Celebrities follow collapsing banks

London's Evening Standard newspaper reported, apparently without irony, last week that 'star guests at a Berkeley Square Ball included David Beckham's alleged former lover Rebecca Loos, Sir John Major's former daughter-in-law Emma Noble, and Pippa Middleton, sister of Kate, the girlfriend of Prince William'.

Ian Monk
Ian Monk

Its full-page coverage of the event was topped off with a huge picture of an anonymous drunken guest being bundled comatose into a police van.

As an illustration of the bankruptcy of a culture it was as graphic as anything produced by the global financial collapse. Just as surely as the banks have crashed and burned, so too it seems has celebrity culture, whose grip on much of the UK has been simultaneous with the decade of financial excesses.

Suddenly in one photo the collapse of a culture that has dominated so much recent media and PR thinking seemed as exposed as that of a stricken bank.

The truth is that shares in the celebrity culture have been falling for some time. The plethora of magazines that launched and prospered off the back of it have seen circulations tumble. Heat, which so brilliantly exemplified the trend, has seen spectacular falls in sales.

This year's Big Brother was almost a non-event with little heard of the contestants. With the exception of the blockbusters such as X-Factor and Strictly Come Dancing (both of which depend on a measure of real talent), reality TV audiences are fragmenting.

It is hard to imagine any other motormouth attracting, as did Ms Goody, the PM's attention due to a questionable race row promoted by a channel with unerring instincts for publicity. PROs and their clients must now contemplate the likelihood that economic realities will dictate widespread cutbacks on investment in such celebrities. Howard from the Halifax certainly will not be alone on the scrapheap.

'Sell celebrity, buy talent' should be the motto for smart PR professionals and their clients as we all face the challenges of the new age.

- Ian Monk is founder of Ian Monk Associates and a former executive at the Daily Mail and The Sun.

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