Earlier this week, it was announced that Prince Harry has signed on to become Chief Impact Officer for mental health tech startup BetterUp. The startup is a mental health coaching service that provides groups and individuals with analytics, specialized plans, and one-on-one interaction with a mental health coach to achieve personal and professional goals.
Then, one day later, it was announced that Harry has joined on to the Aspen Institute’s Commission on Information Disorder. His title for that job is Commissioner of Information Disorder. The Aspen Institute is a think tank based in Washington, DC with the aim of “realizing a free, just, and equitable society.” I’ll write a separate post about this shortly, but right now, let’s start with the BetterUp announcement. Here are some thoughts:
The rollout was messy
BetterUp is a tech startup, so you would probably guess that the media rollout of Prince Harry’s new job with them was precise and well-executed. It was not. At 8:00am, before officially announcing that Harry had joined the company, his headshot and biography were already on the BetterUp website. This was before the (Harry-approved) Wall Street Journal announcing his new job was posted at 9:15am, and hours before BetterUp had put out a press release or social media announcement on Twitter or Instagram (7:00pm).
That’s a whole working day between the news getting out and an official post from BetterUp! What else could they have been up to to shelve a welcome tweet and Instagram post until the evening? For reasons stated below (they don’t really have followers on social media yet), wouldn’t you want that to be the first thing you publish, so you could gain followers? I’m so confused. What a sloppy PR rollout.
The brand is up-and-coming
BetterUp is a San Fransisco-based tech company that is still in its early stages as a company and brand. It’s looking for two things: money and visibility. Prince Harry signing on to work with BetterUp gives the company both. What’s in it for Harry? Well, first is a paycheque. As BetterUp is a startup, he will likely be paid in both salary and equity, which is probably stock and free use of the company’s services for Harry (he said in his statement on joining the company that everyone working at Archewell has full access to BetterUp’s services).
Before the official Prince Harry announcement yesterday, BetterUp had fewer than 10,000 followers on Twitter (it now has just over 12,000 followers). On Instagram, yesterday it had fewer than 2,000 followers. It now has almost 5,000 followers. Neither of its Twitter and Instagram accounts are blue-checked, a feature that social media uses to denote which accounts are either “verified” (the person/group is who they say they are) or a certain level of prominence. Again, you’re hiring Prince Harry so you can get more followers and more engagement. Wouldn’t you want to post the welcome message to Prince Harry only on social for the first few hours, in order to get followers out of it? *confused shrug emoji*
It could be really great for Harry…
I don’t want to be a jerk about a company that could help people. Maybe it’s a really great company and maybe Harry will make it even better. This could be a great way for Harry to make some pocket money while building his brands as a name in Silicon Valley and a mental health advocate. Maybe it will absolutely explode and become as profitable as Instagram and Harry will never have to make a Netflix documentary to pay for his family’s security. Crazier things have happened!
…but it does cheapen his brand
As much as Harry and Meghan agreed not to use their titles or affiliation with the British Royal Family to influence or peddle favour with for-profit companies, that’s exactly what Harry is doing here. Of course BetterUp is going to give Harry money and whatever else he wants in exchange for his picture and name. It’s a no-brainer. If this deal is damaging anyone, it’s both Harry (he agreed to work for a company that’s not really been vetted and hasn’t even blue-checked on social media?) and the BRF. If Harry continues to use his title in such a way, it could be ammunition for the BRF deciding to remove Harry and Meghan’s Sussex titles at some point in the future.
It leads to questions about Harry’s literal and figurative employability
In terms of figurative employability, this position is like a child being given the title of “Junior Pilot” and a plastic set of wings by an actual pilot while on a plane. The title of Chief Impact Officer is silly. It’s a load of California tech nonsense that comes with a paycheque but doesn’t really mean anything. It immediately reminded me of the celebrity fad of becoming a “Creative Director” or “Chief Creative Partner” or whatever other title for an established brand, in order to get a paycheque and a business card that makes you look like an executive. This is a thing that celebrities do to gain prestige in the business world (more prestige than a regular partnership) with minimum effort or risk. See: Lady Gaga as Creative Director for Polaroid, Rita Ora as Chief Creative Partner for Prospero Tequila, will.i.am as Director of Creative Innovation at Intel.
There is an article about the fad of celebrity creative directors on Glossy, which you can read here. The Who Weekly podcast also discusses the idea of celebrities using glorified business titles to further their brand pretty regularly – if you’ve not already subscribed to their great podcast, you can right that injustice here.
In terms of literal employability, Harry has been living in America for a full year now. Although he and Meghan have done things that residents/citizens can do (bought a house, signed deals with Netflix and Spotify, etc.), this could all have theoretically been done in Meghan, a US citizen’s, name. The mortgage for Harry and Meghan’s house is 100% in Meghan’s name. This makes sense – they probably weren’t sure what the coming months would hold and wanted to give themselves some time to figure out Harry’s residency status.
But now that Harry has lived in California for a year, it’s time for a decision, and it seems like one was made. (It was also time to make a decision on the issue of residency given that Meghan will soon deliver a baby on American soil, therefore making Harry’s second child an American citizen. Complicated!)
Harry’s partnership with BetterUp is the first real job that Harry has had where we know he’s being paid by an American company while living in America. He’s going to have to pay taxes. He’s going to either have a work visa, apply for residency, or apply for citizenship. We don’t know which of these he has done (or had accepted), but that’s the only way you can legally work in America, and Harry is now legally working in America.
Some people (me, I am some people) have wondered if Harry would apply for a Genius visa, which if formally titled the O-1 Visa for Individuals with Extraordinary Ability or Achievement. It’s a visa that you can apply for that basically says, “I’m one of a kind. You don’t have anyone in America who can do what I can do. So you need to give me an exception to be able to work here.” You could reasonably call it the Beyoncé visa. There is only one of her, and she has Extraordinary Ability or Achievement. A case for Harry could probably be made on the grounds that he has years of diplomatic experience and, as the founder of the Invictus Games, he has extraordinary ability or achievement to be able to hold those types of events, to the benefit of American servicepeople and veterans, at some point in the future. I don’t know. If someone reading this has info on how Harry is working in the States, please email me!
What are your thoughts on Harry’s Chief Impact Officer role with BetterUp? I’d love to hear them. You can buy me a coffee via Square here and/or sign up to my weekly email newsletter below. Please stay safe, wear a mask, and get vaccinated when it’s your turn.