Scandal, Tattoos, Tongues and Twerking: Four PR Lessons from Miley Cyrus

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When I was a freshman in high school, I was obsessed with Miley Cyrus and her show Hannah Montana. What girl didn’t want to be a normal high school student by day and an international pop star by night? I watched her show, subscribed to her Youtube channel, jammed to her CD and even embarrassingly tried to add her as a friend on Facebook – let’s be real, who didn’t? Skip ahead to today: Miley’s all grown up, and Miley 2.0 is everywhere.

In a way, we can all relate to Miley’s struggle to shed her childish image and show the world she is an adult. So maybe Miley went a little overboard when she expressed her new mature image by dancing half naked on stage with foam fingers and teddy bears. But in my mind, Miley Cyrus is a public relations genius, and as future PR professionals I think there are important lessons to learn from her new brand image:

  1. Come in like a wrecking ball: Create your own scandal. Miley did not announce her new image to the public; instead she used scandal to show them. She put herself in the spotlight with controversial song lyrics, eccentric music videos and shocking photo shoots. If you’re the one creating the scandal, you control the flow of information and therefore, you control the conversation. People talk about Miley because gives them something to talk about. Before the VMA’s, the media focused on the possible NSYNC reunion, not Miley. After the VMA’s, NSYNC’s PR people probably cried in a corner. They created a huge press event for a band that hadn’t performed together in 11 years and were completely overshadowed by a half naked twenty-year-old girl with an abnormally long tongue and a foam finger. Scandal = press. 
  2. Tattoo “Rolling $tone” on the bottom of your foot: Keep the conversation going. After the scandalous VMA coverage died down, Miley continued the conversation. She was on the cover of Rolling Stone magazine, performed on The Today Show, premiered her own MTV special, hosted Saturday Night Live and released a new album, giving her audience even more to talk about. After you initially shock people with a new brand image, strategically place yourself where your target audience will see you. Prove that you are more than just your scandal – don’t let them forget who you are. 
  3. We can’t stop and we won’t stop: Be confident. When reporters ask Miley about her scandalous choices and over-the-top personality she completely owns it. She might be riding a wrecking ball naked in her music video, but she fully supports her artistic choice and can confidently explain why she did it. If you are creating an image that you and your spokespeople are not completely confident about, the media will see right through you and break you in a second. It doesn’t matter if you are rubbing your body all over Robin Thicke, licking hammers or even just releasing a new product, if you speak confidently about your actions and decisions, people will understand and respect you. 
  4. When in doubt, twerk it out: Save face. Miley was supposed to arrive on the MTV red carpet in a police car. Instead, her driver made a mistake and took her to the red carpet in a normal car. Miley wanted to go back, get in the police car and do her entrance as planned, but some of the fans had already noticed her. Despite being angry and upset, she knew she had to get out and rock it like nothing was wrong. She put on a brave face, opened the door, jumped around for pictures and, of course, twerked. PR people always need to be prepared for last minute mistakes and changes. When something goes wrong just accept it, take a deep breath, and act like nothing happened. If you don’t act like there’s a problem no one else will suspect that anything is wrong and things will continue smoothly.

In the wise words of Hannah Montana, “life’s what you make it, so let’s make it rock.” Your brand is also what you make it, so make it rock. And no matter what issues you face, there is always a way to twerk it out.

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