Freezers and royal escapism

A 19-year-old woman was found dead in a walk-in hotel freezer in Chicago some time ago. The incident caught fire on social media, and was widely covered by the more traditional media too.

I mention this only to illustrate what catches our attention these days. If it’s not the Facebook posts, Instagram shots, and tweets of our friends and favourite “go to” accounts, it’s freezers, hurricanes, earthquakes, Emmys, financial or political crises – you name it. As long as it’s interest-grabbing enough.

Just to be contrary, I’m not going to discuss any of these topics. Not even the fact that a recent UN study estimates that 40 million people still live in what can only be defined as modern slavery. It’s a matter that deserves our serious attention; a quick blog wouldn’t do it justice.

Let’s instead take a moment to ponder the future of an endangered species, the still reigning royal families of Europe.

I grew up with tales of princes and princesses. First in the form of fairy tales, then in the form of history books, and magazine stories about the Swedish royal family. There was no social media to distract me.

The Swedish royals are inescapably linked in my mind with carefree summers at my grandparents and the happy anticipation experienced at home, as I waited for my turn to peruse the Swedish magazines my grandparents and my mother subscribed to.

Growing up, my world was divided into good and evil, just like my fairy tales had been. The evil was most palpably represented by World War II and the Holocaust. I was born in their aftermath; the world was still trying to understand what really happened.

The good, in turn, seemed to be embodied by the happy and untroubled life of the Swedish royal family. The family became as familiar to me as if I had known them personally.

I lost my trusted source of royal news when my mother passed away. Despite this, I can still claim some understanding of the whys and why nots of royal escapism.

The Swedish royal family is a textbook example of how one makes the most of a brand. But that’s not always enough.

During my nostalgic trip to Sweden last August, I decided to make a long overdue visit to the Royal Palace in Stockholm. Not as an invited guest, just as an ordinary tourist.

It seems that my childhood friends can barely make ends meet. The palace (below to the left) looked pretty run down. The family still glitters in ball gowns, but royal budgets are not exempt from cost cuts. Especially when a left-wing government is in charge of the purse strings.

There is a limit to cost-cutting whether you’re a royal family or a department store. In both cases, you run the risk of losing even your most loyal supporters when cost cuts result in an offering that is too limited and uninteresting.

By the time I returned to Helsinki, I had had my fill of royals; unfortunately the Finnish media and its European counterparts hadn’t. To commemorate Princess Diana’s untimely death in August 1997, they decided to air the British royal family’s dirty linen once again with a vengeance.

I couldn’t have cared less about the topic. Many shared my disinterest.

Following the Diana brouhaha, Sweden’s Crown Princess Victoria visited Helsinki. My 12-year-old granddaughter was definitely not scouring magazines (or sites) to learn more about the Swedish royals, not to mention British ones. Her manga stories had it all covered – both the good and the evil.

Why do I even bother to write about royal families? Who cares? My point exactly. Not many people do. Why should they? Even if they somehow managed to avoid sickness, unemployment, natural disasters, terrorism, and outright wars, they still have to survive the day-to-day pressures of combining family and work successfully (or maybe just the singles scene and studies).

Royal escapism just doesn’t cut it anymore in the competition for their attention.

The royals aren’t interesting enough. They don’t “shine” as they used to. Even if they did, the message would be all wrong. Blatant reminders of the polarity of our world are not in vogue, especially when taxpayers monies are involved.

More importantly, they really don’t get that much done now that they have been stripped of most of their power. It’s glaringly obvious that the value-added just isn’t there anymore.

It’s high time for the reigning royals to ensure that they have a viable Plan B.

Luckily there seems to be a demand for royal marketing and communications consultants, and royal palaces will make memorable sites for anything from weddings and movies to business conferences and company get-togethers. It’s not that bad, it’s still a far cry from slavery.

Then again, maybe I am being overly pessimistic. I have been wrong before. I was sure Mickey Mouse would not fare well in the 21st century too. Yet he and his publisher, Disney, have both soldiered on relatively successfully, despite the intense competition for people’s time and interest.

It’s all about changing with the times, and keeping your brand contemporary and compelling.

Poor Queen Elizabeth, she really is in a pickle isn’t she? Who would dream of describing Prince Charles as contemporary or compelling? Not to mention Camilla, the magnet for bad press.

My travels recently took me to a Finnish manor that has been turned into a relatively successful hotel and conference centre.

Haiko Manor looked far less shabby than the Swedish Royal Palace, which to me was a sign of things to come.

Most of us face downsizing and restructuring at some stage. The royal cases will probably proceed in the ordinary way. Consultants will be called in. Best and worst case scenarios will  be prepared. The royal family in question will be analysed and classified as something similar to the dog in my old favourite, the Boston Consulting Group matrix. Discreet divestment will be recommended; a shutdown might reflect negatively on the parties in power.

As old royal favourites are “discontinued” (through retirement or death), it becomes easier to finally act – to divest the business known as The Royal Family.

Due to the nature of the business, a management buyout is probably the best solution. The write-downs and one-off costs incurred may be substantial, but it will still be a good deal compared to centuries of royal fixed costs and investments in palace renovation.

I am sure there are a few royally inclined business angels out there, including one unnamed chairman of a (soon to be Finnish again) Nordic bank, who would be happy to help. After all, this would be the deal to top all others for any banker: The Royal Deal.

I take this moment to say a fond farewell to the world of European royals, and royal escapism as I have known it. It might be slightly premature, but I may not have the chance to do so later.

Times move on, and so do I, albeit with an occasional nostalgic pit stop. I needed one badly after I had watched Donald Trump do his best to whip up a nuclear war with his speech at the UN assembly. This week he set his sights on North Korea. Next week is another story.