What Caitlyn Jenner can teach you about strategy

June 11, 2015, In: Business Tips, DO
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Photo credit: Annie Leibovitz, Vanity Fair

(Please note: this article is not a commentary on anyone’s choices in life. It’s simply an observation from my perspective. Do not post any defamatory commentary, please!)

Whenever sensational media bubbles to the top, I always take interest from a slightly different perspective. I like to look at the psychological aspects and dissect the behind-the-scenes to learn something new about success formulas.

When the Lance Armstrong situation went down, I became interested from a branding standpoint. Sensationalism and controversy aside, I wanted to peel away the onion layers to see what were the building blocks at the foundation of his empire, and the lessons learned along the way.

The same has been true with the reveal of Caitlyn Jenner. Six months ago, Bruce Jenner was the laughing stock of tabloid America. Do you remember seeing those photos? What did you honestly think? The red nails, the plastic surgery, that whole Kardashian craze. Many people were judgmental and non-compassionate about his story because most of the world simply didn’t understand. If things had kept going the way they were, imagine what this story would have still been: more tabloid material for entertainment.

Instead, Caitlyn is transformed, beloved, and a rocking sensation. Why?

Caitlyn mastered something that few of us do: she nailed down a brilliant PR strategy. As I was watching it all unfold, I could see the behind-the-scenes workings of a genius PR plan and well-timed “drips,” that turned tabloids from mocking him to applauding her courage.

As co-founder of PR School (the LIVE summer school edition begins on June 22) and as an entrepreneur who wholeheartedly believes that the media and small business owners need each other, even I was struck by how savvy Caitlyn’s PR campaign was and how the magic of story-telling in the media turned many doubters into die-hard supporters.

So what did Caitlyn do that we can all learn from? PR is the least expensive and most powerful marketing tool on the planet, and I was blown away by how smart her public relations plan was. Everything from the Diane Sawyer interview to the Vanity Fair cover story to her timely Twitter account launch to her first photo – it was brilliant.

The strongest takeaway I had from all of this was that strategy and timing are paramount to business. In fact, you can tell this was done by an Olympian athlete who knows the power of preparing. Strategy, preparation, and planning create powerful results, and without them, Caitlyn’s message could not have been as impactful or far-reaching.

I’ve realized through working on my own company PR campaigns that a good PR strategy involves immense goodwill, true stories, good relationships, and a strong connection to one’s mission. It has nothing to do with you, your products or your services and it has everything to do with your stories, advice, struggles, and your ability to “Give, Give, Get™”

Sounds funny, right? I used to think PR was all about “Look at my new product! Look! Now please feature it.” Nothing could be further from the truth.

Let’s deconstruct what Caitlyn did and see how it applies to us.

1. Raison d’etre: Caitlyn’s stated numerous times that her reason for the transformation was that she could not be on her deathbed realizing that she never lived her full self. This is what gave her the courage to make a move that she knew would not be widely accepted by most and could create turmoil for her family.

Think: If you have been following the story, did you say to yourself, “What if I, too, had the courage to be truly me?”

This is the key to a strong story. Why are you doing what you are doing? Whenever I get together with other eco-entrepreneurs, I find that most of us have suffered from a health ailment or a strong reaction to chemicals, which became the catalyst for creating our companies. We have a common bond and story that is compelling to others, including the media.

If you don’t have your raison d’etre sussed out and driving your entire marketing and PR machine, your message and business will not spread because people will not be able to fall in love with what you have to offer in this world.

2. Branding: Caitlyn is branding the word COURAGE, just like Bethenny branded the word SKINNY, just like Gretchen Rubin branded the word HAPPY. The best brands own a feeling and this becomes the filter for authenticity.

We have a PR School grad, Jennifer McKay Newton, who is extraordinarily talented at branding a feeling. Check this photo and her Instagram feed (which she developed as part of her homework assignment during the PR course.) You just feel when you see her photos, right? I look forward to her feed because she makes me feel alive and happy. I begin to trust her brand because of how her brand makes me feel.

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3. Kick-ass photos: Wait, just in case you missed point #2. Let me rephrase. Did Caitlyn’s photos not blow you away? You’ve heard me say it before, I will say it again: well-branded photos are worth a thousand words. This is why building your Instagram portfolio is so important.

Find a good setting to take your photos in if they’re product based, and invest in a good photo shoot with a professional photographer to give you high-quality, compelling material for social media and beyond. Here are 3 Savor members we can recommend:

  1. Jessica Morrissey – our official Rock the World 2015 photographer
  2. Emily DeWan – she’s especially brilliant for shots with kids and/or family!
  3. Katya Nichols – fantastic and colorful headshots

Find all of them over on Savor the Success

4. Give, Give, Get™. Whenever anyone gets cynical about Caitlyn’s motivation, it’s countered with “… but look at the good she’s doing by spreading the word for the transgender community.” Who can really dispute that? In the same vein, who can dispute that Lance Armstrong’s foundation raised over $580M for cancer?

Be generous not only with your audience, but also with the editors you work with. Caitlyn specifically chose Diane Sawyer and Vanity Fair because they all have very similar branding feelings and share an affinity with her. Connections must be personal. Don’t mass email media contacts or send out random press releases. Really… scratch that idea completely! Editors hate it. Study what a select group of editors write about. Target your pitch. Compliment them. Develop the relationship. Give, Give… Get. It never fails.

Now, it’s time to make sure YOU get your mission out into the world…

Homework Assignments:

  1. If you haven’t figured out your raison d’etre, discover it now! Here are some powerful questions you could ask yourself:
    – What’s your biggest talent, and how is it a gift to the world?
    – What life experiences have made the most impact in shaping your life?
    – Do any stories about your family or ancestors reveal any lessons-learned?
  2. If you’ve figured this out and you’re ready to share with the world, launch your PR campaign! If you don’t know how to do it and want step-by-step strategy, take PR Summer School.
  3. Start a photoshoot Pinterest board for branded ideas and things you love, and book a photographer!
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Angela Jia Kim

Angela Jia Kim

Eco-beauty entrepreneur and intuitive business mentor, Angela Jia Kim, believes that the best beauty tip is to live your dream. She pulls from her experiences as a serial entrepreneur, jet-setting concert pianist, New York City (not house) wife, and mom to help others from beauty to business at savorbeauty.com and savorthesuccess.com.


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