Bodice-ripper raises PR bar

By Published on .

For those in the business of masterminding public-relations stunts for marketers, Janet Jackson's big expose during CBS's airing of the Super Bowl has raised a serious issue: how to top it.

James LaForce, partner in New York PR agency LaForce & Stevens, said the Jackson episode was "extremely successful. ... We love stunts at our agency and she opened the door for more people to take risks."

Whatever the impact on advertisers, CBS and the NFL, few in the PR field think the stunt harmed Ms. Jackson. Desiree Gruber, president of Full Picture, a PR-management company that counts Lisa Marie Presley and Arnold Schwarzenegger as clients, agreed it was a stunt gone right for Janet, and a stunt gone wrong for everyone else, but so what if she upstaged the advertisers? "Janet is a brand, just as much as a Frito-Lay is. ... She sells and she sells directly to the public."

In terms of coverage, Ms. Jackson certainly overshadowed the main event, both the game and the commercials. According to media research firm Carma International, Washington D.C., Ms. Jackson garnered twice the number of U.S. press mentions as the commercials in the four days following the event.

The "costume reveal" also catapulted Ms. Jackson into search- engine record books conveniently just weeks in advance of her first album in three years, "Damita Jo." According to, one of the singles from the album was released to radio stations Feb. 2-the day after the Super Bowl.

pre-emptive strikes

Howard Rubenstein, president of Rubenstein & Associates, however, is taking steps to ensure his agency doesn't receive any backlash from media outlets covering PR stunts in the future.

"It has absolutely changed a lot of things about how we do stunts," said Mr. Rubenstein. "Right now we are asking ourselves: Can it backfire in any way; can anyone be injured, will it insult anyone ... is it over the edge sexually?"

Peter Himler, a managing director at Burson-Marsteller, a WPP Group company, said he thinks such stunts are overrated. "So many firms are about creating short-term PR ... and forget that the best way to build your brand is to produce a quality product."

One PR executive representing a Super Bowl advertiser said the stunt smacked of desperation. A music publicist who did not wish to be named said simply: "Boobs conquer everything, from the networks, to the media to corporate America."

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