COMMENT: Editorial - Does PR need any added celebrity?

Last week’s news that Creative Artists Agency (CAA) acquired an estimated 40% stake in PR firm Shepardson Stern & Kaminsky (SS+K) set off alarms. Some were thrilled by the presence of a glamorous new type of player - Hollywood talent shops with Hollywood stars - in the agency-acquisition game, while others rejoiced that their prattle about ’synergy’ was finally being justified by events in the real world.

Last week’s news that Creative Artists Agency (CAA) acquired an estimated 40% stake in PR firm Shepardson Stern & Kaminsky (SS+K) set off alarms. Some were thrilled by the presence of a glamorous new type of player - Hollywood talent shops with Hollywood stars - in the agency-acquisition game, while others rejoiced that their prattle about ’synergy’ was finally being justified by events in the real world.

Last week’s news that Creative Artists Agency (CAA) acquired an

estimated 40% stake in PR firm Shepardson Stern & Kaminsky (SS+K) set

off alarms. Some were thrilled by the presence of a glamorous new type

of player - Hollywood talent shops with Hollywood stars - in the

agency-acquisition game, while others rejoiced that their prattle about

’synergy’ was finally being justified by events in the real world.



The deal ostensibly marries SS+K’s branding and crisis communications

capabilities with what SS+K partner Lenny Stern describes as CAA’s

’cultural intelligence.’ And it certainly gives SS+K a starry sheen that

few other PR agencies can match.



Forgive us, then, if we wait for tangible results before labeling the

deal as anything other than an alliance between two disparate

entities.



CAA, which has faced its share of problems since founder Michael Ovitz

left for a post (which he has since vacated) with Disney, clearly needs

to have a PR firm on retainer. Whether CAA needs to have an agency of

SS+K’s considerable expertise in its back pocket, however, is

debatable.



As for SS+K, being able to lap at the wellspring of CAA’s stars may

prove fruitful - especially if, as rumored, clients like Ameritech and

Polo Ralph Lauren have already inquired about projects centered around

CAA talent. But until the theoretical brilliance of the CAA/SS+K union

translates into real-world performance, we’ll withhold judgment.



Speaking of unwanted celebrity, the much-maligned image of the PR

industry took another hit recently in Time magazine. In what was

otherwise a paean to the ’Second Wave’ of Silicon Valley hi-tech

entrepreneurs, the esteemed newsweekly devoted a none-too-flattering

sidebar to the PR firms that operate in the Valley’s IPO-crazed

culture.



What could have been a great opportunity to highlight the crucial role

that PR firms play in the start-up process instead turned into an

embarrassment for PR pros everywhere.



Among other inanities, Blanc & Otus co-founder Simone Otus was quoted as

saying, ’We look like we’re cool because we have (digital VCR firm)

TiVo.’ Funny - when we ask firms why they go after certain clients, they

usually talk about strategic synergies and compatible cultures. The

client’s Q rating doesn’t normally come into the picture.



But it didn’t stop there. After admitting that 28-year-old account execs

at the firm bring home dollars 70,000 a year (we could hear the HR

departments’ groans from here), Otus talked about the romances that are

often sparked between wealthy Valley entrepreneurs and hot-to-trot

female account staffers. If you didn’t know any better - and most Time

readers don’t - you would think that Valley hi-tech firms leverage their

’well-dressed and attractive’ employees to win pitches for especially

’cool’ clients.



Talk about a great leap backwards for the industry.



But should we be surprised? After all, this is the magazine that once

equated Edward Bernays with the assassin whose shots started World

War I



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