From racing to royalty: two different approaches to handling a media crisis

November 21, 2016 12:34 pm Published by

How to own your story when things go wrong

Sir Bradley Wiggins and Prince Harry – what connects the two? Other than their famed, rusty sideburns, in recent months both have also come under a storm of media criticism and attention. However, what the pair have less in common is the way that they – or their respective media teams – have chosen to approach it.

This month, Kensington Palace issued an unprecedented statement asking the global media to respect Prince Harry’s budding new relationship to actress Meghan Markle. The royal request honed in on the particularly aggressive activity of the press, citing incidents ranging from invasion of privacy to all out harassment.

It’s impossible to really gauge the “success” of such an announcement – no simple press statement can change the long and troubled relationship the royals share with the tabloid media. But it has gone some way to changing the current dialogue surrounding the Prince’s personal life. By focusing on a handful of core phrases – respect, privacy and safety – the statement moved the conversation away from sensationalised speculation, and shed some light on the racially and sexually charged language of previous coverage. And crucially it went some way towards owning an incredibly public and heated media conversation.

Moving away from the royals and into the realms of professional sport. In September, Tour de France champion, Olympian and general sporting legend Bradley Wiggins came under fire for his use of performance-enhancing drugs, following a Russian-led hacking effort into the World Anti-Doping Agency (Wada) database.

To summarise the facts (and there are plenty to cover) Wiggins hasn’t actually done anything wrong. He went through a lengthy administrative process and was allowed to take otherwise banned treatments for asthma and allergies from 2011 to 2013. His actions were procedurally correct – but the same can’t be said for his team’s media management when the story became public. With so many voices and the stakes so high, it would always be a difficult conversation to own. However, when the data hack dominated UK headlines, 12 days elapsed before the mastermind of British cycling, Sir Dave Brailsford, issued a statement – plenty of time for critical voices to start asking questions. Has he broken the rules? Was his asthma mentioned in his autobiography? What on earth is triamcinolone anyway!? There were plenty of questions to ask, and with no authoritative, respected voice providing the answers, media pundits were more than happy to oblige.

For Bradley and Harry it’s safe to say these personal and professional challenges are far from over and their stories are set to dominate British headlines for months, if not years to come. But as the past two months show us, a proactive crisis strategy – or lack thereof – will go a huge way to shaping the media conversations that they create.

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This post was written by Alice Johnson