News Analysis: It's the content, stupid

In an extract from a new journal published by Editorial Intelligence, Dylan Jones, the editor of men's magazine GQ, reveals just how much today's media rely on PR input.

Just a few weeks before he died, the playwright Arthur Miller gave an interview with the New York Times, in which he said that the only two thriving arts were advertising and publicity. And I think that in many ways he was right. But while Miller meant it disparagingly, I think it's simply a symptom of the age.

However, newspapers are forever getting in a tizz over their inability to circumnavigate the PR industry, particularly the celebrity cabal in Hollywood. These days, the Hollywood publicist is seen as the Antichrist of the entertainment industry who controls the world's media like some sort of malevolent puppetmaster. These publicists – be they man, woman or (this is LA, after all) a combination of both – are portrayed as rude, abusive control-freaks.

But so what? Which highfalutin, navel-truffling media course have you been on? This is showbiz we're dealing with here, and it's always been like this. Yes, the agents, the publicists and the managers have more power, but only because the entertainment industry itself is more pervasive than ever. Soon the entertainment business will be the biggest on the planet.

The Pat Kingsleys of this world (she is part of Hollywood agency PMK/HBH) are doing exactly the same sort of deals that Colonel Parker once did with Elvis (only not illegally), and that Brian Epstein did with the Beatles (only a little more efficiently). Look at the history of Hollywood and you'll see that publicists and agents have always tried to control what goes on in the press. Like, er, duh.

We need each other
Frankly, I don't see what all the fuss is about. Never have. All editors have had experiences of nightmare Hollywood publicists, but this has been the case as long as I've been in the business. Yes, there are now more media and publicists have a lot more vehicles for their clients; yes, there are now more electronic media, which are easier for the publicists to control; yes, image rights are now more stringently applied; and, because there are a finite number of stars who we all want, the publicists can play magazines off each other (and believe me, they do). But all this does is force us to work much, much harder. Which we do.

I think, as a journalist, that we have to look at ourselves before we start to criticise celebrities. Years ago, when I worked on a Sunday paper, I remember the news team being aghast that I'd managed to secure an interview with someone on the basis we puff his new novel.

Nowadays, every paper has a celebrity and lifestyle element, nearly every daily has some sort of supplement, while every Saturday and Sunday newspaper has a magazine; and all of these magazines and supplements need content. And the nature of that content? Service and entertainment. All this extra output hasn't happened by chance: newspapers don't launch supplements because they have nothing better to do. Emap did not launch Heat on a whim, nor did Condé Nast bring out Glamour on such a premise.

These products are launched because they are potentially good businesses. Newspapers print extra magazines and supplements because they are expected to. They generate revenue and readers take them for granted. You wouldn't buy a TV that allowed you to access only two channels, so why should you buy a newspaper predicated on the same idea? Magazines and newspapers are driven by the need to change and a thirst for content, and these days celebrities are that content. We're using them as much as they're using us.

So come on, guys: big smile, short memory. The relationship between the worlds of celebrities and glossy magazines really isn't rocket science. And like in any other industry, these relationships only really blossom if they are personal relationships that have been built up over weeks, months or years.

Whenever anyone asks me for some practical advice regarding publicity, I always say the press release should
become a thing of the past. Because it is redundant. So please stop sending them to me. If I get a press release, I
assume that several hundred other people have got it too, so why should I bother taking any notice?

And with email press releases, the situation is even worse, because they are not distributed just to dozens or hundreds of contacts, they are sent to thousands. If someone can't be bothered to send me something  personally, then I don't see why I should be bothered taking any notice of it. Call me, write me a letter, send me an email, but personalise it. Otherwise, don't bother.

Personal relationships best
While I'm sure press releases are great for regional newspapers or, occasionally, for NIBs in the nationals, they're of no use to anyone working on a glossy monthly, no matter how far down the food chain they are. And while GQ is – proudly – full of PR-generated material, this usually stems from personal relationships. Not press releases.

There is absolutely nothing better than a personal relationship. Never has been, never will be. Not only does this suggest some sort of exclusivity, but let's face it – it's always more difficult to say no to people you know and like. Even if they do live in Hollywood.

www.editorialintelligence.com

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