While Meghan Markle’s “real-life fairy tale” captivated audiences worldwide, her estranged family members sought to cash in on her celebrity by spreading rumors, hurling accusations, and undercutting the 36-year-old biracial American in every news cycle.
Yet despite the publicity and drama surrounding her marriage, the self-described feminist and outspoken activist has managed to rise above. Meghan has remained spectacularly calm in the face of a brutal media storm, teaching royal watchers lessons about how to control the narrative in a crisis. As the royal wedding came to an end Saturday, the world wasn’t talking about her father’s paparazzi scheme or her half-brother’s open letter to Prince Harry—we were talking about racial equality, social justice, and women’s empowerment. We were talking about what Meghan wanted us to talk about.
So, what has Meghan Markle imparted about effective public relations? Three things:
Never Repeat a Negative
This is a rule communications professionals repeat to clients time and time again. Negative stories are often more interesting than positive ones and when faced with an allegation, the inclination is to deny, deny, deny. The problem with denials is that regardless of whether you are innocent, most people don’t hear the denial. The accusation is what registers.
If Meghan had responded to her half-sister’s claim that she was a social climber by saying, “I am not a social climber,” what would everyone think? She was a social climber. By ignoring the hate, Meghan made it irrelevant. She refused to give her family more room to communicate their message, thereby ensuring that the rumors would soon become less newsworthy and have a diminished role in the larger wedding narrative.
Focus on Your Message
Instead of concentrating on family drama, Meghan chose to put progressive values, like inclusion and feminism, at the center of her wedding. She stayed true to her message, and her identity, and it paid off.
For example, Bishop Michael Curry, a black American minister from Chicago, made headlines for his impassioned sermon at the ceremony. He chose to start and end with quotes from Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and made references to slavery. His sermon, which generated about 40,000 tweets per minute, called for an end to poverty and war, highlighting the power of love. By giving Bishop Curry such a tremendous platform to deliver his message, she altered the narrative and mood of the day.
Similarly, The Kingdom Choir’s rendition of “Stand By Me,” a song strongly connected to the American civil rights movement, was another symbolic moment at Winchester. It was a perfect selection for a biracial woman who believes the spotlight should be used to amplify issues she cares about, with race and equality taking center stage.
Confidence is Key
Â In a striking image, and historic first for a British royal bride, Meghan walked down the aisle alone for much of the procession at St. George’s Chapel. The decision was interpreted as a profound act of feminism. She was proving something to the world in that moment and communicating a message about the type of duchess she would be.
Prince Charles joined Meghan at the halfway mark, in what was seen as a symbol of Meghan’s acceptance into the royal family. Yet her composure and confidence throughout the day showed she didn’t need any help. While Prince Harry was clearly overcome with emotion, as evidenced by his frequent nose scratches, restless swaying, and lip biting, Meghan remained poised throughout the entire ceremony. Her serene smile signaled to the millions watching that she was exactly where she was meant to be. And she knew it.
In 2016, Meghan wrote, “With fame comes opportunity, but it also includes responsibility to advocate and share, to focus less on glass slippers and more on pushing through glass ceilings.” In the days leading up to May 19, it looked as if Meghan’s imperfect family might cast a shadow on her version of a fairytale wedding. In the end, through wise communications strategies, she was able to reclaim her story. Well done.