Trump, Cyrus and Swift: Contrasting Characters

In an age when the threshold is high for breaking through the clutter of an incessant news stream, ambitious newsmaker wannabes and their PR enablers have used all kinds of gimmicks to capture the media’s attention. Some are pre-fabricated, while others lack taste. Rare is the staged event that can shake its PR vestiges and emerge as the truly genuine article.

When The Donald decided to audaciously stoke the media for one more Presidential flirtation, hetasked his PR consiglieres to blow it out big time. Not wanting to incur the narcissistic Mr. Trump’s wrath should the crowds fall short in size and enthusiasm, his stagers retained a casting agency called Extra Mile to hire paid extras to bolster the media photo op. From THR:

“New York-based Extra Mile Casting sent an email last Friday to its client list of background actors, seeking extras to beef up attendance at Trump’s event.

“We are looking to cast people for the event to wear t-shirts and carry signs and help cheer him in support of his announcement,” reads the June 12 email, obtained by The Hollywood Reporter. “We understand this is not a traditional ‘background job,’ but we believe acting comes in all forms and this is inclusive of that school of thought.”

Trump Campaign Paid Shills?
Trump Campaign Paid Shills?

To make matters worse, and likely to avoid Mr. Trump exhorting “You’re fired,” his spokesman apparently lied about it in post-event interviews:

“Asked if Trump paid anyone to attend the event, campaign manager Corey Lewandowski said ‘no,’ and that he had never heard of Extra Mile or Gotham GR.”

This morning, The Donald himself called into the hosts of “Good Day New York” (on FOX) – Rosanna Scotto and Greg Kelly – and again asserted that his campaign did not pay extras to attend.  (I guess this wouldn’t be the first time a Presidential candidate lied to the media.) Interestingly, both Scotto and Kelly attended the kick-off and effusively shared their excitement (and support) for The Donald in their on-the-air report. Groan.

Photo: Paper Magazine
Photo: Paper Magazine

The second eye-opening faux photo op this week falls into the Kardashian brand of PR and literally replicates a stunt Kim Kardashian pulled some months back…minus the oversized derriere. Miley Cyrus, no stranger to these pages, decided she’d essentially pose nude for Paper magazine, a publication that’s re-invented itself from its earliest days when proprietors Kim Hastreiter and David Hershkovits seemed more focused on Soho, NYC’s art galleries than celebrity body parts.

Apparently, the boffo buzz Mr. Kardashian generated for her full frontal expose was not lost on Ms. Cyrus who’s insatiable appetite for media exposure rivals that of the Kardashians. This includes Caitlyn, btw, who in my opinion could have transitioned more privately. To Ms. Cyrus’s partial credit and in juxtaposition to Ms. Kardashian’s less lofty goal to “break the Internet,” the waifish Ms. Cyrus used the cover shoot to draw attention to the beleaguered transgender community.

These staged endeavors are often viewed negatively by working journalists who see them more as PR ploys than actual news events. And bona fide journalists bristle at the notion of being spun. They can smell it a mile away. More than a few pounced on the staged Trump event, paid actors or not, and the Jenner/staged transition show.

Conversely, let’s consider one of the world’s most powerful celebrities, someone who lets her body of work — not her body — define her public persona. I’m talking Taylor Swift, of course. When Ms. Swift wants to “make news,” it comes off as genuine because, guess what, it likely is.

Photo: Dover Police Dept.
Photo: Dover Police Dept.

This week, she fulfilled a young cancer patient with Down’s Syndrome’s dream by paying a visit. From HuffPost:

“…Victoria’s story caught the attention of Swift’s managers, according to the News Journal. This past Saturday, the star met with Victoria backstage before her concert in Philadelphia. ‘Victoria had a huge smile on her face,’ Karen Marsh, Victoria’s mother, told the News Journal. “It meant the world to her.”

For public relations professionals, authenticity is key to winning hearts and minds.  Sure, many celebs have their own “owned” social media followings and may be less concerned with appeasing the editorial media filter. Be that as it may, legacy news orgs continue to drive conversations, which means that PR should continue to remain out of sight, out of mind. Let the story or photo speak for itself, and get out of the way.


  1. Cool comparison of 3 big figures. Don’t forget TSwift’s news today when she decried Apple’s free trial of their streaming service!

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