Just a month ago, I knew exactly nothing about the Duke of Sussex’s penis. But all of that changed with the recent flurry of publicity around Prince Harry and his bombshell memoir, Spare, about growing up as a member of the British royal family. It is, from the looks of the excerpts and write-ups clogging up the internet, a truly brutal tell-all. In the wake of a pretty well-received Netflix series about his relationship with his wife, Meghan Markle, the memoir and accompanying press tour sparked headlines about ayahuasca trips, his alleged kill count as a soldier in Afghanistan, and his claim that he was literally “bred” to donate his organs to his brother and heir to the throne Prince William.
Granted, the book reportedly sold more than a million copies within its first week—a record-breaking figure. But the press cycle surrounding it feels painful, personal, and incredibly messy for a member of a notoriously button-up monarchy. He and Markle are already famous, which invites the question: Why is Harry saying all this crazy shit in such a public-facing way?
To help me puzzle out what the estranged prince might be thinking, I spoke with Jennifer Magas, an assistant professor of practice in communications at Texas Tech University and the vice president of her own comms firm, Magas Media Consultants, which handles crisis communications for clients. When I reached out, she told me that she’d been discussing Harry’s media tour with her colleagues and landed at the same place I did: “Oh my God, it’s a PR nightmare!”
VICE: You told me you’ve been following the press cycle around Harry. What’s your impression from a PR perspective?
Jennifer Magas: I don't understand the writing of the book as a PR person—why would you ever think you would get any positive publicity from this? Everyone’s gonna pick out the dirt and air the dirt. It’s just one negative thing after another, an avalanche of negativity. That's the fascinating part of it—Harry's already so angry and so upset and so bitter, to then have all this more negative backlash!
Right, I guess the interviews and excerpts ostensibly promote the book, but would you say they’re a good strategy?
My students always ask me, “Is all PR good PR?” No. Not in this case, because you’re up against the royal family. And what does the royal family do? They do exactly what an attorney would tell them to do—they stay quiet. They do what they’re supposed to do, and they only comment when they absolutely need to comment. I’ll be curious to see more about what their reaction is in the coming days, the more interviews [Harry] does. But from his perspective, he’s just completely digging a hole, and I don’t see him getting out of it anytime soon.
So if the strategy isn’t working… why is he putting all of this out in the press?
There are certain people who feel the need to tell their truth. And you know what, this probably is his truth. The more you read about what it was like to have King Charles as your father, I mean, can you imagine? Cold, unresponsive, you read stories about how, when Diana died, King Charles didn’t even hug him. So my understanding would be that I think he expected a more welcome response to Meghan Markle and that didn’t happen, so this is his way of striking back. And you can put me on the record saying this: I don’t think he would have written this book had his father not pulled the plug money-wise.
My students always ask me, “Is all PR good PR?” No.
The sad part about it is, it's only coming back to bite them. He moved to California and he brought his own earthquake. From a PR perspective, nothing good could come from this, because already, so many people have sided with the royal family. And that’s because they have a much larger PR machine, they have the money to do it, and they know how to stay silent. They know how to manipulate the press and that’s what they’re gonna do.
If Harry was your client and came to you with this flurry of negative press, what would you tell him to do? Is the situation salvageable?
I would spin it. Whenever you build your own brand, you want to walk away with something positive—you want to make a difference. What Harry needs to do is spin the narrative and instead of, “These are all the negative things that happened to me, I’m a victim,” spin it as, “These are the things I learned being a member of the royal family.” The average person is not going to identify with Harry because he comes from a millionaire family, the royal family. But he needs to put himself in a place where he can say: What positive lessons can I share with other people?
Instead of focusing on, “William knocked me down to the floor,” you know, these crazy stories that are coming out, instead say something like, “This is what I learned when my mother passed away.” A lot of people have mothers that pass away. Or he can talk about what it’s like to have an absentee father, on an emotional level, because he had everything else he needed. Or, “This is what I’m doing in my life to make a difference.” He’s done it in the past, which is fascinating, because again, why air all this dirty laundry now?
Got it. It’s also been interesting to watch Meghan Markle, who isn’t just his life partner—she’s his business partner, too. It seems like so far, she’s stayed quiet about Harry’s memoir. What would you tell her if she came to you asking for PR advice?
I think the PR people are telling her to be quiet. Honestly, one of the things that I would recommend, and I think the royal family did try to do this, is to put a brave face on it and at least move forward and try to mend fences. At least from a public perspective—because nothing good comes from all this negative publicity. Particularly because the royal family likes to be known for their charitable contributions, and Harry and Meghan—they want to do the same thing.