WMA stung by 'New Yorker' president profile

LOS ANGELES: A New Yorker profile of the president of the William Morris Agency (WMA), one of Hollywood's top talent agencies, was meant to help reposition the company as younger and hipper, but has cost it three celebrity clients and sparked a med

LOS ANGELES: A New Yorker profile of the president of the William Morris Agency (WMA), one of Hollywood's top talent agencies, was meant to help reposition the company as younger and hipper, but has cost it three celebrity clients and sparked a med

After the 11,000-word profile of David Wirtschafter hit newsstands last week, Sarah Michelle Gellar and Halle Berry left WMA, citing comments in the article.

Entertainment pundits are criticizing the agency for granting unfettered access to the writer, who shadowed Wirtschafter for two weeks. Insiders say WMA agreed to it as part of a long-term strategy to change its image from an old-fashioned agency to a young, feisty company.

The idea for the profile of an agent has been floating around Hollywood for nearly two years, entertainment publicists say, with virtually every big agency putting forth a candidate. When WMA was chosen, it was seen as a PR coup.

Some PR experts say the profile was a reasonable "calculated risk" meant to highlight Wirtschafter's cutting-edge style, a point seconded by Chris Petrikin, WMA's SVP of corporate communications.

"Dave is unique, innovative, and honest." he added. "That came through in the New Yorker story. Dave never intended to hurt anyone, and he has apologized for any comments he made, even those taken out of context, that offended anyone."

But some PR pros point out that the New Yorker does not exclusively cover Hollywood and lacks the insider knowledge to know how nuances will be perceived. It also does not need to worry about gaining celebrity access for future stories.

Still, many said WMA has handled the crisis well and quickly, addressing the situation with a one-sentence statement to the Los Angeles Times and an internal e-mail that found its way to media outlets.

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