Friday, August 22, 2014

Slaves to fashion of sorts

Lady Gaga may or may not be a fashion icon. But someone at Pearson Publishing thinks she's a barometer of public relations, and chose her as the cover photo for Fraser Seitel's The Practice of Public Relations (12th edition).

Footnote: some guy named Obama was the cover photo of the 11th edition.

This isn't about tastes in music or whether Mr. Obama is a successful president. It's about our attitudes toward celebrity, and how we eagerly accept entertainers as exemplars of brilliance. I don't follow Lady Gaga or her music, but I do see how she's adept at leveraging opportunity when it comes her way. Examples:

  • Polaroid -- today a foonote in photography -- made a splash in 2010 when it named Lady Gaga its "creative director." Digital cameras were wildly popular then, and manufacturers churned them out in semi-bedazzling colors. Polaroid's marketing move cued plenty of headlines. However, Polaroid's brand image never rose above the "Big Lots" discount electronics category.
  • Next month, you can buy Lady Gaga's CD of duets with legendary crooner Tony Bennett. Tony doesn't need the money or a singing partner. Gaga, on the other hand, basks in Tony's music halo, perhaps extending her brand to a demographic that knows her best for buying dresses in the meat department at PathMark.
Lady Gaga knows opportunity when she sees it. She doesn't know PR the way professionals do, but has good instincts about what's popular and a smart strategy team helping her. And when you have a $90 million empire and more than 47 million Facebook fans, it's hard to fault her choices.

On the other hand, you wouldn't go to her for PR advice if you were, say, a singer named Justin on a never-ending bender. So while she profits from a good instinct for notoriety, I'm reluctant to crown her a master of PR. 

STILL, it says something when you bump a sitting president off the cover of a PR textbook. He, too, has a similar strategy team -- apparently with less smarts than Gaga's.