Miss America on stewarding the pageant brand's '2.0' update

Miss America has helped to define the perceptions of women throughout its 97-year history, for better and worse. The Drum speaks to the current title holder to explore how the brand has redefined itself in the #MeToo era – and what that means for its sponsorship opportunities.

The Miss America pageant was created back in 1921 as a marketing tactic: it was Atlantic City's last-ditch effort of drawing in beach goers for one more week after Labor Day. For decades, it was a spectacle that involved upwards of 50 women in what looked to be one of the toughest interviews in the world – judged on their looks, their bodies (in evening wear and bathing suits), their talent and their intellect.

This year, the annual pageant was forced to reset everything. A 2017 defined by the beginnings of the #MeToo movement – and, for the Miss America organization, by the revelation of sexist emails sent by past leadership – served as the template for the brand to redefine how it looks to be seen by the world.

'Miss America 2.0', as the organization has dubbed its renaissance, elected Gretchen Carlson as chairwoman of the board of directors in January, and launched a promo to clear up any 'missconceptions' about its purpose. Miss New York 2018, aka Nia Franklin, was named the inaugural Miss America of the pageant's new era.

Franklin’s crowning in September marked the first winner of the title since the organization’s rebrand. Contestants are no longer judged on their appearances as in years past, as evidenced by its decision to cut the swimsuit portion of the competition, and winners are no longer required to wear their crowns in public.

According to the organization, the other change is a mindset: a move away from trying to set a standard of what one should do, to focusing more on providing a platform for what young women could or want to do.

Franklin, a trained opera singer and composer, thinks of her year representing the brand as a huge responsibility.

“I’m hoping this year to focus on the new, and what that means for our organization going forward," she told The Drum at Publicis Media's MCTP summit in Atlanta.

Part of the "new" is a revamped focus by the brand to educate audiences on its mission, which is now to empower young women and provide scholarships and mentorships for them. The organization and pageant have been rooted in a somewhat checkered past, but Franklin isn’t fazed by the challenge.

“We do acknowledge that this competition started off as a swimsuit competition,” said Franklin. “That's still a part of our history, and it's something that we're not ashamed of, but we just decided to move in a different direction and to be more in line with the times that we're in right now."

This mindset, paired with the reach of the organization online and for its annual September pageant, is beginning to draw the interest of brands looking to work with Miss America 2.0 and the woman holding the title. Current sponsors include American Airlines and the broadcaster ABC, however a spokesperson organization has said they’ve been in ongoing conversations with a group of ‘household-name’ brands

The company is putting cross-platform partnership models that engage both TV and social audiences on the table when speaking with potential partners.

“We are open to any like-minded brands who want to help us achieve our mission of preparing great women for the world, and preparing the world for great women," the spokesperson said.

Social media will prove an effective tool for Franklin during her reign, as the organization has lifted its restrictions on its winners ability to speak through her Twitter account. Franklin concedes that running the 'Miss America' handle a well as her own has been a work in progress.

The title holder will also travel around the country as an advocate for the arts, as well as a goodwill ambassador for the Children’s Miracle Network, a non-profit that supports over 170 children’s hospitals across the US and Canada.

“It’s great to be able to push out your kind of narrative and your mission, so I want to do that as much as possible," she said.

Franklin understands her place as the pageant's top influencer, but she also believes the traditional meet-and-greet events are the backbone of her tenure.

“It’s important to also have a human connection, to speak with people on a basic level," she said. "Being able to look into someone’s eyes will always surpass and be more important to us as a simple post.”

As for Franklin’s willingness to use her musical talents in the marketing space, she’s excited for the possibilities.

“I see a lot in my future. I'm excited to do a lot of writing this year… everything from jingle writing to songwriting to film scoring, these are all things that I'm capable of, and that I am really looking forward to developing myself and my career in.”

Another role, one that is unwritten but not out of mind, is her place as the seventh African-American Miss America in history. Between her and Vanessa Williams, the first black woman to win back in 1984, five others have worn the crown.

“People may lose sight of what came in between,” she said. “I think it’s important to have that conversation. Even though, we are moving forward as an organization, it’s still important to know where you came from.”