Jay-Z Shows His PR Chops in Response To Criticism About Trip to Cuba in ‘Open Letter’

Image: Politico

Beyonce's and Jay-Z’s trip to Havana, Cuba to celebrate their fifth wedding anniversary attracted the expected mob of fans and photographers. However, thanks to an embargo that makes it illegal for U.S. citizens to visit Cuba for mere tourism, the trip also sparked criticism from two members of Congress.

In a letter to the Treasury Department (which issues licenses to Cuba for academic, religious, journalistic or cultural exchanges) two Florida Republicans, Ileana Ros-Lehtinen and Mario Diaz-Balart, demanded to know what purpose Jay-Z and Beyonce cited to make their trip, according to The Washington Post.

The congressional representatives said that  “the restrictions on tourism travel are common-sense measures meant to prevent U.S. dollars from supporting a murderous regime,” the Post reported. Meanwhile, Florida Senator Marco Rubio said in a statement that "the Obama Administration should explain exactly how trips like these comply with U.S. law and regulations governing travel to Cuba.”

In response to the criticism Jay-Z on Thursday released a new song, titled “Open Letter,” that expresses his disgust at the political nitpicking about his trip. In doing so, Jay-Z took control of the situation and turned the entire episode into a branding opportunity for his (growing) business empire, which includes music, clothing apparel and a recently launched sports agency.

Jay-Z's cagey response to his critics provides a valuable lesson for communicators. PR pros should note that, as a bona fide brand himself, Jay-Z  responded to his critics through the medium that made him famous. A written statement from Jay-Z wouldn't have had nearly the impact—or media hook—that his new song had. And if Jay-Z decided to go on a cable network to defend himself that would be just more fuel for his critics.

When it comes to getting your messaging across and neutraliziing your critics, play to your PR strengths and tap into the medium that best suits your brand. A crisis, even one that is small-bore, is a terrible thing to waste.

Follow Bill Miltenberg: @bmiltenberg


  • Chris Greenfield

    well, you have to hear the sound track to find out what is Jay-Z’s PR message – my guess is that congress does not listen to his music, with or without PR messages – so, IMO, he picked the wrong medium since it is not the primary medium that his detractors use – he is only “preaching to the choir”. Last, PR chops would mean not relying on just one medium to convey your message. Still have no idea what Jay-Z’s response is – that tells me something

    • AJ

      While I agree with your “wrong medium” message above, I also think that is part of his point. He doesn’t really care if his detractors hear his response. He is getting his loyal supporters in his corner. To him, it’s not about defending his actions – it’s to say that he doesn’t need to defend his actions.

    • Savannah Kelley

      I will disagree, I recall one senator during the Fillabusta quoted wix khalifa and JayZ as poets on the floor. They have surrogates that listen.

  • guest

    When you are rich, you don’t have to play by the rules or follow any laws, and you can use PR to steamroll an entire government and wave your dollars in the faces of millions of people across the world, and give Americans a bad name. That is NOT what PR is for and the fact that you are giving him press about using his wealth to break the law, then rub it all in our faces again with a stupid song, wow. Slickness and wealth wins over what is right is what you are saying. Disgusting. You are so wrong, he was not justified in his choices, that trip was ILLEGAL. Its like saying because he is rich, he can rape, pillage and murder and not be held accountable. Its the same exact thing. What is wrong with you puppies? Use your brains, step away from the tv and media for one hot second, he’s an American abusing his power simply because he is wealthy and that has nothing to do with his brand. You suckers who fall for this crap and live vicariously thru celebrities’ bad behavior, make me sick. You just aren’t even smart enough to see what’s in front of your face. Stop giving your money to these idiots, start using your own mind, stop letting others make your decisions for you….

    • Goobs Mcgee

      Shut up dude. They went to Cuba. Its not like he went to North Korea with Dennis Rodman to hang with Kim Jong Il. Cuba is a beautiful place, so all this hoopin and lolli gaggin about ‘boo hoo, they went to Cuba, shame on them” is a weak ass arguement . Yu are the idiot my friend who probably watches FOX News on the regular you hate monger and cynical bastard.

  • Jon N.

    Good or bad PR, he still broke the law. Surprising that the author of this piece glosses over that because had (essentially) a witty comeback.

  • http://twitter.com/thejluntzreport Jason Luntz

    I think this was a great article and a great lesson for brands to follow. Jay-Z’s open letter was written for those who do understand him.

  • @wilo37

    Unless I have, maybe, Mark Cuban or Donald Trump as a client I don’t see at all how a billionaire celebrity who could care less about what these Congressman think writing an open letter is a lesson for PR professionals. If anything, the fact someone like him is given a pass with an “open letter” is a lesson in poor or perhaps biased journalism. Not to mention the medium that made him famous was music. He was already rich and famous before social media.

  • http://www.facebook.com/futuri Futuri Pesewa

    I like to chill on the beach and eat peaches they preach but nobody want to be impeached -awesome publicity move let see how it goes

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  • IMC

    This writer is simply saying that this rapper took advantage of his illegal activity to promote himself and his president. Apparently, that is impressive to the writer of this article and one commenter who thinks it is a “great lesson for brands to follow.” Unfortunately, there are many people in the PR profession who don’t see ethics as a necessary part of what we do.

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