By Erica Schlesinger, Communications Strategist
By now, Bruce Jenner’s announcement that he has been living more than 60 years of his life as transgender, and his subsequent debut as Caitlyn Jenner, isn’t breaking news. However, Jenner’s transformation is sure to keep the public and media buzzing for months to come, and not because of the most obvious reason – but because Caitlyn and her camp executed a darn near flawless rollout of her story.
From Bruce’s one-on-one with Diane Sawyer to Caitlyn’s introduction to the world on the cover of Vanity Fair just a couple of months later, everything was calculated – and in this situation, I mean that as a compliment. Jenner’s primary publicist has helped other big names including Mel Gibson and Rob Lowe navigate PR issues, and also worked with Jenner as far back as the 1980s. When a reporter came across Jenner dressed as a woman and had a story in the works – at the peak of Jenner’s heyday – the same publicist helped defuse the situation, eventually convincing the reporter to stay silent. With the exception of a few whispers here and there in more recent years, nary a word was heard until Jenner split from longtime wife Kris and appeared to be taking the steps to transition into Caitlyn.
According to reports, Jenner and her PR team have been orchestrating Caitlyn’s debut since last year, and media were vying for a piece of the story from day one. The New York Times and Vanity Fair, where Caitlyn eventually said hello to millions of readers worldwide, were among publications initially put on pause due to “TV commitments.” Whether this was true at the time or not remains to be seen, as “an ABC insider” says Jenner and her camp only began seriously talking details for the Diane Sawyer interview in December 2014. However, it seems Sawyer was the only reporter Jenner wanted, despite the fact that her home network, E!, is owned by NBC Universal. It’s a credit to Jenner’s PR team that they held their ground and stuck with ABC – it’s likely that going with an E! affiliate would have been seen as more of a PR stunt to drum up ratings for “Keeping Up with the Kardashians” or Jenner’s upcoming docuseries, “I Am Cait,” in turn diminishing the positive sentiment the public had toward Jenner after watching the interview.
Soon after Jenner inked her agreement with ABC, Vanity Fair was locked in as well. It can only be assumed Jenner and her team had their pick of outlets to publish her first photos, ranging from news-oriented magazines like Time to pop culture options like People. Vanity Fair makes great sense for several reasons: It’s the perfect blend of celebrity stories – without the unflattering twist of the tabloids – and savvy news coverage mixed with high-quality, ultra-professional journalism. When a celebrity wants to make a life-altering announcement while earning respect and awareness for a community they care deeply about, an exclusive with a publication like VF is a wise choice. Other outlets will obviously cover and insert their own opinions – a fact that will never change with stories like these – but for controversial or “big news” stories, exclusives allow a certain amount of control and comfort. The magazine was also able to call upon the magic of famed photographer Annie Leibovitz and the well-matched reporting of Buzz Bissinger, who not only authored sports-centric Friday Night Lights, but faced his “own issues of shame (with) gender struggles.”
There are a number of people who feel Jenner is just playing the Kardashian “look at me” game – pointedly opting for a “C” on a name that could start with a “K,” baiting the public with snippets of information in her Sawyer interview that had to be followed up with the Vanity Fair story, filming an “about me” series with E!, even announcing her official transition right before Kim Kardashian announced her second pregnancy with Kanye West. They’re not wrong.
Of course Jenner wants attention, and of course she’s hired a top-notch team to help her get it in the best possible way. However, although she’s certainly not being left high and dry financially, let’s take a moment to remember a man named Bruce who didn’t feel like himself for more than six decades. Bruce felt he had to stay silent, and Caitlyn wants to speak, wants to share her story to help other transgender people feel comfortable in their skin and feel empowered to live the life they want. Although today’s society is certainly more accepting than that of even 20 years ago, it’s pretty amazing how receptive people have been to Caitlyn. When it became clear Bruce had made the decision to transition, even the toughest of guys painted their nails and posted pictures to social media showing their support. When Caitlyn appeared on the cover of Vanity Fair and on Twitter that same day, men and women alike reacted with tweets like, “Caitlyn Jenner looks incredible. So happy for her” and “I am in AWE of @Caitlyn_Jenner. She is stunning in her debut cover story.”
If Caitlyn is helping advance social acceptance and self-acceptance for a huge population of people, and through a kicka** PR campaign at that… power to her.
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