Vogue’s Kimye Cover Stirs Viral Uproar

 Vogues Kimye Cover Stirs Viral Uproar

THE PR VERDICT: “B” (Good Show) for Vogue.

Print fashion bible Vogue has been trying to boost drooping sales with bold cover choices, such as rap sensation Rhianna and Girls star Lena Dunham. But this month’s cover of Vogue, featuring Kim Kardashian and Kanye West, is apparently straining the core readership’s tolerance for what’s new this spring.

“I guess I’m canceling my Vogue subscription,” tweeted actress Sarah Michelle Gellar. “Who is with me???” (And where was her publicist for that zinger?) Gellar was just one of many who took to the twitterverse and beyond to voice outrage over the cover choice. Why? Vogue die-hards want to know what Kim and Kanye have to do with fashion, other than being able to buy a lot of it.

Ah, but that would lead to the assumption that Vogue is merely about clothes. No no, asserts editor in chief Anna Wintour. “Part of the pleasure of editing Vogue…is being able to feature those who define the culture at any given moment, who stir things up, whose presence in the world shapes the way it looks and influences the way we see it,” Wintour is quoted as saying. Another reason? Sales have fallen 20 percent; desperate times call for Kim and Kanye covers.

The question in this internet age is whether controversy translates into cash, or if talk – when done online – will cheapen the effect. Time and sales figures will tell. For now, everyone is talking about Vogue‘s cover.

THE PR VERDICT: “B” (Good Show) for Vogue.

THE PR TAKEAWAY: Talk is expensive, and may even cost you. It’s not easy these days to dominate web chatter, be the object of debate and even satire, and garner a large chunk of chat shows. Vogue‘s cover has done all of that, albeit probably not for the reason Wintour wanted. At the risk of riling the faithful – though dwindling – core audience, people are talking about Vogue. Better to be controversial than boring.

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.

Syria: An About Face to Save Face?

 Syria: An About Face to Save Face?

The PR Verdict: “B” (Good Show) for Syrian President Bashar-Al-Assad.

Call Syrian President Bashar-Al-Assad what you will – and he is being described by many names these days – and add another to the list: master of public relations. Remember the days before war broke out in Syria? A  fawning feature in Vogue celebrated Mrs. Assad and her presidential mate as the Middle East’s glamorous, modernizing couple. Such was the range and power of their PR machine.

By the time the Vogue article hit the stands, Syria was burning, and Assad was being called, at best, a dictator. The news has only gotten worse over time, coming to a head when US President Barack Obama threatened air strikes against Syria for using chemical weapons against its people.

In the ensuing debate, as pundits interviewed members of Congress on their voting intentions, one voice was quiet: that of Assad himself. Until he made himself available to American TV journalist Charlie Rose, that is.

In the interview, the man many are calling a monster was calm, not defensive. Bankers responsible for financial crimes have sweat far more than Assad, a man accused of mass murder. He followed up that calm show with an announcement: that Syria would agree to turn over its chemical weapons stockpile – if the US backed down from a strike.

THE PR VERDICT: “B” (Good Show) for President Bashar-Al-Assad. An albeit reluctantly high grade for a dictator using his PR machine to play chess with the world.

THE PR TAKEAWAY: Image need rehab? Appear cooperative. Whether one believes Assad or not, he has pounced at the right moment. The media reports that Americans are sympathetic to the Syrian people, yet fearful of involvement in yet another Middle Eastern war. Congress is at odds as to what to do. And suddenly, Assad the Impaler comes into our living rooms as Assad the Reasonable Cooperator. Timing is everything, and in the midst of a fray, heads will turn toward the calm voice of reason – no matter the source.

The PRV Report Card: This Week’s Winners & Losers

 The PRV Report Card: This Week’s Winners & LosersPR WINNER OF THE WEEK: “A” (PR PERFECT) to the Seattle Police Department for their amusing and effective method of policing the first Hempfest since Washington state legalized the possession of small amounts of marijuana for personal use. In a brilliant move, the new law’s “do’s and don’ts” were printed on the backs of small Doritos bags and doled out to revelers by the boys and girls in blue. Brilliant because, you know, Hempfesters would inevitably get the munchies at some point, but also because it’s refreshing to see the police department take the role of community guardian and educator instead of adopting the typical “us vs them” mentality that so many urban forces exhibit these days. This was one time a bunch of potheads were stoked to see the fuzz.

Madonna grilz 150x150 The PRV Report Card: This Week’s Winners & LosersPR LOSER OF THE WEEK: “F” (FULL FIASCO – or should we say, “Full Fashion Fiasco?”) to Madonna. Last Friday, she turned 55, but this week, Madge showed the world she’s still the Material Girl, not the Material Matron, by sporting gold grills on her teeth. Aside from the fact that she looks, in this photo anyway, like Hillary Clinton doing Madonna for a Saturday Night Live sketch, complete with dark roots and age-inappropriate getup, this look does not say “hip and youthful” so much as it shrieks “midlife crisis.” A sign that Madonna’s still huge: None among her entourage dares tell her the truth. 

130819145747 marissa mayer vogue horizontal gallery The PRV Report Card: This Week’s Winners & LosersTHE PRV “THERE’S NO ‘THERE’ THERE” AWARD TO Yahoo! CEO Marissa Mayer, whose glamorous photo shoot and chatty interview in the September issue of Vogue has people scratching their heads more than turning them. Fetchingly posed on a chaise lounge in a sleek blue designer dress and stilettos, Mayer is telling the world…what, exactly? Not much about the company she was brought in to turn around 13 months ago.  (“What would Marissa Mayer wear?” asks an accompanying feature on workweek attire – surely the question uppermost on every investor’s mind.) Yahoo, to her credit, is turning around, which maybe is why she felt comfortable with doing the Vogue piece. Still, a glossy magazine spread that focuses on her wardrobe more than her work ethic reflects an overly preening personal PR campaign – likely dismaying loyal fans who admired her for breaking glass ceilings, not wearing glass stilettos.

The Great PR Behind Gatsby

 The Great PR Behind Gatsby

THE PR VERDICT: “A” (PR Perfect) for Gatsby’s PR campaign.

Ask any author, artist, or musician about the PR surrounding their latest offering and the persistent complaint is almost always the same: The Marketing and PR departments had no idea what they were doing. The PR was weak, uncoordinated, and didn’t happen. The PR punched below its weight. No one, it seems, is ever satisfied.

One example that seems, so far, to have broken that convention is the advance PR for The Great Gatsby. The latest film adaptation of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s 1925 novel of the same name, the movie was directed and co-written by Baz Luhrmann and stars Leonardo di Caprio, Tobey Maguire, and Carey Mulligan. Opening in the summer, its launch has been preceded by a slick PR campaign that has covered all the bases.

From Mulligan’s cover on the May issue of Vogue to a lengthy feature in Architectural Digest about the sets used in the film, magazines have been waxing lyrical about the movie. Venerable retailer Brooks Bros. has just launched a fashion line in honor of the film, launched with an exhibition of the film’s costumes in London. Stage two involves a blizzard of interviews with the director and cast about Gatsby and its hold on America. This PR is firing on all cylinders.

THE PR VERDICT: “A” (PR Perfect) for Gatsby’s PR campaign.

THE PR TAKEAWAY: Start with a myth and work from there. What’s impressive about the PR building up to the film’s opening is how pervasive the coverage has been. From an elaborate social media program that has strategically placed the movie trailer on multiple sites to articles and interviews highlighting the fashion and interiors of America’s favorite age, this is one launch that has taken full advantage of the public’s ongoing fascination with the Gatsby myth. It goes to prove that with good material and strategic thinking, PR can launch a punch way above its weight.

Vogue Fashions a (Too) Perfect First Family

 Vogue Fashions a (Too) Perfect First Family

The PR Verdict: “C” (Distinctly OK) for Vogue’s cover feature on the First Family. (Pictured: First Lady Michelle and President Barack Obama.)

Can planned PR be too effective? That might be the inevitable question when reading the latest edition of American Vogue, featuring First Lady Michelle Obama on the cover.  Photographed elegantly by Annie Liebowitz, the magazine offers an interview with the Obamas at home in the White House, with a particular focus on the First Lady’s views on raising a family. To the Obamas’ supporters, it’s inspiring; to the cynical, it makes for decidedly unedifying reading.

In the article, America’s First Couple talk about “their life as parents, their marriage, and their vision for America’s families.” This is an article that details the rigors of running a household just like any other and the stresses a demanding job can have on any parent. While most working couples find it hard to have an evening meal with their children, Mrs. Obama tells Vogue that the President is home by 6:30 pm to have dinner with her and their two daughters.

The article goes on to emphasize the importance of family, grandparents, and discipline, and the Obamas talk in a good-natured way about coming to terms with technology that teenagers understand as second nature. The PR sound-bite that sums up the article?  This is not the First Family, but rather the “Family First Family.”

THE PR VERDICT: “C” (Distinctly OK ) for the Obamas and their Vogue profile. The ring of authenticity may have sounded a bit tinny coming from this very Obama-friendly publication.

THE PR TAKEAWAY: Authenticity gives credibility. This article has all the hallmarks of being quote checked, pre-approved, and negotiated every step of the way. (Important to mention: Vogue editor Anna Wintour raised funds for the Obama campaign and was rumored to be in the running for an ambassadorship.) The result? Some of it just doesn’t ring comfortably true. Though the Obamas may be, in some respects, like ordinary Americans, the magazine’s description of the family sitting down to dinner together seems almost perfectly scripted. The end result is that the reader feels vaguely manipulated. Next time, opt for telling a less 1950’s version of suburban family bliss and opt for something more modern. Sometimes it’s better if PR gets out of its own way.

To read the article, click here.

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.

Guest Column: Lady Gaga’s Fur Flap

 Guest Column: Lady Gagas Fur Flap

The PR Verdict: D (PR Problematic) for Lady Gaga.

Last week, Dan Mathews, Vice President of People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) blasted Lady Gaga for prancing around in a fur coat. Gaga had previously been on the record professing,  “I hate fur, and I don’t wear fur,” but recent photos of her in fox and rabbit, and with a wolf carcass, made it appear that she has either changed her mind or lost her memory. Matthews told Gaga via a public letter that by wearing fur, she’s making herself “a target, just like the mindless Kim Kardashian.” The non-leather gloves are off!

Gaga responded with a Tweet instructing those wondering whether her fur was real or faux to “credit the designer HERMES. Thank You!” She then issued a lengthier explanation on her LittleMonsters.com website and simultaneously took a dig at PETA, saying that she doesn’t support “violent, abusive, and childish campaigns.”

“I am choosing not to comment on whether or not the furs I purchase are faux fur-pile or real because I would think it hypercritical [sic] not to acknowledge the python, ostrich, cow hide, leather, lamb, alligator, ‘kermit’ and not to mention meat, that I have already worn,” she said, referencing her infamous meat dress of 2010.

Gaga continued “…I have truly always stayed away from skinned fur, especially [since] I have never been able to afford a nice one, but this does not mean my morals are rigid and that I won’t bend at the sight of an absolute art piece of a coat… But I am truly sorry to fans who are upset by this, its [sic] a fair and applaudable [sic again] feeling about the health and safety of animals. I respect your views, please respect mine. And Kim Kardashian is fabulous,” the megastar added.

The PR Verdict: D (PR Problematic) for Lady Gaga. While a chastising public letter from PETA could be construed as “violent, abusive or childish,” it might also have been possible to turn the other cheek and let the whole issue blow over. The more important lesson for Gaga is to choose allies, such as the intractable PETA, carefully.

The PR Takeaway: Stand by your message or abandon it, but don’t remix it by saying one thing, then sort of retracting it. If you’re against fur, be against fur. If not, fine, but being against some fur and not all is a tad wishy-washy, and former allies like PETA will understandably make a meal of it. On the plus side, communicating via an impassioned blog keeps the connection with fans strong. But one tip: typos and mistakes don’t prove authenticity of authorship. A copy editor won’t dilute the message, however confusing the substance might be.

UN Secretary Moon Eclipsed at Olympics?

 UN Secretary Moon Eclipsed at Olympics?

The PR Verdict: “D” (PR Problematic) for Ban Ki Moon.

Should the Secretary General of the United Nations take PR lessons from the world of celebrity publicists? The head of the United Nations, Ban Ki Moon (BKM), arguably the figurehead for the global community, made a puzzling appearance at the Olympic opening.  Was it good for the UN brand?

First up, BKM carried the Olympic flame through central London, wearing a white tracksuit, smiling and waving pleasantly to the crowds. He then surfaced again on Friday with a small cadre of team members carrying the Olympic flag to mark  the end of the ceremony. News reports said he was participating to promote an Olympic truce between warring countries during the games.

He stood second in line, carrying the flag and sharing the limelight with the founder of UK civil liberties group Liberty, Ethiopian athlete Haile Gebrselassie, boxing legend Muhammad Ali, and Brazilian environmentalist Marina Silva. Impressive company, to be sure, but shouldn’t the office of the Secretary General of the United Nations be afforded higher status?

The PR Verdict: “D” (PR Problematic) for Ban Ki Moon. Let’s face it the rules of the maitre d’ apply: Where you sit and who you sit next to are key. It shows how important–or not–you are.

The PR Takeaway: Visuals really matter when that’s all you have. Editors of major fashion magazines are notorious for insisting on front row seating for the runway shows. If not, it’s a no-show from them, on the basis that any other placement devalues the magazine’s brand. Tough talk, but an effective policy that invariably gets them the right positioning. For the sake of the UN brand and its global influence, why not insist that Ban Ki Moon be placed, at the very least, next to the UK Prime Minister and the Mayor of London? Or how about with the head of the Olympic federation–two organizations with shared ideals? With the world watching, BKM’s rightful place was up on the podium, not in the trenches. BKM might want to speed dial Vogue front-row-center editor Anna Wintour before accepting the next invitation.

Vogue’s Syrian Faux Pas

 Vogues Syrian Faux Pas

The PR Verdict: “A” (Gold Star!) for Anna Wintour and Vogue.

The high priestess of fashion has (finally) spoken. After what seemed like months, Anna Wintour, Editor of American Vogue, uttered her first words of explanation about the fashion bible’s notoriously glowing profile about Asma Assad, wife of the Syrian dictator. Hailed as the modern face of reform in the Arab World, Assad was described by Vogue as “the “freshest and most magnetic of first ladies . . . a rose in the desert.” Not long after publication, the Syrian tanks started rolling and government-sanctioned executions of dissenters began.

Vogue writer Joan Juliet Buck initially seemed embarrassed to have written the article but was later oddly unrepentant.  When questioned about the piece, her startling reply was that Asma Assad  was “extremely thin and very well dressed, and therefore qualified to be in Vogue.”

Ice Queen Wintour finally caved in to a rumbling chorus from pressure groups asking what Vogue could have been thinking?  Issuing a full statement on Sunday, she said in part, “Like many at the time, we were hopeful that the Assad regime would be open to a more progressive society…  We deplore the actions of the Assad regime in the strongest possible terms.”

The PR Verdict: “A” (Gold Star!) for Anna Wintour and Vogue, who turned the page on their faux pas. As the situation in Syria worsens, this was not going to go away.

PR Takeaway: Hindsight gives ample cover, and it’s always in fashion as a PR explanation. Why be embarrassed? Dictator Assad and his attractive, educated, investment banker wife were known to have actively pursued a PR profile in the West. Wintour and Vogue can hardly be blamed when much of the West was participating in the very same love-in. But in order to maintain credibility, it’s best to say “Oops” and move on. Vogue, along with many others, had the cashmere pulled over their eyes. Wintour says the “priorities and values”’ of the Assads are completely at odds with the values of Vogue. At least now, Vogue is on the right side of the debate.