August 11, 2008
Lets face it — America loves the comeback kid. Simply, we love to read about the guy who was once bad and now is good. If they reconstructed their life, they have a story. And in a sense — that’s what makes us great — we give second chances, and people who accept that have another chance. But this is something that goes beyond the television, beyond the newspapers — behind the scenes. This is what saves the day for the rich and famous, celebrity and nutty. And finally, this is what gives the genius PR guy his well-earned week’s pay.
Growing in the new age of media, I can spot a PR stunt when I see one. It can be flawlessly pulled off, and it can be failed. In theory, to pull of a public relations job really just needs to fit a common narrative. If its viable to the American public, then it can be done. PR guys can really save the reputations of anyone on the public map. A common example of a PR stunt on the political side would be the tell-tail story of Jenna Bush. The daughter of the president of the US, a tipsy, parting Jenna was busted for underage drinking and was completely demolished by the press.
Then she disappears.
Barely any information comes up about her in months. But no one wonders where she went. The media always has other things to report, and they carried on with that. During that time, Bush slowly created an instant resume, re-building her reputation off the air. Then she suddenly comes back into the press, and come back with a bang. She is suddenly a new person — cleaned up and engaged. She took trips overseas to Africa, came back with humanitarian street ‘cred, had a stint teaching unprivileged inner city children, wrote a book about HIV AIDS with a first run of 500,000 copies, and goes on a book tour. During that time she stayed completely out of clubs and the media, denouncing herself from a household name to a lesser status. Then she came back with a bang, made herself a hit in the media , and set up a very press-worty future — a book tour that the NY times correctly identified as a media blitz.
What was pulled off here was not only a true PR stunt, but a successful one as well. Why? It covered all a stunt like this should have. What a true PR genius must do before starting his plan is a recognition of the hurdles he must tackle. Whoever constructed this plot obviously knew that the public would not forget the underage drinking if it wasn’t taken care of. So he/she took this into consideration when constructing Jenna’s new life. And because of this, the book that Jenna wrote not only cleaned up her resume, but it really was the coupe-de-grace of the whole stunt.
Another great example of a PR stunt on the entertainment side is celebrity Paris Hilton. Hilton was really a victim of her own choices, and that dug her deep into a hole that was very tough to escape. After a sting of events that all ended up all of the internet, and sometimes backfiring at her — the media had a field day slamming her down. She: (in just some of her faults) released a horrific album that bombed the charts, got arrested and convicted for DUI, had a great deal of crying that happened all be on national TV, got any last bit of self esteem snatched from her a the VMA’s by Sarah Silverman, went to jail, got that famous mugshot, and then as a coming out party, had a disaster of a Larry King interview. By that time, she was in trouble. Another blow would be a definite KO for her, and she knew it.
Enter the dragon, or as I would call him — the PR guy. With his/her aid, Paris took the tactics of many before her and took months off, both rebuilding and letting the press forget about her. And in a sense, they did.
Then, after John McCain took a swipe at Obama as well as her with his campaign ad — she pounced, fully charged and ready. She struck back with her response commercial, and at the same time took a decisive step back into the fiery realm of the media. Her commercial was both funny and accurate, but most of all it was genius. She knew she couldn’t win pretending she was just an American citizen, so she in a sense admitted her stardom and called herself a celebrity, which would have never happened before. This time, though, it worked. The press fell for it, and Hilton was back where she was always meant to be — a rich, dumb blonde fashion model who doubles as a celebrity by night. That may not win a nobel prize, but it is where she is meant to be.
PR stunts are really that last spark of hope in politics and entertainment that has saved the careers of many. There have been many of these acts before and there are many in process right now (an example would be Britney Spears). And although they work unnoticed, behind the scenes, the real geniuses behind all of these acts are the PR guys. And that’s how it will stay.