and the American-style approach to PR as opposed to the British approach.
"It feels like nobody on their PR team is able to see the bigger picture and this will result in him not only losing his family permanently but he's also going to damage his reputation forever because if you think about it he's almost like a whistle-blower on the Royal Family, which is huge. So no brands, TV production channels or anybody in the industry is going to be able to trust him moving forward in case he writes a book about it or does a splash in the news over it, and I think that's completely irresponsible."
(This article first appeared on PRWeek.com)