PORNOGRAPHY, POLITICS AND PR: Porn is a dollars 10 billion industrythat has grown increasingly mainstream. But with two Supreme Court casespending and the GOP in power, it faces a fight. David Ward reports

It could be argued that this is a golden age for pornography. The

adult-entertainment industry generates dollars 10 billion in annual

revenues, has new Internet and cable TV distribution opportunities, and

enjoys increasing mainstream acceptance in the US. Nearly one in five

homes with VCRs or cable TV watch adult videos, and a staggering 21

million Americans visit an adult-content Web site at least once a

month.



But the adult entertainment industry is as nervous as it is rich these

days. George W. Bush's arrival in the White House and John Ashcroft's

appointment as attorney general marks a shift in government attitudes

toward obscenity prosecutions. Thus, the industry is braced for what

could become one of the biggest PR fights in its history.



Two major cases, Los Angeles v. Alameda Books and Free Speech Coalition

v. Ashcroft (formerly Free Speech Coalition v. Reno) will be heard by

the US Supreme Court this fall. 'We definitely will be prepared,' says

Bill Lyon, executive director of the Free Speech Coalition, an industry

group that fights censorship. 'With a Bush appointee we are more likely

to have enthusiastic local participation (to ban adult

entertainment).'



Most obscenity issues are decided by the courts, but there is a huge PR

component to the fights because the Supreme Court has mandated that

local communities determine the meaning of obscenity. So what's obscene

in Tupelo, MS, may not be obscene in New York.



This arrangement leaves it up to groups such as American Family

Association and Capitol Resource Institute to drive public opinion about

what is obscene and generate community pressure to prosecute sellers of

adult content.



Adult entertainment companies and groups such as the Free Speech

Coalition, on the other hand, focus on selling the evils of censorship.

Lyon says he receives help from PR agencies, but many are reluctant to

be linked publicly with the coalition and insist that work they do on

its behalf go unreported.



Pornography has the advantage



Karen Holgate, director of policy for the Capitol Resource Institute,

says that in many ways adult-entertainment companies have the upper hand

in these PR battles. 'They can argue that this is a free speech issue,

and doesn't that sound nice,' she says. 'To get our point of view

across, we have to explain what obscenity is, and it becomes very dark

and ugly. It's one thing for me to argue that something is obscene, but

it's another for me to describe in detail the sexual molestation of a

child or bestiality. People get shocked, and they don't want to deal

with this.'



Holgate says antipornography groups also have to battle the perception

that they only represent the religious right, when many also are

supported by liberal Democrats and women's groups. The general

reluctance of journalists to support any limitations on First Amendment

rights also is a hurdle.



Holgate often brings journalists in and gives them 15-minute

presentations on Internet pornography. 'When we do that, nine times out

of 10, we get them on our side,' she says.



But Lyon insists he also has supporters among journalists. 'The problem

is that if they don't talk to us they get a slanted view,' he says. 'We

just had a big article in the Los Angeles Times this week, and I was

just called by PBS wanting to do a whole documentary on the

industry.'



There's no doubt that the press and PR can play a major role in

obscenity debates. Antipornography groups recently scored a victory when

leading Internet portal Yahoo! abandoned plans to sell hard-core movies

online after the press condemned the move as a sign it was crossing the

boundaries of good taste in search of revenues.



One man who has no qualms about advocating pornography is Hustler

magazine founder Larry Flynt. He has long advocated free speech and

continues to speak out about it and other political issues, despite

being paralyzed during an assassination attempt.



Flynt currently runs LFP Publications, which produces a variety of

magazines, videos, DVDs and Web content. LFP tends to use its editorial

and in-house marketing staff to handle PR for its products, but Kim

Dower, president of Kim-from-LA Literary Publicists, handles Flynt's

personal PR.



Dower first began working with Flynt in 1996, when the film The People

v. Larry Flynt was in theaters and Flynt's autobiography, An Unseemly

Man, was hitting book stores.



Dower, who stresses that she represents Flynt the author and public

figure and not LFP, says demand for him has always been strong.



'In the four years we have represented him, Mr. Flynt has done a minimum

of three to five interviews per month, as well as speaking engagements

at colleges and universities,' she says. 'We issue traditional press

releases for events we want the press to attend. We also issue releases

when he has a statement regarding a politician. Our role is also to

stress his availability as a First-Amendment and free-speech advocate

and to help create opportunities for him to address political

issues.'



The age of acceptance



The public relations and legal fights that loom now follow nearly a

decade of increased public acceptance of adult entertainment - thanks in

part to some very successful PR by key players in pornography. Tower

Records, Virgin Megastores and many corner video stores now carry

X-rated DVD movies, and adult entertainers regularly make appearances on

television programs such as the Howard Stern Show. High-profile

publications such as The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, the

Los Angeles Times and Talk magazine have all run major stories focusing

on either the business, the personalities or the technology of adult

entertainment.



Most major adult entertainment companies have in-house PR professionals

who target adult trade and consumer publications and the mainstream

press.



The trade press in the adult entertainment industry is dominated by the

magazine Adult Video News and its online sister site, AVN.com. There are

also consumer-centric publications, such as Adam Film Word, and

traditional adult magazines, such as Hustler and Penthouse, that also

cover industry-related news (primarily new movie releases).



'There is a specific group of adult media that I was expected to service

on a regular basis,' explains William McLaughlin, formerly VP of media

relations for Metro Studios. 'My job was to decide what was notable and

include it in the press release. I didn't really need to generate

stories or pitch them.'



McLaughlin says the new breed of men's magazines, such as Maxim and

Gear, have thus far stayed away from featuring adult performers or

running adult entertainment stories. But he adds that younger, edgier

publications, such as Big Brother, are increasingly doing pieces on

adult-entertainment stars.



Adult-entertainment PR has had its biggest success in recent years in

cable television, especially through outlets such as the E!

Entertainment Network, HBO and the Playboy Channel. Howard Stern's show

on E! is currently the most coveted. Stern had long been legendary for

his humorous, cutting-edge radio show, which occasionally included

interviews with adult-entertainment stars. The frequency of these

interviews increased when Stern began his TV show.



Many story and segment ideas are generated by mainstream editors,

producers and reporters, resulting in programming such as the VH1 series

Porn To Rock, which profiles adult performers as they attempt to launch

music careers. TV appearances help performers reach mass audiences and

boost the brand of the company a performer represents. But Vivid

Interactive Founder David James says these appearances also help

humanize the industry, making it clear that adult performers choose to

enter the business of their own volition.



Several people in the adult-entertainment business view the mainstream

media's handling of the industry as hypocritical. They claim that

traditional magazines, TV shows and newspapers look for adult-themed

stories because sex sells, yet don't want to be seen as too approving of

the industry as a whole.



'There's a kind of a schizoid relationship because of their desire to

use sex for their own purposes,' notes Lyon. 'They can't generate

(sexual content) themselves, and at the same time they are afraid of the

religious right. So they take on this moralizing tone, which is far from

objective.'



Daniel Metcalf, Wicked Pictures director of publicity, says PR

professionals in adult entertainment are judged the same as any

publicity staff - by the quality and quantity of the coverage they

generate. He says his bosses are especially pleased when he manages to

crack a new market or create an affiliation that no other adult company

has established.



'I've been courting PETA (People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals)

for about six months,' he says. 'One of our contract performers,

Serenity, is an animal rights advocate. She just shot a pleather ad for

PETA that appears on their Web site and will be in mainstream print ads.

Quite frankly, what pleases us about that is we were there first.'



Adult entertainment has also emerged as a compelling technology story in

recent years. Vivid Interactive was among the first to build multiple

camera angles into DVD offerings, and it recently unveiled plans to

deliver adult movies and other content to Palm Pilots and cell

phones.



'We found that by pushing technology we can attract a lot of mainstream

coverage,' James says. 'An interview I did with CNN at the Consumer

Electronics Show aired more than 20 times.'



Trade shows such as Adult Entertainment Expo, Erotica LA and the

Internet-themed InterneX are often where the industry gathers to talk

shop, but they also provide PR opportunities. 'Because the shows are

fairly well attended by the press, it gives us the opportunity to keep

building the Vivid brand,' James says. 'We get a chance to meet with

crew from TV channels that, because they are based in New York or

elsewhere, we don't normally get to meet.'



While it may never evolve into a source of national pride, American

pornography is considered some of the best in the world, so most PR

practitioners also target the international press. McLaughlin says

public perception of adult entertainment varies from country to country,

but its international acceptance is reflected in its press coverage.

'When one of our stars, Houston, landed in Warsaw, Poland, she got off

the plane and there were 150 reporters to greet her,' he says. 'They had

her laying flowers at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier.'



Intelligent pornography



Perhaps the best known brand for female nudity is Playboy. While it owes

at least part of its early success to centerfolds and Playmates, Playboy

Enterprises has spent much of the last decade distancing itself from

other men's magazines. It's been a long and arduous PR process, but

Playboy now stands comfortably alone as a lifestyle magazine that

happens to have nudity, as opposed to a magazine aimed at simply

providing sex-related content to men.



'We have to be very, very careful and focused in our message,' explains

Cindy Rakowitz, VP of PR and promotions. 'We have to feel out reporters

if we don't have a relationship with them to see what their perception

of Playboy is and correct it if it's wrong.



'When I first joined the company 15 years ago,' Rakowitz remembers,

'Playboy and Penthouse were written together so many times. I would get

notes from Christie (Hefner, chairman & CEO) saying, 'Cindy this must

stop. Please explain to the reporter our positioning and why we're

different.' Now, it rarely occurs on the magazine side. We've really

proven to the press that we are a different product.'



Playboy is expanding into cable television, videos, DVDs and the

Internet, which Rakowitz says has made the company's story more complex,

but also easier to articulate. 'As we diversify to other areas, it

reinforces the perception that Playboy is a much bigger brand than a

magazine,' she says.



'The easiest way to explain it is that if a person just wants to have a

girly experience, they're going to be disappointed because Playboy has

so much else.'



Part of the company's positioning strategy has been to raise the profile

of Christie Hefner, daughter of Playboy founder Hugh Hefner. Over the

past few months she has delivered keynote addresses at Digital Hollywood

and the Jupiter Entertainment Forum, two major Internet-related

conferences.



Rakowitz says Playboy alternates between handling all of its PR in-house

and outsourcing. 'When we have busy times, and we're in a growth mode,

we use outside agencies. When times get tight, and we have to tighten

our belt, we go in-house.'



Rubenstein Associates in New York and Baker Winokur Ryder in Los Angeles

are two agencies the company has used in the past. 'The nice thing about

the magazine is that it's more than a magazine - it's a brand that is

recognized around the world,' says Jeffrey Rose, who worked with Playboy

while at Baker Winokur Ryder (he left recently to form The Rose

Group).



'And the magazine has a much wider scope than any other men's magazine

on newsstands today.'



But even with its broadband appeal, Playboy has still come under attack

from antipornography groups. 'The pressure from antiporn groups has

definitely doubled and quadrupled (since Bush was elected),' says

Lyon.



Even pornography opponents concede that no amount of PR can convince the

public to ban all pornography - the industry's range is just too wide.

And the industry's success in making pornography more mainstream could

help it fight the censorship battles to come.



'The discussion has always been about the line between legal and

illegal,' says Holgate. 'We want to make sure that communities can

continue to decide for themselves what exceeds their tolerance.'



OVERVIEW OF US PORNOGRAPHY CONSUMPTION



Annual revenue of the adult-entertainment business: dollars 10 billion

(Forrester Research)



Number of adult videos produced annually: 10,000 (Industry estimates)

Annual revenue from purchase and rental of adult videos: dollars 4

billion (Free Speech Coalition)



Percentage of all VCR/cable households that watch adult videos: 20%

(Free Speech Coalition)



Number of adult Web sites: More than 60,000 (Industry estimates)



Number of Americans who visit an adult Web site at least once a month:

21 million (Nielsen/Net and Media Metrix)



Annual revenue of adult Web sites: more than dollars 1 billion

(Forrester Research).



Have you registered with us yet?

Register now to enjoy more articles and free email bulletins

Register
Already registered?
Sign in

Would you like to post a comment?

Please Sign in or register.