Anita Chabria hosts a panel discussion of Hollywood publicists who debate dealmaking, divas, and the oh-so-desirable corporate tie-in.Chabria: How has celebrity publicity changed in the past few years? Lawson: As far as publicity for independent films, anyone can see that a lot of the top actors are taking roles in these movies now. And a lot of the talent's attitudes have changed, and they recognize that their support is crucial. I don't even think they treat it so much as something they have to do anymore. It's that they want to. I'm getting talent who are calling and eager, and saying, "What can I do? I believe in this. I'll go to that festival, I'll do that regional tour, and I want to get the word out." Tateel: Because there are so many more media outlets, publicists are demanding more. The competition is much greater and everybody is clamoring for that exclusive. As a result, from the celebrity standpoint, it puts the publicist in much greater control because they can pick and choose, because each media entity knows that if they don't play the game the way the publicist wants, there is somebody else right in line to get that story. Bollinger: You bring up an interesting point. There has been an enormous amount written in the past few years about the power of certain personal publicists with respect to their relationship with the media, as well as their relationship with the studios. You hear a lot, for instance, about PMK or Pat Kingsley [herself]. Well, Pat Kingsley is a person who keeps her word. If she makes a deal with you, she's going to keep it - sometimes at the expense of being attacked herself by others. And I think there is a great deal of misunderstanding as to what the role is of a personal publicist who handles a "hot" star. They are faced with the problem of having to parcel out interviews because their client will do at least a movie every year and a half, if not every year, and a studio is going to want that actor to do everything for publicity. And then when the next movie comes up, which needs to be marketed as well, a lot of the same outlets may not be interested in that actor right away. So there is a lot of deal making that goes on, both between the publicist and the studio, as well as the publicist and the magazines. In the long run, all the good publicists, even the ones who are accused of being terrible people, keep their word, no matter how unhappy people may be with them. Tateel: But you're talking about handling the top-notch stars. Then there are the other talent that are not "the star." And their publicists have a whole different scenario. If you have an actor that the film is not promoting very much, aren't you going to want to get out there and get some publicity? Bollinger: The way I describe it is that the personal publicist uses all the resources at his or her disposal, and those resources may include the movie, the studio, the director, and the writer. Everything that might be important to the project that might help my client. And I'm willing to use all those assets, just as the publicist working for the studio uses all his or her resources, which may include the actor. But it's got to fit into their plan. They are not necessarily interested in the objective of the actor, but it all has to work together. If I do a story that is going to harm the release of the movie, I'm not doing my client a favor because ultimately it's going to come back at them. Pflug: The joy of these numerous outlets is that there is plenty of room for everyone. And as Henri said, it's about that negotiation. Ivers: It's an ongoing relationship. You need to create a set of expectations that leave people with something to come back to the next day. And that means that you've got to live by your word, that you can't consume everything in one campaign, that you can't alienate people that you have to come back and deal with later, that you have to learn to absorb defeat gracefully sometimes, and to accept the fact that while you might not agree with somebody else's point of view, it is certainly not unsupportable that someone else would have a different point of view. And you have to find a way to communicate that to the people you work for that makes it sound like you still care about what happens to them - that you're not being disloyal to them, but that you are being realistic. Chabria: Many Hollywood executives have a degree of celebrity in their own right these days. How does handling their publicity differ from handling talent? Pflug: When you talk about corporate communications in the entertainment industry, it's a finite group of journalists. There are hundreds that cover the business of entertainment, but there is a select group that really do it day in and day out, and really do it well. And so you really have to build relationships with them. And it's not just about the relationship with the corporate communications person, which is half of my day. It's about the relationship between the executive and that particular journalist. Celebrities are the same thing. They have journalists that they favor, so that idea carries over from both corporate to celebrity or film publicity. Ivers: They're not actors. They are not in the pubic eye all the time. In some ways, they are very much like politicians in that they present their position to the public, but all the machinations that went on to arrive at that decision are not necessarily anybody else's business, and the public is not even always necessarily interested in what they are. So a story may come out and an executive may say, "I have no idea how anybody could have inferred this from the things I said, and I never want to speak to that person again." And the hardest part is saying, "This is exactly the point where you've got to build a relationship that not only reiterates the points you are trying to make about who you are and why you're here, but continues to win that person over so that what you are saying can resonate even better next time." Chabria: Dozens of outlets create annual "power lists" that rank the Hollywood hierarchy, and they can be very important to entertainment-industry insiders. As publicists, how are you affected by these lists? Ivers: They are more of a report card for publicists than anything. It's incredibly subjective. Unbelievably subjective. It's indefensible on any level because anybody who wants to take issue with somebody's ranking has a legitimate reason to do it and can always come up with an explanation for why they think something is unfounded. And in the end, our performances get judged a lot by them. Pflug: I always say power lists are the bane of all of our existence, because they are subjective situations where most of the rankings are done by three or four individuals who sit in a room and have an opinion, and they fight it out amongst themselves and those of us doing media relations have no real control over it. Yet you've got to try to get the best light on your client. It's a very interesting challenge for any of us because we are held accountable for those rankings. Chabria: Corporate America's interest in Hollywood seems insatiable. What are companies looking for from partnerships, and what is it fair to expect celebrities to offer? Meyer: The association of celebrity is always nice. It's a way to take their advertising to the next level. The ideal situation as far as any time we do a partnership is, "Are we going to get an approved still with the person holding the product?" That's our dream, of course. But if we can't get Jennifer Lopez holding the Absolut bottle, then it's, "What still can we get, and what association can we try to create?" Still: And there are properties that lend themselves more to product tie-ins like Bond or something like Men in Black, where they Ray-Bans were so extensive in the plot. That was really rare and lucky, so the point-of-sale all over Sunglass Hut was amazing because the main characters are wearing Ray-Bans. And that of course is every partner's ideal, but the story doesn't always necessarily fit with the characters doing that. Meyer: And definitely certain celebrities are much more savvy to marketing than others. If someone is, it is so much easier to try to secure some type of imagery to publicize. But the ideal is to get the association not only with the film, but with the celebrity. Bollinger: Often you have a situation where the relationship with the actor may even be more important than the film itself. For instance, George Clooney is the hottest guy around today. Not every one of his movies is a big box-office hit, but if you have a promotional tie-in with a George Clooney movie, and you're able to connect the two, by the time the movie opens, 80% of the promotion has been executed anyway. And if there is a benefit to the association, then you've gotten it all. ----- The Participants Michael Lawson SVP, mPRm Paul Pflug Miramax EVP, media relations and corporate communications Stacey Ivers VP, strategic communications, Warner Bros. Pictures Rita Tateel President, Celebrity Source Julie Meyer VP, entertainment marketing, Ketchum Henri Bollinger President, Bollinger & Associates Lance Still SVP, promotions, New Line Cinema
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