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The Kate Photoshop fiasco: 3 major lessons for employers

Everyone's in a tizzy over the whole Princess Kate Photoshop debacle. And you know what? There are valuable lessons here for employers, especially in how you share updates with your employees. The Evil HR Lady goes into depth on what those lessons are and what you should (and especially, shouldn't) do when managing your teams.

Suzanne Lucas
Suzanne Lucas

Suzanne, the Evil HR Lady, shares expertise, guidance, and insights based on 10+ years of experience in corporate human resources....

Kate Photoshop

Catherine, Princess of Wales, colloquially still referred to as Kate Middleton, had surgery earlier this year. Even though the official message from the British Royal Family was that she would be off work and out of the public eye through the end of March, people are wondering what happened and where she is.

This is not a gossip blog, but I’m intrigued. I do want to know that Her Royal Highness is okay, but I’m also fascinated by the lessons we can learn about corporate communication from this debacle.

Yes, companies make the same mistakes the Royals are making all the time. Here we go.

1. Be honest in your messaging

This seems easy to do. In January, the Palace released a statement that HRH had been admitted to the hospital for a planned abdominal surgery.

Frankly, while the public is very nosey, we aren’t entitled to know why she had surgery. Yes, she’s a public figure, but she’s still entitled to medical privacy.

But the dishonesty started here. If the surgery was planned, why did she cancel upcoming events? Those two statements are contradictory.

Now for normal humans, our surgeries may get moved up or pushed out based on the surgeon’s availability, but I doubt the royals have trouble with getting bumped or moved up.

So why not be honest from the beginning? “Her Royal Highness Catherine, Princess of Wales, underwent abdominal surgery and will be recovering until after Easter. She regrets that she won’t be attending upcoming events.”

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Lessons for your business

People can see through the misdirections and squishy language used to hide things.

No, you’re not required to tell people confidential information (whether it be health information about your CEO or details about an upcoming merger.

But you need to be honest about what you do say. Otherwise, people will see through it.

Related: Going viral as an employer – for all the wrong reasons

2. Don’t pretty things up

While there will always be rumors about the Royals, what really stirred things up was a picture of Catherine and her children at the palace released for Mother’s Day in the UK. People noticed right away that there was a lot of Photoshop going on in that picture and cried foul.

Now, let’s have a reality check: A ton of the pictures you see on the internet have been photoshopped. If that’s a scandal, let me introduce you to another scandal: Filters, and filters’ close friend, makeup.

So why the problem?

Because this was poorly done and appeared to be more than a few little things to make everyone look like their mother hadn’t just been screaming at them, “If you can just not make a face for 30 seconds, we will be done with this and you can go back to Minecraft.

(Apologies: I’m sure your children, like the Royal children, love taking family pictures, and you’ve never experienced this phenomenon.)

Catherine is recovering from surgery and has been out of the public eye since January, so a Photoshopped picture raised eyebrows and, admittedly, produced some very entertaining social media posts.

Lessons for your business

If you try to tell everyone things are great and fudge numbers and talk about VPs who “left to spend more time with their families”, people know that you’re trying to hide something.

Honestly? Honesty is the best policy.

The other option, of course, is to keep your mouth shut and stick with the original message: HRH will be recovering until the end of March, and so here is a picture of the kids on Mother’s Day. Or: here’s a picture of them with their grandmother.

If nothing is changed from your original communication, just stay the course.

3. Rumors are (almost) always worse than reality

Catherine released a statement that she Photoshopped the picture and didn’t do a great job.

Ha, ha, ha.

Then the Palace released a photo of her and Prince William where Catherine could be any person with long dark hair.

So, the rumors are flying. Did she die? Is she stuck with a cat on her lap? Does she have cancer, and her hair all fell out? Did she decide to leave her husband? Did William run off with a mistress?


It’s me, Kate! Everything is fine :) #royalfamily #katemiddleton

♬ Mozart Minuet with violin(815356) – 松本一策

Likely, none of these are true, and Kate – sorry, Catherine – is just still recovering from a major surgery.

But, by changing the original message (you won’t see her again until after Easter) and showing a poorly prettied-up picture, you invite rumors.

Adding a sketchy follow-up picture further fueled the rumors.

Lessons for your business

Stick to the truth. In the absence of information, people make stuff up, and that’s what’s happening here.

People will assume the worst because that’s the most exciting answer. It’s really boring to think, “She’s a 42-year-old woman who had major surgery. She needs time to recover, and she’s recovering.” It’s much more dramatic to think something horrible happened.

Present the truth. Hiding things makes it worse.

You’ll probably never have as much drama in your business as the Royals are having now, but you will have drama.

Trying to hide it and making iffy communication will make it worse.

Want to read more from the Evil HR Lady? Check out her other articles here.

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