Unless you’ve been living under a rock for the past few years, you’ve probably heard of Taylor Swift. And whether you love or hate her power-pop style of music, her influence and impact on popular culture is undeniable. (Haters going to hate, hate, hate, hate, hate.)
If you’ve spent any time online over the past week or so, you would be aware—at least peripherally—of her recent breakup with musician Calvin Harris and her budding relationship with actor Tom Hiddleston. And when photos were leaked last week of the pair canoodling at her Rhode Island compound, the internet blew up.
But there has been wide-spread speculation the photos were not the work of the invasive paparazzi, but instead a carefully orchestrated PR stunt. For starters, the photos are high quality and clear, not like your standard blurry and pixelated paparazzi shot that has been taken covertly. Also, the photos were taken at Swift’s ultra-exclusive and secluded Rhode Island home—where there are no doubt body guards and security measures in place. Plus, they have a posed quality about them, as though the brief was “look like a happy new couple spending some time together totally unaware that you’re actually being photographed, while still remembering to pose”.
Why? The day after the photos went live, GQ magazine released a profile of Kim Kardashian (the original queen of breaking the internet), who just happens to be married to Kanye West. Unless you’ve been under that same rock, you will know that West and Swift have a tumultuous relationship to say the least. On West’s latest album, the song “Famous” only helps to fan the flames of one of music’s most enduring (and strangest) feuds. In Kardashian’s profile she mentions that not only did Swift know about the song and the less than flattering lyrics in question, but she approved it before its release. Team Swift was quick to deny the claim, but it’s not clear at this time whose version of the story is the “truth” (a relative term in this situation).
So what can PR practitioners take away from this?
Timing is everything
It seems pretty clear that Swift’s team knew that something was about to break in the media that would cast her in a less than positive light. By releasing the photos strategically right before Kardashian’s GQ article came out, Swift was able to change the narrative so the internet could obsess over #Hiddleswift rather than ponder the implications of the article.
If you don’t like the conversation, change it
PR is all about controlling the message—something that Swift and her team have mastered. Except for a bizarre misstep involving a twitter feud with Nicki Minaj, Swift has managed to cultivate a persona as the BFF you wish you had. #Squadgoals anyone? By releasing the photos of her and Hiddleston, Swift changed the conversation from conniving and calculating pop star to girl canoodling with the potential new James Bond.
And speaking of changing the conversation, in the wake of her split with Harris, there was much speculation about who dumped whom. Initially it was thought that Harris was the one who broke up with Swift. The timing of the photos also helped change the narrative to make it seem like Swift was the one who ended things with Harris.
Know your audience
For Swift’s 78.6 million Twitter and 82.2 million Instagram followers, a story about a budding romance is likely to get more traction and generate more conversation than the implications of Kardashian’s comments in GQ. The photos create an image of the type of idealized romance that Swift’s audience is primed for thanks to the lyrics of her songs.
As for whether #Swoki is real mad love, or just another example of a celebrity convenience couple, that’s a whole different blog post for another day.