Anna Wintour’s Game of Thrones

 Anna Wintours Game of Thrones

THE PR VERDICT: “A” (PR Perfect) for Anna Wintour, for getting her perfectly coiffed head off the chopping block and fitted for a new tiara.

In the Game of Thrones that is magazine publishing, there is a cryptic new saying: Wintour is coming. That would be Anna Wintour, Editor in Chief of Vogue, and now Artistic Director of Condé Nast. Only five years ago, rumors were swirling that Anna had reached the end of her reign; Carine Roitfeld, then Editor in Chief of French Vogue, was rumored to be the new queen. How things have changed.

Since taking over fashion’s biggest publication, part of Wintour’s work has been becoming a legend as notorious as she is famous. Runway shows did not start without her sitting front and center. She could make or break designers. She hardly bothered to brush off the outrageous allegations made in a former assistant’s novel, The Devil Wears Prada. Then, with the Recession and every magazine including Vogue taking deep hits, the speculation began: Was Wintour over?

Not by a long shot. Through a series of strategic moves, including allowing a cooly chic documentary, The September Issue, to record her quietly brutal taste-making process, Wintour has  strengthened her position as the premiere mover and shaker in the fashion universe. A New York Times article described Wintour’s influence as her publisher’s new artistic director, placing her gilded touch – or iron fist – on every magazine. Condé Nast Chief Executive Charles Townsend said, “Anna is the biggest talent we have, maybe the biggest in the business, and I am going to play that card for all it’s worth.”

THE PR VERDICT: “A” (PR Perfect) for Anna Wintour, for getting her perfectly coiffed head off the chopping block and fitted for a new tiara.

THE PR TAKEAWAY: You don’t always need to play dirty, but you do need to play hard. When rumors began circulating that Condé Nast was considering a replacement for Wintour, she fought back. How? By doing what she does best: being Anna Wintour. She gained media space by contributing to Barack Obama’s presidential campaign, creating new rumors of being rewarded with an ambassador position. She let the world have a peek inside her process at Vogue in a film that showed her as talking softly, yet carrying a large stick of influence. Now, Anna reigns supreme, and whether Condé Nasties like it or not, it’s going to be a very long Wintour indeed.

PR Jury Still Out on Foxy Knoxy

 PR Jury Still Out on Foxy Knoxy

THE PR VERDICT: “C” (Distinctly OK) for Amanda Knox, who hasn’t quite moved the PR dial of public opinion.

Has America made up its mind yet about Amanda Knox? The college student from Seattle, who was convicted in Italy of murdering her housemate Meredith Kercher during a sex escapade gone awry, has just published her memoir. Random House paid upwards of $4 million for Waiting To Be Heard, and advance reviews indicate that despite some gruesome tales about Italian prison life, America remains undecided about the young woman whom the European tabloids named “Foxy Knoxy.”

There’s enough new material to make sure this case stays in the headlines: prison officers were hitting on her while prosecutors bullied and threatened her, telling her she was HIV positive to destabilize her mood. She depicts a world of torment, being utterly unable to process and deal with the shock of events as they unfolded.

Knox describes how she coped with her original conviction and those harrowing four years in an Italian prison until her conviction was overturned. She also gives her version of some of the more notable stories that circulated after she was charged, including the famous one about doing handstands while in custody and being charged. The next step is in an exclusive interview with ABC news and Diane Sawyer. Might this be the deciding moment for the American public?

THE PR VERDICT: “C” (Distinctly OK) for Amanda Knox, who hasn’t quite moved the PR dial of public opinion.

THE PR TAKEAWAY: Being talked about is not the same as being liked. The public continues to be confused by this case, even more so now that the Italian courts are retrying it. Amanda Knox still captures headlines, but given her tale of undeserving punishment, there remains an inexplicable lack of sympathy for the young photogenic and educated woman. Part of the PR debate remains stalled in confusion about what really happened that night. In her forthcoming interviews to promote the book, Knox will need to break new ground on this decisive point. That’s where her PR pardon lies.


Taylor Not a Swift Seller for Magazines

 Taylor Not a Swift Seller for Magazines

THE PR VERDICT: “D” (PR Problematic) for Taylor Swift.

Taylor Swift is one of the biggest pop sensations ever, so that should translate to huge sales for the magazines that put her on their covers, right? The swift answer: no. Or, in the parlance of Swift’s teenaged fans: Like, totally nuh-uh.

Swift released a new album, Red, last fall and magazine bookers were working overtime. Swift, who is 23, has a fan base in their teens, but that didn’t mean she’d only rate the cover of Teen Vogue. No, her bookings included Vogue, Harper’s Bazaar, Cosmopolitan, and Elle, all in the space of one year, while her cover for Vanity Fair – whose demographic generally skews older than the parents of Swift’s fans – is out this month.

Swift Glamour1 150x150 Taylor Not a Swift Seller for MagazinesSo how did this multi-platinum selling artist perform for magazine sales? She sold reasonably well for Glamour (at left), okay for Vogue (above) and Bazaar, and, perhaps most surprisingly, made a terrible showing for Cosmo: the worst-selling cover for 2012 (below). Possible explanation? Swift is mightily overexposed in all media. It’s a knee-jerk reaction for PRs to book as many covers as possible.


 Taylor Not a Swift Seller for Magazines

THE PR VERDICT: “D” (PR Problematic) for Taylor Swift’s PR machine. Mainstream covers are good for both star and publication…except when the mag numbers turn out to be poor.

THE PR TAKEAWAY: The all-you-can-eat buffet does have its price. It’s great to have a star that every magazine wants on its cover, but should PRs say yes to every offer? While Swift’s PRs presumably enjoyed credit for booking “mainstream” covers, they now have to contend with the negative press that comes with the revelations that she was a worst-seller. Plum bookings in the future may be harder to come by. Next time, all parties should consider a celebrity’s fan base, and act accordingly – or face Swift retribution.

Joan Juliet Passes the Buck on Vogue

 Joan Juliet Passes the Buck on Vogue

The PR Verdict: “B” (Good Show) for Joan Juliet Buck.

Pity poor Joan Juliet Buck, Vogue stalwart and roving editor, who has come under intense scrutiny following her now infamous Vogue article on Asma Assad, wife of Syrian dictator Bashar al Assad. Written and published shortly before civil war broke out, Buck’s glowing profile, entitled “A Rose in the Desert,”  now looks impossibly ill judged. History will remember Asma as the consort of a ruthless dictator, and Vogue as being on the wrong side of the story.

But now Buck is fighting back. Sick and tired of having her name ridiculed as the author of the ultimate PR puff piece, she has broken her silence and given her version of how the article came about. It seems her editors at Vogue  misinterpreted the Arab spring as a storm in a teacup, as did the rest of the world. Buck’s explanation makes compelling reading. Published on The DailyBeast with an accompanying broadcast interview, Buck portrays herself as a writer uneasy with what she has been tasked to do but who went on regardless.

The blame, it seems, lies in equal parts. Buck is very clear that politics and foreign relations were not her area of expertise. She writes that she visited Syria “and understood nothing.” Though not entirely seduced by her hosts and wary of phone taps and hacks into her laptop, she was more concerned with filing her story than exploring simmering discontent. Buck paid the price, with Vogue severing relations with her after more than twenty years.

The PR Verdict: “B” (Good Show) to Joan Juliet Buck for an insightful and fascinating read. She lets the facts speak for themselves. No one is covered in glory.

The PR Takeaway: In matters of setting the record straight, focus less on blame and more on letting facts speak for themselves. Buck has endured substantial personal and professional ridicule since her article was published. Her version of events is a thrilling read. She portions little blame but makes the point that it’s easy to be wise after the event. The Assads were visited by Nancy Pelosi, John Kerry, Sting, Angelina and Brad, and Francis Ford Coppola during their PR push. Hindsight is a wonderful thing; Buck’s reputation may not be so damaged after all.


Rodney King: Few Answers, One Important Question

 Rodney King: Few Answers, One Important Question

The PR Verdict: B (Good Show) for Rodney King.

Rodney King was never an easy hero to love. The man who became a symbol of racial tensions that led to a week of deadly riots in Los Angeles twenty years ago was found dead in his pool last weekend after living a complicated life. The media has been trying hard to recap that life, but what seems to have had the most resonance in the national discussion were five simple words that became a philosophical plea.

Rodney King was no PR dream. After publishing a memoir in April, his life was an open book of drug and alcohol abuse. Arrested multiple times, he told the LA Times that he blamed politicians and lawyers “for taking a battered and confused addict and trying to make him into a symbol for civil rights.” He was in every way the reluctant activist.

While the reluctant activist in life, his death has provoked widespread debate about race relations. King’s famous quote at the time of the riots,” Can we call get along?” is the tag line that followed him. He is remembered for what he said, but perhaps he should be remembered for what he asked.

The PR Verdict: “B” (Good Show) for Rodney King and his legacy. Despite complicated personal circumstances, with one simple question he opened up a conversation that continues after his death.

PR Takeaway: Sometimes asking a question has more impact than answering one.  For a man whose chaotic ups and downs have been tracked by the media over the last twenty years, King’s press coverage was noticeably respectful and thoughtful. The statement he made at a packed news conference, pleading for calm at the time of the riots, became not only a headline but a philosophical question. A presumably unplanned PR moment, but one with staying power.

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What’s your PR Verdict on the media’s coverage of Rodney King, both in life and at the time of his passing? Leave a comment, below.