How Prince Harry Sheds Light on Consent

Consenting to Visual Storytelling for Celebrities and Non-Celebrities

Source: The Late Show With Stephen Colbert

“I think so many of us feed into [scandal] without really realizing it. We click on photographs without really considering how that photograph was taken and the story behind that photograph, especially with someone’s kids.” – Prince Harry, The Duke of Sussex

On The Late Show with Stephen Colbert, Prince Harry, The Duke of Sussex, talked about the abuse of his family by the paparazzi and palace insiders. Here he’s talking about the experience of being in the media after the passing of his mother, who also experienced abuse by the media. He relays that the grief of losing his mother was made very public and it contributed to a negative effect on his mental health.

This interview, and Prince Harry’s book, Spare, sheds light on how sharing people’s stories – true or not – publicly, without their informed consent, can hurt their mental health and damage their lives. Looking at his story through the lens of informed consent is interesting indeed. Storytelling is imperative to connect and sell, whether you’re promoting a new product, service, or running a fundraiser for a nonprofit. Let’s take a look at how Prince Harry’s example illustrates the need for informed consent in storytelling, whether the person is a public figure or not.

While our clients may not be celebrities or public figures, sharing their stories can absolutely have this effect on them as well. For instance, you may host a fundraiser and use client photos that they didn’t sign off on in your materials. Doing so signals that they are “needy” and more so in comparison to your other clients. Exaggerating their circumstances in a fundraising appeal, without their permission or knowledge, signals that you’re more interested in raising money than in respecting their dignity. Sharing a photo on social media that your clients don’t like and tagging them, erodes their trust in your organization. These are just a few examples of how sharing stories without a client’s consent can be damaging to them and to your organization.

I’ve heard the argument that informed consent can’t and shouldn’t be applied to humanitarian journalism and journalistic photography because you lose the moment and people need to know in order to care enough to help, and that may be the case. It can certainly be argued that as a public figure, Prince Harry is also open to public circulation of his life through photos and stories. But does that make it right? If it’s at least a possibility, then why not try and make informed consent work?

It’s a question that every nonprofit has to determine for itself, through conversations with clients and staff outside of the development, marketing and communications departments. Inclusion of your client’s voice and opinions in your marketing communications is key if you want to be the kind of organization that does the right thing even when no one is looking.

A story, well-shared through the client’s voice, can be a cathartic experience for them, as Prince Harry experienced in writing his own story in Spare. We can be a part of facilitating that same healing experience by telling stories WITH our clients instead of for them.

“As we know through our own mental health [journeys], there’s power in sharing. Because then you realize you’re not alone, you weren’t crazy thinking that…I through this book, have been the most vulnerable I have ever been in my life. I’ve never felt stronger.” Prince Harry, The Duke of Sussex