Anderson Cooper’s announcement yesterday that he’s gay (“always have been, always will be”) makes him the most prominent out journalist in America today. Unlike Rachel Maddow, who was already openly gay when she joined MSNBC and made her name as a left-leaning commentator, Cooper – despite his recent entry into daytime talk – has long been known as an intrepid investigative journalist, touring foreign battlegrounds and winning legions of dedicated female admirers in the process. For years, Cooper’s sexual orientation was an open secret in the gay community – but he remained silent to the world at-large.
So how will this disclosure impact his journalistic career and his powerful personal brand? As a brand strategist and a former presidential campaign spokesperson, I believe Cooper’s coming out will only help his career. Here are three reasons why.
1. More people are talking about him. With CNN’s notable rating woes of late, anything that gets people talking about the network and its anchors is a plus. I strongly doubt Cooper dictated his timing based on ratings concerns, but the extra attention will be helpful, especially as he tries to generate additional interest in his daytime program, Anderson.
2. He becomes more likable. America wants celebrities to show their human side, and personal disclosure about their love life and struggles they’ve faced is one of the chief ways that stars cement bonds to their fans. Cooper, who has been notoriously private, is now more understandable and accessible to the public, and that’s likely to result in a greater connection.
3. It’s easier being yourself. These days, the reaction to a celebrity’s coming out is usually either positive (good for him!) or negligible (so what?). For most people, it’s simply not an issue anymore. Even Cooper’s dedicated soccer mom fans are likely to applaud his honesty and integrity in revealing who he is. For many celebrities who come out, the common refrain is that it’s now much easier and less stressful for them because they no longer have to hide (as Ricky Martin, for instance, told Oprah). It’s likely that Cooper may experience the same sense of liberation, which will only enhance his work as a journalist.
What should Cooper do now?
1. Lay low. Cooper has expressed a long-standing desire for privacy. Assuming that’s still the case, it’s a good idea that he timed his coming out to coincide with international travel plans because it means that the extreme media furor will die down slightly before he returns to the country later this week.
2. Control the dialogue. Viewers and fans are understandably curious to learn more about Cooper’s own life and coming-out process. He should harness the opportunity – and the ratings – by scheduling an episode of Anderson where he tells his story and explains his decision to come out.
3. Support a cause. Given his passion to fight bullying, Cooper should use his influence and newfound credibility on GLBT issues to support a charitable cause. Perhaps he could make his own It Gets Better video, or sign-up as honorary chairman for a cause like The Trevor Project, which works to prevent suicide among gay youth. After all, if the goal of coming out is to create a better and more just society, it only makes sense for Cooper to leverage his starpower to help others.
Do you think Anderson Cooper’s coming out will affect his brand? If so, how?
This post originally appeared on the Forbes website on July 3, 2012.
Dorie Clark is CEO of Clark Strategic Communications and the author of Reinventing You: Define Your Brand, Imagine Your Future (Harvard Business Review Press). She is a strategy consultant who has worked with clients including Google, Yale University, and the Ford Foundation. Listen to her podcasts or follow her on Twitter.