A picture is still worth more than 1000 words. The furor over the cover of the Rolling Stone proves that once again.
The cover depicts accused Boston Marathon bomber Jahar Tsarnaev but unlike the 1970’s cover of Charles Manson which showed a demonic killer, this cover shows someone who could be the latest teen heartthrob.
Reaction has been swift and damaging to the Rolling Stone’s reputation, a reputation founded on the cache of being on the cover as much for the often profanity laced articles inside.
The PR mistake that Rolling Stone made was failing to understand that emotions were still raw surrounding this terrible event. The editors forgot PR 101, lesson one, people react emotionally to what they see and not what they read.
What they saw and are fixated on is the picture. The words “bomber” and “monster” don’t come close to balancing that, even in bold, large print.
A picture is still worth more than 1000 words. In this case it’s worth hundreds of thousands of tweets threatening never to read the magazine again, and some retailers pulling the magazine from circulation so as not to offend their customers.
Having created its own “PR Crisis” the steps that Rolling Stone have taken are good ones:
- Publishing the entire article so that people can read for themselves that the article does not glorify a “monster”.
- Giving away its cover story, so that Rolling Stone is not seen to be benefiting from the controversy
- Acknowledging the bombing victims at the top of the article and explaining why they pursued the story
The article is legitimate. TV entertainment shows do this all the time. Sometimes entertainment news just becomes news.
In 1970 Rolling Stone published a Charles Manson cover story, but the picture demonized Manson. This one didn’t. It showed the boy next door or the newest rock star. The public wanted to see the devil and they saw themselves.
It has been 40 years since Dr. Hook released “The Cover of the Rolling Stone” a song which immortalized what it meant to get on the cover. The public hasn’t forgotten what that means.
If Rolling Stone had a do-over they would pick a different cover.
Will it do permanent damage?
Only time will tell.