The media campaign surrounding Bruce Jenner’s public transformation into Caitlyn Jenner has been nothing short of masterful, from the substance of Diane Sawyer’s two-hour “20/20” interview special in April to the sizzle of this week’s Vanity Fair cover reveal of Caitlyn in a bustier.
The person guiding the strategy behind the scenes has been Alan Nierob, a seasoned showbiz publicist and longtime exec at Rogers & Cowan. Last fall Jenner hired Nierob, who has handled crisis PR for some of Hollywood’s biggest names including Robert Downey Jr. and Mel Gibson, for help in guiding her through a storm of media attention as she came out as transgender. Nierob declined to comment on this story.
Sources close to the situation said Jenner turned to Nierob for a very specific reason — one that is poignant in light of the turns in Jenner’s life today. In the mid-1980s, Nierob helped Jenner at a moment of crisis when a reporter for the New York Times was pursuing a story about Jenner being a cross-dresser.
At the time, Jenner was on the rebound from a career downturn and was enjoying a new round of endorsement deals and media gigs. In the mid-1980s, a story about the Olympic decathlon star dressing in women’s clothing would have severely damaged, if not destroyed, Jenner’s public image.
Jenner had previously been repped by Rogers & Cowan around the time of his 1976 Olympic triumph but never by Nierob. The two knew each other through mutual associates. In the early 1980s Jenner worked for ABC and NBC covering auto racing at a time when Nierob represented star driver Danny Sullivan.
When Jenner was approached by the Times with questions about cross-dressing, Jenner confided in Nierob about her gender dysphoria condition. Nierob was never formally hired as Jenner’s rep — he helped her out as a friend. Nierob worked briefly but intensely with Jenner’s then-manager and attorney to dissuade the Times reporter from pursuing the story. He used all the PR pressure tricks: strenuous denials, questioning the motives of his sources and emphasizing the ramifications of such a story for Jenner and his family. No story ever ran.
Thirty-odd years later, Jenner turned to Nierob for help on the journey to becoming Caitlyn because of the level of trust between them. Jenner felt Nierob never betrayed the confidence and never gossiped in Hollywood circles about the incident.
Work on the campaign to explain Jenner’s transformation began late last fall when Nierob reached out to Diane Sawyer for what he knew would be a landmark TV moment for public awareness of the transgender community. He knew it had to be serious and substantive to dispel any suggestion that the emergence of Caitlyn was a publicity stunt.
Sawyer’s work on the Jenner interview began at an emotional time for the ABC News anchor, following the November death of her husband, director Mike Nichols.
After the April 24 “20/20” interview generated rave reviews and 17 million viewers, the first promotion for Jenner’s upcoming E! docu-series, which was officially announced during Sawyer’s interview, began to hit.
The June 1 release of the Vanity Fair cover, which revealed Jenner’s new name and look, coincided with the launch of her @Caitlyn_Jenner twitter account. Jenner racked up more than 1 million followers in a few hours, a new Twitter record, and had more than 2 million as of Friday.
On Tuesday ESPN announced that Jenner would receive the Arthur Ashe Courage Award at the July 15 ESPY Awards. That will be followed by the July 26 premiere of E!’s “I Am Cait,” which runs eight episodes. The series will chronicle Jenner’s transformation over the past few months and also show her on a new mission to be an advocate for public understanding and tolerance of transgender community concerns.
In fact, sources said Jenner has been on the road this week shooting material for “I Am Cait” and hasn’t had much time to catch up with the latest round of coverage.
“She’s doing it,” a source close to Jenner says. “She’s not sitting at home reading her own press. She’s on a mission to save lives and make a difference.”