Few people will ever experience such a high level of media scrutiny, for so long, as Queen Elizabeth II.
During a 70-year reign spanning huge cultural and political changes affecting the perception of the monarchy, as well as very high-profile family crises, there were inevitably ups and downs in the Queen’s public image.
Despite this, she held a 75 per cent approval rating – and the incredible outpouring of grief and affection in response to her death cemented her reputation as one of the world’s most loved and respected leaders.
It’s the kind of reputation most public figures would aspire to, and it reflects one of the key principles of PR: a good, long-standing reputation is maintained through action and authenticity.
Here are just a few of the ways the Queen inspired such public devotion.
She was authentic to her values
Service. Dedication. Dignity. Faith. It’s no surprise these words have come up time and again in tributes this week.
From her 21st birthday speech – “I declare before you all that my whole life… shall be devoted to your service” – to her final appearance welcoming in the new Prime Minister with her trademark smile despite her obvious frailty, the Queen had a clear set of values, a dedication to duty that permeated her character and her reign.
Throughout the turmoil of life, she remained constant.
It’s why so many people are feeling her loss so keenly, and why when she spoke about her Christian faith guiding her life, the public believed her.
From the small acts of goodness remembered by many who met her, to the big – shaking hands with Martin McGuiness, former commander of the IRA which killed her cousin – she lived out her values with actions which spoke as clearly as the words of her Christmas messages.
The public watched, and noticed.
She was adaptable
While she never veered from her dedication to her calling, the Queen was also able to listen to advice, recognise where she needed to make changes and adapt as a result.
One of the most challenging times for her in her relationship with the public was the immediate aftermath of the death of Diana, when she was heavily criticised by the media for seeming remote and uncaring in contrast to the high emotions of her people.
In the middle of this traumatic time, she listened to her PR advisers and recognised the need to respond to the public outcry, making a live broadcast promising that the monarchy would change.
She also famously adapted to new technologies to communicate more effectively with the public. She was originally resistant to breaking with tradition to allow her coronation to be televised, but her husband persuaded to her to change her mind, much to the benefit of her public persona. While her earliest television speeches seemed stilted, she grew into the medium, with millions tuning in to watch her Christmas message every year.
Decades later, she even went viral on social media by starring in a jokey short video with Prince Harry for the Invictus Games. And speaking of her grandson, the speed and empathy of her response to the “much loved” Harry and Meghan after they made their surprise announcement that they would step back from being senior royals, revealed that she now has a much deeper insight into how her reaction would be publicly received.
She was human
Her full title was Elizabeth II, by the Grace of God, of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland and of Her other Realms and Territories Queen, Head of the Commonwealth, Defender of the Faith.
But she was also Granny, Mama, and Lilibet.
As the decades progressed, the Queen gave the public more glimpses of the person behind the protocols, pomp and circumstance of her position – and they warmed to her as a result.
And she memorably showed her sense of humour in TV skits with James Bond for the 2012 Olympics and comparing sandwiches with Paddington Bear for her Jubilee Celebrations in 2022.
From the mischievous glint in her eye during these TV vignettes, to her quiet dignity during her husband’s funeral, these moments of humanity were visible to all of us. She wasn’t just respected as a leader; she was also lovingly described in numerous tweets and interviews as “the nation’s grandmother.”
In a public career spanning seven decades, that title - and the devotion it reflected - was achieved not by spin, but by a much deeper form of public relations: an authentic life well lived.
Written by Charis Gibson, Director of Communications, Jersey Road PR
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