Post by Bethany Grace Howe
Photo by Chris Pietsch, Register-Guard
I can’t decide if I pity or envy Alan Nierob his job these days.
As co-president of Rogers & Cowan, an international global marketing and public relations agency, Nierob gets to spend time with some of the biggest names in Hollywood. I won’t lie; that sounds like a lot of fun. At the very least it sounds like a real job, something my parents still aren’t completely sure I’ll find when I’m done with my Ph.D. in a year.
Then again, being involved in things like album launches, fashion designing, film releases, minding the red carpet at awards shows and all sorts of other high-profile events is an inconceivable amount of work. More important, it seems things have changed quite a bit in the last few years when it comes to another part of Nierob’s job: crisis communication.
Everything these days seems to be a public crisis. A celebrity’s vote can make them a pariah. A client wears the wrong color hat and sets off a tweet-storm. Someone goes to an awards show — or doesn’t go — and causes a furor. So it seems like Nierob would be busier than ever.
That might be a question that finds its way from Twitter to my question pile when I get to host a Q&A session with Nierob and one of his clients, Caitlyn Jenner, when the two headline a talk about the public relations strategy around Jenner’s transition at the University of Oregon on May 29. (You can catch the live stream of the event at 6-7:30 p.m. at http://media.uoregon.edu/channel/livestream.)
At this point, I need to admit to playing coy in more ways than one. First, I have some idea what Nierob will talk about at that event. I heard him speak on the subject more than two years ago during a UO School of Journalism and Communication class.
He was funny and informed, serious and self-depreciating. He dropped A-list names like I drop popcorn down my blouse at an “Avengers” film — but always in service of the point, not his own ego. (Google “Alan Nierob” and you’ll find very few people talk about Nierob as part of the story – and never Nierob himself.)
Like Nierob, at the event I’m going to largely stay out the way of the message that Jenner — and this time, Nierob — will share. They’re better at telling it, that’s for sure.
My coyness here has a lot of dimensions. The second is that my time with Nierob two years ago has resulted in a long-distance friendship with both him and Jenner. Well, perhaps friendship is too strong a word to claim, even in this digital age.
I’ll just say they answer my emails and we have each other’s phone numbers. Each of us, from time to time, has even used them. (And I’ll admit it: I keep their numbers on a Post-It note above my desk at home, just in case my phone crashes, explodes, gets used by my daughter, etc.)
So when I talk about Jenner here, and when I host her on Tuesday, it is not a celebrity I see, but a friend I’m finally getting to show around my home. Certainly, she knows Eugene already without me; the gold medal she owns began its journey here. But I am excited to show her my Eugene, my University of Oregon, my School of Journalism and Communication, my home — my friends.
I consider her one of those, which I’ll admit is kind of odd. For there will always be the Jenner I’ve had a cultural familiarity with for decades. I remember staring at her photo on the Wheaties box as I ate breakfast following the Olympic decathlon in 1976, when I was just 8. I remember seeing her on the cover of Vanity Fair nearly 40 years later, well before I even thought I might be transgender myself. I can’t imagine I am alone in that.
But what I remember now is her calling me out of the blue in the spring of 2016 and talking for an hour about our kids and how proud we were of them. And what I remember most is her calling me last fall when I was so lost I thought about taking my own life.
Yes, she is my friend. And in a world where some people I’ve loved most of my life have stopped speaking to me, I consider that a treasured thing. For, while in so many ways that society deems valuable, Jenner and I are worlds apart — wealth, celebrity, the ability to leap very tall objects — she and I do share one identity. We are middle-aged, transgender women who are still trying to figure it all out, and her kindness has meant the world to me.
I don’t know whether Nierob’s job has gotten worse in the hyper-polar world we now live in, and I look forward to finding out. But if I had to guess, I’d say I hope not. After all, I figure he gets to see Jenner a lot, and I can’t imagine that’s a bad thing at all.
A 1992 graduate of the University of Colorado, Bethany Grace Howe headed to the University of Missouri a decade later. There, she served as an adjunct professor and award-winning newspaper editor and writer while pursuing her master’s degree. Following graduation, she worked as a reporter and humor columnist in Lincoln County, Oregon. She later switched her journalism pursuits from writing to teaching, becoming a secondary journalism teacher. She maintained this role until the fall of 2015, at which time she began pursuing her Ph.D. at the University of Oregon, as well as transitioning male to female.