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Six Ways Evangelists Can Promote Like Sports Illustrated Supermodel Kate Upton

Mark Drapeau (Washington, DC) –

Recently, I wrote an essay about how the open government movement could do a better job of engaging mainstream media, and more specifically how the simultanous Transparency Camp and White House Correspondents Dinner weekend could make better connections. One criticism of this is that the WHCD is too focused on celebrities, and trivialities like getting your photo taken and trying to get into the coolest party on any given evening.

Perhaps “Nerd Prom” (as it’s nicknamed) is a little too focused on celebrities. Tom Brokaw certainly seems to think so. But maybe that’s besides the point. One thing I detected in social media comments on my original piece was the elitist attitude that people involved in open government have no need for celebrities – not only can celebrities not help them promote their causes (which is obviously untrue, given the number of celebrities promoting causes), they have nothing to learn from them.

I disagree with the second point too. People engaged in even the most serious of activities – promoting cybersecurity awareness, evangelizing open data and open government, broadcasting health and medical warnings to citizens – could learn a lot from certain celebrities who have mastered the art of mixing of in-person engagements, mainstream media, and social media tools to engage audiences, build awareness, and ultimately achieve whatever their goals are.

Here, I use Sports Illustrated swimsuit issue cover model Kate Upton (whose uncle just happens to be Fred Upton, a longtime U.S. Congressman) and her meteoric rise to fame as a case study. Very few people knew her before April 2011, when she was infamously caught casually dancing in her seat at an LA Clippers basketball game (YouTube views = 6.3 million). Now, one year later, she is one of the most famous models in the world.

There are other good examples of people who have shot to fame through multi-platform engagement. One is the rise of Jimmy Fallon from average comedian on SNL to below average talk show host to multimedia talk show host god over the past few years. Another, more intellectual example, is space and exploration evangelist Neil deGrasse Tyson of the Hayden Planetarium. In this post, I’ll just concentrate on Kate Upton, as there has been so much recent attention – some controversial – on just how she got to be where she is in her career so quickly.

Kate Upton’s Career Rise Through Authentic Engagement

Kate Upton’s rise from unknown young model to SI swimsuit issue rookie to authentic social media rockstar to SI Cover Girl to advertising and product endorsement mogul didn’t occur by accident, and it did not occur undeservedly; It occurred because she leveraged a unique array of qualities in order for it to happen. Here are six things Kate Upton did, and does, to authentically engage audiences and promote whatever messages she wants to:

1. Have the right personality for the job. Not everyone is cut out for marketing, whether it’s in the written word, on television, or in social media. Kate Upton is. She has a bubbly, friendly personality that shows through in her interviews, candid videos taken of her, and her tweets. She has the right personality to be matched up with promoting a magazine, a new product, or a hobby or cause of hers. And her vibrant personality stands out very far from most or all of her peers – it is in fact difficult to think of the personality of most of her peers (and thus, they effectively have none). [Jimmy Fallon = tech-savvy goofball; Neil deGrasse Tyson = fun professorial uncle]

2. Let your personality shine through authenticity. It’s one thing to have the right personality for the job. The next step though, equally necessary, is to let it show by being more transparent about your life, and expressing yourself authentically. Kate Upton has been increasingly transparent in interviews, and using social media to for example tweet behind-the-scenes photos like this one from events and jobs. She doesn’t reveal everything about herself of course – she famously denied Ellen an answer about who/if she is romantically involved with – but nobody cares. People are just curious enough to want more. And for the most part, she is controlling the message through her own channels and appearances. [Jimmy Fallon = authentically laughes at himself; Neil deGrasse Tyson = authentically preaches benefits of science and innovation]

3. Master one thing really well. Having a great personality and a willingness to be authentic are certainly not enough to make loads of people care about you. You have to have a core activity that you do very well. As it happens, Kate Upton is a really great swimsuit model with a unique look that people really, really want to see. The bottom line is that without this particular skill, barely anyone would care about her tweets or product endorsements or want to interview her about anything. When you ask, What does Kate Upton do? there is a simple answer: “swimsuit model.” If you don’t have a similarly simple phrase following someone asking this about you, your outreach is a little lost. [Jimmy Fallon = television commedian; Neil deGrasse Tyson = space evangelist]

4. Diversify your engagement. Once you’ve established a “core” activity which you’re excellent at (in Kate Upton’s case, swimsuit modeling), people may notice this and encourage your personal or organizational brand engagement in other activities and realms and topics, or want your comments on more strategic ideas or the topic-of-the-day. In Kate Upton’s case, this has largely manifested itself as a series of product endorsements with television advertisements featuring her prominently. Smartly, they are not too different from her core, particularly with regard to the core audience (men, and especially younger men), yet clearly these actvities broaden her appeal and her audience; they include being a face of Guess, a bikini appearance in the Three Stooges mainstream movie, endorsements for Carl’s Jr. burgers, Skullcandy headphones, and a sports videogame by 2KSports, and a comedic guest appearance on the geek-savvy show Tosh.0. [Jimmy Fallon = amateur rapper, television commercial star; Neil deGrasse Tyson = frequent Bill Maher guest, public speaker]

5. Make appearances in person. It’s easy to count pageviews and retweets from the safety of your home office and rest satisfied that your social media marketing is working. In my experience, this trap is especially easy for tech-savvy marketers to fall into, and especially easy for the non-socially-adept to get trapped in. But the reality is that in-person meetings, lunches, events, and so forth have two very important qualities that tweets, videos, and the like lack: intimacy and strength. They are intimate because sitting right next to someone is a very emotional act, and they are strong because the power of in-person word-of-mouth is much greater than that of online, or hearing something in a radio or TV interview. Say what you want about “small talk” – it’s really big talk, actually. Kate Upton recently attended the high-profile White House Correspondents Dinner (guest of Bloomberg News) and the Met’s Costume Institute Gala (guest of Michael Kors). (It goes without saying that Kate Upton is visually appealing and that people like to see her in person, as well.) [Jimmy Fallon + Neil deGrasse Tyson = social media + make appearances]

6. Repeat. All of the above steps need to be repeated, constantly. They also need to be recombinated. For example, if Kate Upton begins filming a commercial for a new endorsement, she can tweet a slightly revealing behind-the-scenes photo about it. Then she can upload a YouTube video with a commercial teaser. Later, she makes an appearance at an event promoting the brand she’s endorsing, and so forth. The more cross-promotion, cross-platform, and synergistic one can get, the better (within limits).

Lauren Weisberger, famously the author of The Devil Wears Prada, also wrote a book called Everyone Worth Knowing. In it, she describes the evolution of a young woman from being a virtual “nobody” to being a PR professional being mentioned on Page Six and dating a heartthrob. These things don’t happen accidentally, just as Kate Upton didn’t accidentally end up on the SI Swimsuit Issue cover at 19 years old. There is a formula. And differently applied, it can help you find and engage an audience for a TV show like Jimmy Fallon (or, as I’ve previously written, as HBO’s Girls could be doing), or promote government funding of space exploration like Neil deGrasse Tyson.

Or promote clean energy reform. Or swine flu awareness. Or raise awareness of a worthy cause.

It’s not who you know. It’s who knows you.

Dr. Mark Drapeau is the Director of Innovative Engagement (Public Sector) at Microsoft, currently based in Washington, DC.

Images from Popsugar, Alloy, and Wikipedia.

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