PR View: Royal Wedding or Piccadilly Circus?

by PR Coach on April 20, 2011

Imagine the PR behind-the-scenes for Royal Wedding?

8,000! That’s the number of journalists that will cover the Royal Wedding in less than a week.

Imagine the PR planning and logistics happening as the wedding date draws near?

The news of Prince William and Kate Middleton’s wedding brought back memories of my own experience on the PR team for another international Royal mega-event.

Early in my career, I was lucky to work on media relations for two royal visits to Western Canada. One involved the 1977 visit of Prince Charles, pre-Diana days, to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the treaty with the Blackfoot Nation in Alberta. The other was Queen Elizabeth’s visit to open the 1980 Commonwealth games in Edmonton.

Prince Charles Attending Blackfoot Indian Tribal Ceremony in Calgary, Canada Photographic PrintFor those who like a good story, let me share a few insights into what we did as part of the PR team for Prince Charles’ visit.

Prince Charles Attending Blackfoot Indian Tribal Ceremony in Calgary, Canada

As media relations reps for the provincial government, our job was to work closely with the federal media relations team. In those days, federal- provincial relations were about as friendly and easy-going as those between the FBI and local police in a major murder investigation.

Here were a few of our media relations duties leading up to the actual visit:

  • Designing and planning media rooms, resources and facilities at numerous locations for the four-day visit. Remember, this was 1977, pre-cell phone and pre-laptop computer days. Talk about limited resources!
  • Working on transportation logistics within the strict security, protocol and timing required around HRH (His Royal Highness). This included buses and helicopters, food and washroom facilities, telephone and fax access. A good example: arranging for Air Canada pilots to personally carry TV film to BBC TV in Britain.
  • Going on numerous walk-throughs at venues across Alberta from several remote Indian reserves and small-town celebrations to big-city events, formal receptions and VIP meetings.
  • Setting camera placements at each venue; deciding who was going to provide the TV “pool” feed and “official” pool photography when logistics limited access to only a small handful of reporters. Imagine negotiating those terms with between 200 and 250 hell-bent news organizations and journalists told to get the story or photo with no questions asked? Believe me, polite conversation and decorum do not apply in an international media scrum.
  • Writing, fact checking, revising and producing media materials and backgrounders for each day’s events. Each day was filled with as many as six or more events where everything had to run perfectly, on time, on schedule.
  • Fielding and returning calls, information requests and dealing with the politics of local, national and international media; handling the same role for calls from local officials, dignitaries, managers of venues and anyone else that couldn’t get answers or didn’t like the answers they got from provincial and federal protocol and security officers.
  • Troubleshooting and running interference for any number of “bosses” whose first response to trouble or issues was “let media relations handle it.”
  • Dealing with dozens of local and regional media requests for accreditation to accompany the “official” media group, hoping that it might lead to a better story, a close-up photo of HRH or often nothing more than a great chance to be with the media “boys on the bus.”

It’s no wonder the federal media head honcho Vic Chapman was going bald fast. You’d think being a close confidante of Prime Minister Pierre Elliott Trudeau would get him a much more comfortable job?

But Chapman loved it and there was nobody better than this former CFL football all-star at negotiating, ordering, throwing his weight around when needed, using charm and simply getting the job done.

He did it with everyone from the trash-talking British media to local elected officials, RCMP and undercover security, big city and small-town venues and even stubborn little old ladies insisting on a picture of HRH inside security cordons.

To the outside world, in national and international TV news, radio reports and newspaper coverage, everything looked terrific. It was an innocent time as you’ll hear Prince Charles talking warmly and humorously to guests in this wonderful CBC archive clip.

In behind the scenes, nobody saw the elbows flying as the Brits fought our local press photographers to get the perfect shot of HRH wearing a native headdress. Or competing TV crews jockeyed for position with hundreds of pounds of heavy film gear, lights and sound.

Breaking into a run for the bus or army helicopter to fly to the next venue. Setting up and competing all over again for four madcap days. What a rush!

Fast forward to April 2011. The same intensive, behind-the-scenes work will be going on to accredit media, determine prime camera and media locations, allocate “pool” feeds, develop media materials and much more.

Remember that earlier number? The 8,000 media?

Add our VIP-frenzied, paparazzi-driven, marketing-oriented, tabloid TV and newspaper, social media-driven world.

Include hundreds of thousands of fans lining the streets of London and security of the highest level. You’ve got a recipe for a news event that will dominate all media for the next week.

Marketers and PR people in Britain and around the world have jumped on this Royal bandwagon in a big way. Sometimes with nauseating results, bad judgment or poor taste. Hawking everything from teacups, tea towels and T-shirts to toys, trinkets and titillating stories. Royal Wedding swag is everywhere and it’s not pretty.

The difference now is that technology and the Internet will play a predominant role in sharing this news event around the globe. This will be a Royal Wedding 2.0.

Mainstream media will be crowdsourcing stories and sharing them across every available channel including their own as well as social media. You’ll want to check the Royal Wedding official website. Watch The Royal Channel on YouTube. Look for official photos on Flickr, follow @ClarenceHouse on Twitter and click the “I’m attending” button on Facebook.

Not to mention hundreds of thousands of citizen journalists and fans. Each tweeting, Facebooking, Tumblring, sending video and photo clips, instant messaging, texting, blogging and more.

The hard PR work behind the scenes will be mostly done by now. All except for the troubleshooting and adrenaline on Wedding day.

Behind-the-scenes, the elbows will be flying as media compete ferociously for every unique story angle, fabulous photo, video shot, local color, pomp and ceremony, and sidebar stories that can only happen in British tabloid newspapers and TV.

Will the Royal Wedding be a fairy tale success or a Piccadilly Circus? Only time will tell. But it won’t be because thousands of PR and marketing people didn’t try to also own a piece of the big show.

Oh and one other really important piece of PR advice? Don’t plan any kind of news announcement or media event, anywhere in the world, on April 29th. You will not be able to compete with this news event!

Will you be watching? Can you sympathize with the huge job faced by the Royal PR team? Have you ever had experience with a similar scale of event? Would love to hear from you.

Photo Credits: Royal-News via Flickr, AllPosters.com and CBC archives.

Author:  Jeff Domansky is Editor, The PR Coach

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