In the 1950s and ’60s, John Howard Griffin, a white Texas journalist who had his skin medically darkened then wrote Black Like Me about his experiences traveling in the segregated South, was hailed by liberals and condemned by conservatives.
For years, singer Michael Jackson was a source of confusion and controversy over speculation that he was bleaching his skin to look white.
Today, Rachel Dolezal, the head of the Spokane chapter of the NAACP, is trying to cope with allegations by her parents that she’s really white, not black as she has claimed.
She’s off to a stumbling start.
Her initial comment, “There’s a lot of complexities…” did nothing to sate the media’s appetite or get ahead of the story. Rather it invited more speculation.
From a Reputation Management perspective, what Griffin, Jackson and Dolezal did — or didn’t do — ultimately matters less than how they presented it.
Consider Bruce Jenner. He was high profile. His decision was dramatic. Even though homosexuality was gaining wide public acceptance, gender change was barely a blip on the radar.
Through a PR lens, Jenner’s transition into Caitlyn has been rolled out flawlessly. The ABC News interview with Diane Sawyer. The cover of Vanity Fair. Jenner’s one-liner that so memorably summed up the rationale: “Bruce always had to tell a lie. Caitlyn has no secrets.”
Did Jenner really come up with those words herself? Were they given to her by her PR team? Does it matter?
Did Vanity Fair feel “used” by those handling Jenner’s PR? No.
Why? Because events are routinely orchestrated, from publicizing new movies to managing political campaigns. This is no different, as long as both sides know the rules of the game.
The most basic rule is quid pro quo. Each has something the other wants. The media controls the ink. The PR person controls access. This is where the bargaining begins and ends. The ultimate goal is managing the message to frame the story.
“Because Reputation Is Your Most Valuable Asset”
Gillott Communications is a Strategic PR firm. We’re Fixers. Crisis & Reputation Management. Litigation. Media Relations. Crisis Prep. More than half a century of expertise working with clients to resolve issues both in and outside the media’s glare — in their professional and personal lives.
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