Tess Holliday in Cosmpolitan - a PR stunt?

Answering the difficult questions: is equality just a PR stunt?

PR is all about getting people talking about your brand right? Raising awareness, strengthening reputation, and so on.

So, one could argue that doing something bold and different, that generates attention per se, is PR right? I mean, it’s certainly something worth thinking about. When you look at it very, very bluntly, ‘taking a stand for equality’ is – in black and white – effectively a PR stunt.

A great PR campaign is…

  • Unique, creative and daring
  • Widely covered
  • Conversation generating

So, in simplistic terms doesn’t that sound exactly like the recent situation wherein Tess Holliday has appeared as a Cosmo cover girl in order to encourage women of all sizes to love their body? I’ll talk about this more below.

I should mention however that I don’t actually think that ‘all equality pledges are nothing more than PR stunts’ because that’s certainly not the case. Definitively, doing something a little unorthodox to generate attention is PR, but when you actually look in to the social issues that these campaigns often work to tackle – it’s more likely that these brands are taking a stand for something they believe in as opposed to simply executing a project for the sole PR returns.

There’s always more if you read in between the lines.

Anybody who knows me knows that i’m all for brands taking a stand for equality – especially where women’s rights are concerned. So, just to mention it again (and i’ll probably mention it a few more times) I don’t think that equality is a PR stunt. I’m just exploring the PR-related benefits that come from such movements.

With the recent cover girl, Tess Holliday’s, backlash after her front page Cosmopolitan appearance – it did lead me to think a little more into equality and PR and how they’re very comfortably interlinked.


In amongst many positive messages, there were of course the naysayers to Tess appearing as a Cosmo girl. Many people insisted that the depiction of an unapologetic fat woman on a national magazine front cover is dangerous to readers.

A campaign which was supposed to help young women love themselves… (one reader of Cosmopolitan commented that ‘if she’d have seen this on the cover of a magazine when she was younger, it wouldn’t have taken her 25+ years to love my body‘) soon turned sour thanks to social media. Many have (regrettably) exercised their right to free speech by contending that the front cover of a magazine is no place for someone who is, quite blatantly, alarmingly overweight.

Whatever your opinions may be of the cover, one thing is for certain in all of this. It hasn’t half got people bloody talking.

Whether it was Cosmopolitan’s intentions or not, you can’t deny that this cover has probably been their most famed to date. I can imagine that copies are flying off the shelves, because let’s face it – it’s iconic. (When was the last time you saw a publication with a super plus sized model as the cover girl on the shelves?). Not only this, but people just can’t seem to keep the word ‘Cosmopolitan’ out of their mouths over the past week. For better or for worse, the conversation is still there. As I mention in a lot of my blogs, I can never decide what side of the fence I sit on for the ‘is all publicity good publicity?‘ argument. I’ve been tightroping that middle ground for years now. But, in this instance, I have to say I feel as though the conversation around the Cosmopolitan cover is definitely working in their favour.

People are still talking about the brand, are viewing the cover (and probably the rest of the magazine’s contents too) and are more than likely reading related articles – which, by the way, have been covered by Cosmopolitan also. (Smart move!)

It may have been their intention, it may not have been. But Cosmopolitan have just landed themselves some great PR and their follow up reactions to their cynics is second to none. Honestly I really do applaud them, they’ve not backed down nor retracted anything they once stood for and I think that’s great. They’ve been bold through and through, and in my opinion – this is going to be brilliant for their brand.

Anyway, you may be wondering why the title of this blog is ‘is equality just a PR stunt?’ if I have just dismissed the idea.

Well, though I don’t believe that brands purposely take a stand for equality just for PR, I do think that it’s either part of the reason sometimes (or is an unexpected reward for them). The bottom line is, when your brand is opting to be bold, and a little bit out there in the name of fairness, PR is almost always likely to follow. Think about it, when was the last time you noticed a brand taking a stand for equality on the off chance, and not because it was being widely talked about?

There’s always a wealth of benefits on offer for a brand being socially aware. But the conversations it often opens are unquestionably one of the bigger advantages.

What do you think?

*I’d just like to say that none of the negative comments made in this blog depict my own personal opinions of Cosmopolitan. It’s pretty clear from my tone that I personally am totally here for a diverse cover. I’m not stick-thin myself therefore it’s comforting to see something other than very slim models gracing the front pages all the while. I just felt as though I needed to include both sides of the argument to create a fair story and paint a picture as to the conversation that Cosmopolitan have created*

“My message isn’t ‘let’s all be fat’, my message is ‘let’s love yourself'” – Tess Holliday.

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PR and lifestyle blogger jessica pardoe

3 thoughts on “Answering the difficult questions: is equality just a PR stunt?”

  1. Great piece Jessica! I think whether it’s their target goal or not, no campaign this well polished and executed would have disregarded its potential. I pair it with the recent Nike advertising – there is mileage in controversy as long as the brand sits on the side of the fence they (and, they would hope, their fans/advocates) agree with. There would have been balanced arguments about what felt right with their brand and, from what I can see, Cosmo fans themselves are thrilled and delighted. So they’ve done their job! Although I like to think, optimistically, that they have put Tess on the cover because they feel it’s right (I personally discredit the argument about the unhealthy body image – I didn’t hear them complaining when unhealthy anorexic figures were used?!), I imagine what gave the campaign the green light from a Board level was the PR impact.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Couldn’t agree more Debs and thanks for your kind words. Cosmo have achieved more things than one with this piece and I applaud them for it ☺️. I too would pair it with the Nike campaign – and have actually written a post about that just now!


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