How do they do that? Celebrity PR

Filed as Features on January 5, 2007 1:53 pm

by Ed Lee

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In my first column I discussed what PR is, from a corporate standpoint without really addressing the publicity, or celebrity, business – which is what most readers will be exposed to the most.

While I would never be called upon to give expert testimony in the area of celebrity publicity, I feel I know enough to lift the curtain a little and show you one dirty little trick that can be used.

This oft used trick is the one that magicians learn first – misdirection. Let’s say I’m your client, a highly paid sports stud like Ladainian Tomlinson who is enjoying a record breaking season – not too far from the truth (!).


However, I’ve enjoyed my success, along with the parties and adulation that come with it, a little too much over the season and have picked up a particularly nasty cocaine addiction, something that’s stretching into Tony Montana proportions.

You’re my publicist and you know that it’s only a matter of time before a picture of me taking my drugs off a stripper’s body shows up on the front page of US Weekly or worse, Perez Hilton. What do you do?

The first thing would be rehab (in business terms – fix the cause, then the effect); but if the media get’s a hold of the story I’m out of the NFL where Class A drugs are frowned upon. Obviously there’s always the CFL though, but I digress.

Fortunately for the celebrity publicist, the media has to do something called “checking their facts”, something bloggers don’t have to do (although the best one’s always do).

So when the media calls, it’s time to build the industry’s reputation as master manipulators and behind-the-scenes shysters. One thing you could do to misdirect the media is to throw them a bone. A bone that’s just as juicy and delicious to them as a “Big Sports Star on Drugs” story, but not as career ending.

Something like an affair with a stripper, porn star, or depending on the depth of addiction, all of the above. You deny the big, extremely harmful story and, with the blessing of the wife, invent a story that will still get the headlines, but keep my name in the right places – namely on those fat endorsement contracts, not court papers.

Some caveats to make sure my name stays in your feed reader, not up in court. This is a completely hypothetical scenario, and I’ve picked a name I read in my Digg Sports feed this morning. I’m certainly not suggesting that LT has, or has ever had, a drug problem. Nor am I suggesting that every sportsperson/celebrity reported as having an affair has a problem, I’m merely illustrating the art of misdirection.

Just to cap things off, here’s why it works and when it fails. Access. All PRs (flacks) control, to an extent, the access to their client so if a reporter has half a story around a big name that is flat out denied by the flack, chances are they won’t run it. For one they don’t want to be sued and they want to keep on good terms with the star, both of which are essential for their career.

This tactic falls apart when the star is so totally over exposed and one the wane. Then their access to the media is more important than the media’s access to them. Then it’s open season on any and all stories.

(Feature image from Flickr)

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  1. Starked SF, Unforgiving News from the Bay » Blog Archive » Linker Barn: Friday, January 5January 5, 2007 at 2:50 pm
  2. By psbct posted on January 5, 2007 at 7:27 pm
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    To celebrate LT’s MVP award, http://www.psbct.com is selling Ladainian Tomlinson Authentic jerseys for 110.00. Congradulations LT!

  3. By CB posted on February 13, 2007 at 9:50 am
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    This is a good example as to why some celebrity publicists are perceived negatively in the public eye. The term “flacks” was mentioned in this post as a nickname for the publicist, and to my understanding it means “to serve as a press agent.” As a journalism major, there is a guideline called the Code of Ethics that we like to follow in regards to writing stories. Nowhere in it does it state to give the media false or made up information about a person, place or event. I do however, understand that working for a celebrity has, in some circumstances, no barriers and that the main objective is to make sure one’s client is not portrayed in a negative light. Isn’t there a way to get rid of the stereotype of celebrity pubicists as manipulators who spend most of their time “misdirecting” the public?

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