Billy Crystal describes it as "the second hardest job in the world
next to being the PR guy for Gary Condit." The comedian (Crystal, not
Condit) was referring to the task of being a Hollywood publicist - a
role he plays in his new film America's Sweethearts. The film takes dead
aim at the foibles of catering to the never-ending demands of a
Hollywood diva and the inherent insanities of movie publicity and
junkets. Having once done 78 junket interviews in a single sitting,
Crystal jokes about "making up stuff" after about the 60th interview or
so. That's when they get fun.
Junkets are a fact of life in Hollywood, which has in turn used them as
fodder in movies such as Notting Hill and America's Sweethearts.
And why not? Junkets are an easy target, and offer plenty of comedic
ammo. But the funniest thing about this current send-up of the Hollywood
publicity machinery is that the studio releasing the film, Sony, has
been in so much hot water lately for its own disreputable marketing
tactics. Remember the phony reviewer fiasco (mentioned everywhere,
including in this column) earlier this summer?
And the use of employees in "man-on-the-street" testimonial ads? That
During an interview with Katie Couric on Today, Billy Crystal also said
America's Sweethearts gives everyone (meaning Tinseltown types) "a slap
on the back of the head." So, in a sense, Sony is slapping itself on the
back of its head - an act of repentance it willingly administered in
exchange for the film's $31 million opening weekend.
It seems there has been an all-out flack attack in recent months. Even
Peter Bart, the noted publisher of Daily Variety, took a shot at the
recent consolidation of Hollywood praiseries. PMK, Rogers & Cowan,
Huvane Baum Halls and others have been purchased by a division of
McCann-Erickson and merged into an oligopoly with a very unimaginative
Owners of those respective agencies, such as Pat Kingsley and Robin
Baum, now oversee PR fiefdoms, concerning themselves with such dry
business things as synergistic leveraging, budget projections, and
operational logistics outside the strict realm of entertainment.
But despite the growing prominence and importance of these mega
entertainment PR agencies, the publicists who run them often find
themselves in a similar predicament to Crystal - reduced to an
embarrassing involvement in the personal lives of clients for the
purpose of damage control. Yes, these newly-crowned publicity moguls now
make huge corporate-oriented decisions effecting the financial
bottom-line of billion dollar conglomerates, but their bread is still
buttered by responding to questions about Tom Cruise's sex life or the
coloring of Gwyneth Paltrow's hair. Or, as in America's Sweethearts,
trying to save the marriage of two A-list Hollywood celebs. At least
until after the film opens.