Dear John: How Taylor Swift’s PR Juggernaut Lost Its Way

The article below, written by Newgate’s CEO Gavin Devine, originally appeared in The Huffington Post.

On a number of occasions in the past couple of years I have cited Taylor Swift as a living, breathing masterclass in how to use PR to build and sustain an enormous brand – and also how that brand-building exercise can head off track. As she seeks to return to the limelight after a welcome period away it seems a good time to check in to see how Brand Taylor is getting on.

The answer, I’m afraid, is not well. As Buzzfeed set out in extensive detail earlier this week, the last few months have been pretty disastrous for Taylor, with her losing a much hyped spat with Kimye, and conducting a much ridiculed romance with Tom Hiddleston. (Tom, now with a Golden Globe in place and a much higher profile in the US, got the better of that deal, despite my fears.) As Buzzfeed makes clear, her bare all, girl powery, song-writing style is increasingly seen as no longer honest and relatable and the Millennial zeitgeist, and by some at least as over-blown, manipulative and inauthentic.

Inauthenticity is, as us communications people never cease to advise, is the kiss of death for a brand. The way Taylor Swift got to the top was by coming across as incredibly grounded and honest: super-talented but still the girl next door. The reason she lost her way was because she started hanging out with models and film stars and drifting away from her roots. She became detached from fans and over-exposed – and if Buzzfeed is to be believed, she failed deliver on important hygiene factors for any business such as a commitment to diversity. She lost her way, and her supposed new approach – hanging out with edgier folk like Zayn and Cara, contemplating a tattoo, singing the theme song for Fifty Shades (shudder) – looks likely to make it worse not better.

Instead, Taylor should look for inspiration to big brands that have stumbled, and then gone back to their roots. Just think about the family feel of Warburtons adverts, the 57 varieties of Heinz, the simplification of the Coca Cola range, the rebranding of Co-op, Natwest and Polos… All of these brands and many more are living embodiment of the reality that keeping it simple and focusing on heritage, authenticity and provenance is absolutely crucial. There are lessons here for all corporations, and for all of us that advise them.

And there are lessons for Taylor too. Get out of the headlines for a while. Spend less time with the ‘squad’ and more with friends and family. Be normal. Do some humble things – maybe charity work that isn’t much talked about, maybe writing some songs, maybe performing because you like performing not because you want to fill a stadium. Get back to basics. All brands can be reinvented: time for some investment in Brand Taylor.

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