What Kensington Palace Got Wrong Amid the Princess Kate Photo Controversy, According to Publicists and Royal Experts

 Prince William Kate Middleton.
Prince William Kate Middleton.

Kensington Palace has a slight PR crisis on its hands.

ICYMI, on Monday morning Princess Kate issued an apology for releasing an edited family photo for Mother's Day on Sunday, ostensibly in response to various news and photo agencies pulling the picture from their platforms, citing doctoring.

Princess Kate apology
Princess Kate apology

This, rather than quashing speculation, has only added fuel to the fire on social media—especially since it comes amid the Princess of Wales staying away from the public eye for the past several weeks as she recovers from abdominal surgery.

A post shared by The Prince and Princess of Wales

A photo posted by princeandprincessofwales on

As the controversy grows, Marie Claire has spoken to various publicists and royal experts for their take on what the Palace got wrong in handling this particular story. Here's what they had to say.

The Palace's handling of the situation has eroded trust with the public

"Any brand, especially one as big as the Royal Family, relies on the trust of their consumers, or in this case the general public," says Sophie Attwood, PR expert and author of Beautiful PR: Finding Your Brand's Heartbeat For Authenticity In Communication.

"It’s important to remember, however, that consumers (or in this case the general public) are now more informed than ever before. They’re looking to engage with a person or brand that is authentic, that is trustworthy and reliable. And so a situation such as this one which sheds doubt on that will of course throw the brand, or in this case the Royal Family, into disrepute."

A post shared by The Prince and Princess of Wales

A photo posted by princeandprincessofwales on

The edited photo makes all other updates of the princess seem unreliable

"The edited photo now calls into question the various updates the Palace has given so far on the princess," says Lisa Carr, associate consultant at Carr Consulting & Communications.

"People are now questioning the reliability and authenticity of everything they have heard so far. What hasn’t been made clear at all is why the photo was edited in the first place. Unfortunately, all this is doing is driving more wild speculation and conspiracy theories on Kate’s (and William’s) whereabouts."

Kate Middleton
Kate Middleton

"This is a PR disaster"

"In this social media age it just isn’t an option to keep a member of the Royal Family out of the public eye for a prolonged period of time without offering a believable reason, particularly someone as loved and as senior as The Princess of Wales," says Sophie Banks at Loudbird PR.

"This is a PR disaster and it’s extraordinary that it could have been allowed to happen. The best course of action now is to issue the original picture, with apologies. The other option is to invite a trusted royal photographer to Windsor to take some pictures and issue to the media along with a full statement about her recovery.

"Of course, if this is not possible for any reason then the conspiracy theories will continue to run riot."

A post shared by The Prince and Princess of Wales

A photo posted by princeandprincessofwales on

Kate's apology has left the public with more questions than before

"I'm sure the intention was pure, to show that Kate is recovering well and is surrounded by the love and support from her family, but by omitting that the photograph had been edited leaves questions as to why it had been in the first place," says Laura Perkes, PR strategist, reputation manager and founder of PR With Perkes.

"I feel it's left the public, and the press, with more questions than answers.

"Her public apology ... was very vague and hasn't done anything to squash the rumor mill. If anything, it's accelerated it into overdrive."

Kate Middleton at a royal engagement
Kate Middleton at a royal engagement

The Palace's communication strategy is outdated in the age of social media

"The current procedures that Kensington Palace follows don't exist in the same world as viral tweets and TikTok stitches," says royal expert and journalist Christine Ross.

"While their previous statements and op notes would quiet down the mainstream media, they are vastly underestimating the conversations taking place on social media.

"Waiting until 10 a.m. the next day to release a statement from the Princess of Wales would have worked 10 years ago, but the news cycle has lived a hundred lifetimes since the issue with the photographs initially arose.

"This feels very much like a byproduct of the 24-hour news cycle and the never-ending nature of social media."

Kate Middleton at the memorial service for Queen Elizabeth's one year anniversary
Kate Middleton at the memorial service for Queen Elizabeth's one year anniversary

The Palace has failed to control the narrative

"It feels the communication team for the Princess of Wales has been reactive rather than proactive to try and combat the online narrative," says Matt Alexander, celebrity publicist at Repp Media.

"It is understood that you can’t predict every crisis that is on the horizon; however, it is crucial to try and control the narrative before it becomes a bigger story that you can’t control which, unfortunately, has happened in this case."

The edited photo has only encouraged more gossip

"If it was Kensington Palace's intention to shut down gossip by sharing a wholesome family photo featuring the princess, it has spectacularly backfired," says Hannah Williams, independent PR consultant.

"The inconsistencies in the image shared on Mother's Day have now sucked more people into the speculation business, with even the most level-headed, uninterested person now wondering what might be going on."

Williams adds, "Authenticity is the only way to counter gossip. There is no way that the deployment of smoke and mirrors could possibly help matters at this stage."

Whew.

Kate Middleton
Kate Middleton