As someone with a mostly American media career, one of my earliest challenges covering the royals was getting their PR teams to care about overseas coverage.
When the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge first got engaged in 2011, the British press was the only priority to those around the couple. Seeing the advantages of reaching US audiences took a little more time.
Access did eventually become more available but, over the years, the foreign market – including Commonwealth countries such as Australia and Canada – has often been an afterthought for palace press staff.
It shouldn’t come as a surprise. The primary focus of the British monarchy and its head of state is, of course, Britain. Its citizens being the only ones publicly funding the institution and all that it offers.
Arguments about the value of such funding are often countered with claims that the royals provide a boost to the British economy through tourism.
Past statistics have shown that out of the millions of Americans travelling to London each year – often more than any other country – the majority continue to put royal attractions such as Buckingham Palace, Kensington Palace and Tower of London on the top of their to-do lists.
It’s why over the years, particularly for major moments such as royal weddings and jubilees, the palace has learned to take advantage of this.
The BBC wasn’t the only official broadcaster of the recent Platinum Jubilee celebrations. The Disney-owned ABC network in the US also had exclusive access to the festivities and all official coverage.
Though the US has long been fascinated with British royalty, interest in ‘The Firm’ was massively renewed when one of the country’s own married into the House of Windsor in 2018. The story of Meghan’s journey as a royal (and all things related to it) still accounts for the majority of royal coverage in the US.
That space was once occupied by the Cambridges. In the couple’s earlier days, one couldn’t move for TV specials and magazine covers about William, Kate and their growing family. But as their life fell into a stable groove, the excitement and curiosity for the pair waned.
With births and many of life’s major milestones checked off the list, they slowly became a tougher sell to audiences. It’s why there were no US media outlets on the couple’s recent tour of the Caribbean.
In the UK, it’s the opposite. Though the Sussexes grab more headlines, a steady stream of orchestrated appearances from George, Charlotte and Louis – and William and Kate’s efforts during the pandemic –has helped the Cambridges’ popularity rise. And it seems Kensington Palace is now hoping they can do the same in the US.
Watch: Duke of Cambridge announces The Earthshot Prize will be held in Boston
Last week, it was announced that Prince William is taking his annual Earthshot Prize ceremony to Boston this December – the first US trip for the Cambridges since 2014.
It’s an event already heavily linked with the US, with the inspiration behind it taken from President John F. Kennedy’s “Moonshot” and founding partners including Jeff Bezos’s Earth Fund, Bloomberg Philanthropies and the late Paul Allen’s family foundation.
It’s why William sat down with People magazine, still one of the country’s most read magazines, last summer for a rare interview. “William is keen for his work to be seen and have impact outside of the UK and the royal bubble,” a source tells me. “The charitable landscape in America is huge and he wants to have a presence.”
Though the source made no mention of it, I wondered if a little competitiveness with his brother might be in the mix, too. Harry’s popularity in Britain may be suffering, but his rise in the US has seen the Archewell Foundation receive huge attention from an impressive list of donors, and his charitable efforts and campaigning has quickly seen him acknowledged by the likes of Forbes and TIME, who named him and Meghan two of the world’s most influential people.
Though rarely spoken about, William and Kate’s own UK-based foundation – which Earthshot started life at in 2020 –actually has its own US non-profit called the The American Friends of The Royal Foundation. Its board has included individuals from some of the country’s largest financial institutions and entertainment companies, including Universal Music CEO Sir Lucian Grainge.
And with plans for the Cambridges’ December visit to be much more than just an appearance at William’s environmental prize, sources tell me that preliminary conversations about a fundraising event – similar to the $50,000-a-head dinner the couple hosted during eight years ago in New York – have already taken place.
Recon, I’m also told, has also been scheduled for a number of royal engagements and activities for the couple in Boston and beyond. Perhaps even a trip to Washington DC.
It’s no coincidence that the couple have recently hired a new head of communications who has spent the past seven -years climbing the ranks of US mass media empire NBC Universal. British PR chief Lee Thompson, who officially started at Kensington Palace this month, previously served as VP of global communications and strategic partnerships for the conglomerate.
Though their focus will always be in the UK—where they are currently preparing to move their family base from London to Windsor—it’s clear the Cambridges have realised a slice of American pie would be nice, too.
And who can blame them? Interest in the Royal Family on the world stage has long been an essential asset to Britain’s appeal abroad.
And with the monarchy’s declining popularity across large parts of the Commonwealth, and the UK finding itself in an increasingly competitive and globalised world, now seems like the perfect time for a much-needed PR boost.