Rochester Hills mayor’s open reply to Madonna’s hometown jibes goes viral

By Kayla Varicalli

Photo by David Jackson

Photo by David Jackson/The Oakland Post

From writing a letter to Madonna in his bed to landing a five-minute interview on CNN, Rochester Hills mayor Bryan Barnett quickly found himself–and his letter–in the public eye.

Shortly after the letter went viral, he visited OU’s ethics in the media class on Thursday, March 26. Students took the opportunity to ask Barnett his motives and effects of his come-back letter to Madonna.

Madonna bashed her hometown of Rochester Hills over an interview with Howard Stern, where she called residents “basic, provincial thinking people.”

“She is a brilliant publicist and marketer,” Barnett said. “As I look back at it, she needed someone like me to write a note because it kept her very relevant last week.”

Her comments didn’t sit well with Barnett. On Sunday, March 16, he wrote a letter to explain to Madonna how Rochester Hills is anything but simple-minded.

“I spent about 25 minutes at home writing this in my boxers,” Barnett said. “My goal was to have it run in The Oakland Press as an opinion piece, but then it just blew up.”

Mayor Barnett speaks to Oakland University's ethics in the media class about his letter to Madonna that went viral.  Photo by David Jackson

Mayor Barnett speaks to Oakland University’s ethics in the media class about his letter to Madonna that went viral.
Photo by David Jackson/The Oakland Post

Barnett wrote the letter with hopes of publishing in three local newspapers and newsletters. Shortly after releasing the letter though, his comeback went viral.

“All you need is one small news outlet to make it a critical news story,” OU’s media relations director Brian Bierley said.

Within 24 hours, he was interviewed from media outlets across the country. After interviewing with the local television stations, national news picked up the letter within three days, looking to speak with Barnett.

Bierley said that the five minute time slot Barnett had on CNN would account for his budget over the next 20 years.

With the nation’s eyes on Barnett and the city, he used his knowledge in public relations to shed a positive light on Rochester Hills.

Barnett said the letter’s large audience brought exposure to Rochester Hill’s up-and-coming community and the constructive changes the city has seen since Madonna walked the streets in 1978.

Since the letter came out, there has been a 90 percent increase in traffic on the city’s website, Barnett said. Positive feedback has served as 95 percent of the responses given.

The Rochester Hills’ mayor also found a large spotlight on himself. Though he turned most of the attention to this city, Barnett focused on writing a positive letter to Madonna and strongly backing up his decision.

“She’s a global superstar who could crush me,” he said. “I had one shot at Madonna so I wanted it to be appropriate.”

Though Barnett’s letter invited the Michigan-native singer back to the city, Madonna has not responded. Even with no celebrity rebuttal, Barnett said he is satisfied with the encouraging publicity.

“The news doesn’t generally come to mayors of my size cities and say ‘tell us how great our town is,'” he said. “Thanks to Madonna, we got that positive coverage.”

About Sarah Hovis

Freelance wordsmith, arts appreciator, grammar geek, sports spectator, stationery snob, and world traveler, Sarah charts her own course as the owner of saliho creative. She uses her creative mind and engaging dialogue to fearlessly bring the written word to life in print and online… all while keeping a watchful eye out for the next literary adventure. You can reach her at

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