God Save the Queen – a life in public relations

The Jubilee celebrations marking 60 years since Queen Elizabeth II became monarch of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland have reflected an enormous spectacle of public relations. They have provided a promotional occasion for London, the Royal Family, several Commonwealth countries and (in a more subtle and less aggressive way than the forthcoming Olympics), for several brands, such as Waitrose which provided the Buckingham Palace picnic hampers.

A missed opportunity for public relations was the Jubilee concert. The line-up was a predictable turnout with few truly memorable moments. Madness playing on the roof of the Palace was the talk-about moment – with Trunk Animation Limited providing the highlight projections across the building’s facade.

There was a lack of original musical inspiration which comes from creative partnerships rather than allowing a parade of the same-old (literally) artists to perform their showreel hits. I would have liked to see a showcase of young, original talent being mentored by the doyens of British music – perhaps through a partnership with the Prince’s Trust. That would have enabled relationships to be developed between those who have enjoyed a long-career in music and those who could truly benefit from such a global promotional stage.

Another failure in promotion has been the BBC’s television coverage; too celebrity obsessed and full of lightweight commentary (who cares what a procession of nonentities think about proceedings?) This is a shame as it has produced some great documentaries around the Jubiliee – notably the tribute by Prince Charles told through archive family photographs and films. Overall though, an opportunity for demonstrating its competency as a global broadcaster has been poorly executed across pretty much all of the major events.

The Jubilee song, Sing, was a more successful endeavour as it encompassed performers from several commonwealth countries. A contribution from sales will be donated to the Queen Elizabeth Diamond Jubilee Trust which is raising money for causes around the Commonwealth.

There have been opportunities for the public to get behind the celebrations – from street parties to lining the route of the various activities in London, from lighting beacons around the world to participating through public ballots in the flotilla, concert audience and so on. Members of the Royal Family have also toured the UK and the Commonwealth in the weeks and months leading up to this weekend. This has had echoes of the Silver Jubilee in 1977 which many of us remember from our childhoods; my mother remembers the Coronation, although largely for her first experience of watching television and the birth of her first niece on 2 June 1952.

These connections back over the past 60 years, whether through the Royal Family or our own participation, link public and private relations. In 2012, unlike previous celebrations – even the Golden Jubilee a decade ago – we could promote personal involvement through social media. Instagram‘s Gramfeed provides a tapestry of images. The British Foreign Office used Pinterest to illustrate its global participation. #jubilee trended on Twitter – with the mainstream media trawling for comments for its coverage.

At the heart of everything is the image of one 86-year old woman – born into a lifetime of public relations. The Queen lives a largely public life, although she maintains a private persona, and tends to communicate primarily through carefully crafted speeches – something of a rarity in these over-communicating times. Her role is not simply symbolic or promotional, she embodies a responsibility – a Royal duty – to build public relationships. Her public appearances are an opportunity for community relations; as Monarch she is required to contribute towards building national relationships; as head of the Church of England, she undertakes relationship building between faiths.

Regardless of whether or not a Monarchy is a good thing, the Queen has to be the hardest working person in a public relations role. She didn’t choose this occupation and cannot retire from it either. Her original introduction onto the global stage was under the mentorship of another supreme public relations practitioner, her first Prime Minister, Winston Churchill. There have been hiccups along the way – such as a need to adapt to media demands for public emotion over decorum and protocol around the death of Diana, Princess of Wales for example. That’s not surprising given the way in which the world, let alone Britain, has changed over the past six decades.

But ultimately the Queen reflects the essence of public relations which has changed little over this time. Last week I read a speech given in 1952 by Vera H Watkins titled: My Job as a Public Relations Consultant. In it she presents a perspective on public relations, explaining that more people know you than you can know personally – but whom you wish should think well of you. Once this occurs, you must look for and add to your public relations.

The Jubile celebrations have given the Queen an opportunity to add to her public relations as I’m sure many people will have thought well of her – and hopefully of Britain too. I hope she continues strong and healthy for a Platinum Jubilee in 2022 – she’ll be rivalling Bernays for the longest career in public relations.

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Heather Yaxley PhD

Dr. Heather Yaxley is passionate about sustainable careers, reflective practice and professional development. I am a rhizomatic educator, practitioner, consultant, academic and scholar. As a qualified academic, I teach the CIPR professional qualifications with PR Academy and have experience teaching at various Universities. I run the Motor Industry Public Affairs Association (MIPAA) and my own strategic consultancy. I was awarded by PhD researching Career Strategies in Public Relations by Bournemouth University in 2017. I'm a published author, with books, chapters and academic papers to my name.

5 thoughts on “God Save the Queen – a life in public relations”

  1. From a PR perspective, the Royal Family have played a blinder this weekend. Ask yourself if people are more or less likely to recommend the Royal Family as a result of the Jubilee events? It’s an NPS no-brainer…
    The BBC did not enhance its reputation with the Flotilla coverage.. it was ‘pitched’ at the wrong level and showed it has lost its mojo for covering big public events. How so? We don’t need news presenters to be ‘jokey’ and falsely chummy on the couch together when discussing the event. If they can just do their job of reading scripts and briefing notes that’s fine. But fatuous errors and ignorance of basic knowledge about the event just undermined their credibility and revealed a lack of focus by the BBC. We don’t need every event to be sprinkled with tedious, manufactured ‘people’ pieces with more presenters at outside locations interviewing members of the public. A sensible, informed commentary of the events unfolding on the Thames would have been just fine – and the BBC has the resources to put more cameras in more places – so why didn’t they just do that? I flicked between Sky News and the BBC – and Sky News won hands-down.
    The BBC should take a lesson from the Queen and remember its heritage and place in society. The Queen has modernised the Royal Family without dumbing down or demeaning the brand.Wish the same could be said for the BBC..

    1. Thanks Al. The thing that has struck me a lot with the BBC lately is that they have lost any respect for expertise. There are some great programmes both on television, and more particularly Radio 4, which have allowed real subject experts to present a story but these are overwhelmed by the tendency to use celebrities and trivial voxpop approaches. There are few presenters who manage like Portillo in his railway series to allow others to tell stories without making them superficial. If I’m going to invest time in its output, then the old Reith motto of inform, educate and entertain still holds true for me. And often the entertainment comes as a result of the information and education – the magnificent Attenborough programmes still show that.

  2. The best PR decision the Queen ever made – anyway best one for this comment – was when she refused to have anything to do with “It’s a Royal Knockout” in 1987. Prince Edward didn’t get her point and went on with the show and made a twit of himself. His reputation never recovered. In contrast, twenty five years later – as your post suggests – some of the old wisdom slipped as the celebrities closed in on the photo-calls. Of course this time it didn’t flop, but…

    1. Agree with you Paul that some of the z’lebs on Monday seemed to think they were at Madame Tussauds with real life Royals! Managing a ‘brand’ is all about values and so there are things you shouldn’t do if it damages the reputation in exchange for short-term cred…

  3. The Jubilee was great and I think this is the strongest the country has felt for the Royal family in a long time. The queen is brilliant and worth every penny for the role of PR she plays for this nation. She works harder than any PR professional I know. It made me proud to be British.

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