Whatever your views may be about the British Monarchy, the fact is our late Queen’s reign, which spanned a staggering 70 years, was quite simply a masterclass in communications. It is widely known our former sovereign was educated from a very young age in the affairs of state. This incredibly wide range of subjects included everything from plumbing the depths of our unique constitution, to language, culture, history, etiquette, and a myriad of other traditional academic pursuits.
As with many of us in the marcomms sector, the Queen likely learned many of her soft skills on the job. The art of communication, presentation, stakeholder engagement and the development of her own personal brand of sovereign are qualities Her Majesty refined over decades during an extraordinary lifetime of service.
Her role as Communicator-in-Chief can be bucketed a few key overlapping elements: The Queen was an important part of our national identity and a symbol of unity, an international celebrity with her own personal brand, and perhaps most importantly in stakeholder engagement as a diplomat.
In each of these key tasks, HM demonstrated her talent as a communicator. In 10 decades, she met literally everyone from popes and presidents to prime ministers and has been to almost every corner of the globe. Having lived through so many prolific events in global history, her wisdom and longevity gave her a unique perspective almost unmatched by others. In the same way as communicators/marketeers rely on evidence and data to make informed decisions and advise, so it was the same for The Queen. Churchill is said to have once told her, “The further back you look, the further forward you can see.” The Queen certainly did her homework and was adept at handling the global media having watched it evolve from print press to the digital 24/7 environment we live in today. It is difficult to count the moments where she made a reputational gaff in all those years on the throne.
Hers was a cautious approach and so her reign is only lightly peppered with direct media output, such as interviews, documentary filming, stunts and skits. In addition to the strange balance of distance and overwhelming media attention the Royal Family is given, it’s a vintage method of celebrity management to be more sparing, the more famous the individual, and The Queen was a great example of this. Who could forget the brilliant London 2012 skit with Daniel Craig as Bond, the mic-drop with Prince Harry for the Invictus Games or the tearjerker with Paddington Bear for her Platinum Jubilee. Cleverly placed opportunities to remind the world of her humanity and her own personal brand of sovereign, which while often stoic and serious, had a quintessentially British cheekiness and sense of self-awareness. She once said, “Let us not take ourselves too seriously. None of us has a monopoly on wisdom.”
The Queen’s presence and her understanding of empathy aided in the crafting of her role as a symbol of unity, particularly in times of great tragedy. Her address to the nation during the COVID-19 crisis, meeting the local community impacted by the Grenfell fire, her address at the beginning of the first Gulf War as well as countless other moments in our national story are all examples of how the Queen maintained visibility often in person (sometimes while others did not) when the country needed it most. Her tone, words, body language, timing, gestures and actions all honed over many years of service are exceptional examples of how we as consultants train clients to engage their stakeholders.
It was Her Majesty’s quiet hand in diplomacy that is sometimes most overlooked. It is true the Monarchy must remain “above” politics, but there is still a delicate and important role for our sovereign to play in statecraft. In her role as head of the Commonwealth, the Queen played a crucial political role in evolving the relationship between the UK and the other members from one of old colonialism to a more collaborative partnership.
For many, the most poignant moment in her diplomatic career was her visit to Belfast for the Diamond Jubilee, where she made history after that now famous handshake with the late Martin McGuinness, then Deputy First Minister of Northern Ireland.
There aren’t many 70-year marcomms campaigns, but somehow through delicate, considered and visible work, Queen Elizabeth became a brilliant example of presence, symbolism and unity and gave us all a masterclass in communications.