ANALYSIS: Rewarding nights out for the stars - Stephanie France goes behind the scenes at the BAFTA film awards, the pre-cursor to the Oscars

It is tempting to dismiss film and TV award ceremonies as

back-slapping industry events at which C-list celebrities can hitch a

free ride along the fame alphabet.



From stars dropping their tops on the Cannes Croisette to Liz Hurley

wowing London in a Versace frock held together with safety pins, award

events have long provided the perfect backdrop for pre-planned publicity

stunts.



'Everyone wants to be at award ceremonies,' says Mark Borkowski,

director of Borkowski PR, which represents the likes of Mark Lamarr and

Sir Cliff Richard. 'The BAFTA film awards are one of the premier events

in the calendar.'



This year's event was considered one of the most successful to date.



It attracted a bevy of Hollywood heavyweights including Goldie Hawn, Tom

Hanks and Russell Crowe - an indication of the esteem in which the event

is now held.



Part of the success of The Orange British Academy Film Awards - to give

the event its correct name - was due to its staging before the Oscars,

providing an early warning of how the voting for the Oscars may go.



'For the first time, the event was not just an afterthought following

the Oscars,' says Patrick Keegan, Freud Communications director of

entertainment.



Freud Communications was in charge of organising the PR campaign on

behalf of BAFTA and managing the media logistics on the night. In terms

of PR, Keegan says the awards celebrate the British film industry at

home and abroad, are a showcase for individual distributors and a chance

to highlight the work of BAFTA as an organisation. Other main

beneficiaries include the sponsor, the nominees and the

distributors.



A nomination and certainly an award will raise the profile of its

recipient.



Whereas someone like Tom Hanks needs little publicity it is the

lesser-known actors and directors that can exploit the kudos that film

awards offer. Billy Elliot's director will undoubtedly be receiving

offers from Hollywood in the near future, if he hasn't already, and Ang

Lee's Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon gained reams of publicity, with

media commentators correctly predicting a swathe of awards on its

release.



MacLaurin Communications works on the PR campaign for the TV awards.



Account director Sarah Ewing says: 'Nominees are very cagey. They don't

want to publicise their nomination because it sounds too

egotistical.'



Faced with a raft of reluctant nominees, Ewing looks elsewhere to whip

up pre-event publicity. The announcement of the host generates good

publicity, as do interviews with recently-appointed BAFTA chief

executive Amanda Berry, whom many credit with breathing new life into

the organisation.



Other pre-event news hooks include leaking the names of BAFTA fellowship

awardees in advance and 'piggy-backing' on editorial coverage in

magazines.



Ewing and her team ask agents and publicists for the media schedules of

the nominees and then try to persuade journalists to promote the awards

in their features.



As for the hundreds of minor celebrities wishing to do some

piggy-backing of their own, Ewing says: 'The people we really want to

invite don't usually ring up for an invite.'



For those lucky enough to get an invite to an award ceremony, such as

the BAFTAs and the Evening Standard Awards, Borkowski has advice. He

warns celebrities to avoid drinking on the night, to plan their strategy

in advance and to be careful whom they are photographed next to.



'There's nothing new when it comes to awards,' he says. 'The camera

likes a showman, but celebrities should never seem desperate for

publicity.'



Events like the BAFTAs present excellent PR opportunities for film

distributors such as Buena Vista, Warner Brothers and UIP.



Sara Keene is joint managing director of film publicity agency Corbett &

Keene. She recently worked on a PR campaign for UIP, aimed at BAFTA

members. Keene was responsible for promoting films including Billy

Elliot, Gladiator, Cast Away and The Grinch.



During the awards ceremony, Keene worked with the nominees, ensuring

they were safely checked into hotels and knew where to sit at the

ceremony. She also set up publicity opportunities for the stars while

they were in town.



Like many other charities, BAFTA works with sponsors for its events.



This year, Orange sponsored the BAFTA film awards for the fourth time,

offering two special awards, the Orange Prize for Screenwriting and The

Orange Audience Award.



Julian Henry, managing director of Henry's House, which represents

Orange, says the BAFTA sponsorship focuses attention on the business as

a brand.



'BAFTA is a fantastic property,' says Henry. 'Orange has built a

credible reputation for sponsorship in the arts.'



Borkowski, however, believes they are in danger of being reduced to

little more than 'logo sticking events'. 'It is important to maintain

the prestige of event such as the BAFTAs,' he says. 'Sponsorship has a

way of devaluing them.'



It is difficult, however, to imagine how an event on the scale of BAFTAs

could be carried off without some form of corporate sponsorship. And

while media coverage of this and other events may focus on the lighter

side, most would agree that as a celebration of the British film and TV

industries, the BAFTAs are unrivalled.



BAFTAS HOT IN THE CITY



Four years ago, BAFTA separated its film and TV awards into two

ceremonies.



This year, The Orange British Academy Film Awards took place on 25

February at the Odeon in London's Leicester Square.



Freud Communications director of entertainment Patrick Keegan headed a

team responsible for managing the 300 journalists who attended the

event.



A Mexican restaurant above the Odeon was transformed into a press room

for the night. From their position on the balcony, journalists had a

bird's eye view of the stars as they walked up the red carpet.



The Mezzanine theatre, which is part of the Odeon complex, was converted

into a press centre. Coverage of the ceremony, which was broadcast by

Sky, was piped to the press centre for broadcast and press

journalists.



After the event, an awards dinner and party was held at Grosvenor

House.



Keegan explains that he liased with the council representatives and the

police to ensure all the guests were safely transported from the Odeon

to Grosvenor House and coaches were allowed into Leicester Square for

the first time.



There were no major glitches at either the award ceremony or

after-dinner event, although a few guests were late and some technical

hitches required the team to think on its feet.



After awards night, Keegan was responsible for keeping up the coverage

of the awards. A news hook was needed once the names of the winners had

been published.



'In past years, second day stories have come out of the after-show

party,' explains Keegan. 'For example, there have been hunts for BAFTA

awards after winners have misplaced them. One year Dustin Hoffman

thanked his taxi driver during his acceptance speech. A search was

launched by a national newspaper to find the driver.'



This year's second-day coverage featured the praise given to Jamie Bell,

who won an award for the Best Performance of an Actor in a Leading Role

(Billy Elliot).



MacLaurin Communications account director Sarah Ewing is responsible the

PR campaign for the BAFTA TV awards, which will take place in May and

will be sponsored by The Radio Times.



She began alerting the media industry of the event in January and will

soon announce the nominees. In the six-week run-up to the awards, Ewing

will try to build up as much pre-publicity as possible with little help

from the publicity-shy nominees.



OSCARS INVITATION ONLY



Getting an invite to the Oscars is a privilege many liken to being asked

by God to dine at the high table. Not even world famous pop stars and

acclaimed Hollywood actors are guaranteed a pew at this the most

glamorous of award ceremonies.



The 73rd Annual Academy Awards will be presented on 25 March by the

Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. Behind the scenes, a select

few run the event like a well oiled machine, policing every last detail

and holding the media firmly in check.



Among these influential players are a handful of PR agencies, including

LA-based entertainment specialist Bumble Ward & Associates, and Chasen &

Company.



In terms of PR, the kudos of being photographed at the Oscars is immense

for British celebrities. But from this side of the water, it can seem as

if the Americans have the Oscars sewn up.



Invites are rarer than gold tickets to chocolate factories and no amount

of native clout will open doors for British stars, their agents or their

publicists.



'You may get an invitation if you're Gwyneth Paltrow, but there's no

hope if you're a B-list celebrity on Emmerdale,' says Mark Borkowski,

director of his eponymous PR agency.



Borkowski says the only hope for UK-based publicists is to forge a close

relationship with either the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences

or an influential US PR agency. The only snag is that there are

countless LA-based publicists ahead of them.



This is not to say the Brits aren't well represented at the Oscars this

year. Judi Dench and Julie Walters have both been nominated for Best

Supporting Actress, Albert Finney is up for Best Supporting Actor, while

Ridley Scott has been nominated for the Best Director award.



But for those British celebrities who haven't been nominated, securing a

golden invite is only the first hurdle. Although the Academy Awards

stages a post-awards party, the Governors' Ball is not necessarily the

best place to be seen. In past years, top celebrity bashes have included

the Miramax supper and the Fox-Paramount Titanic party. Where this

year's 'in place' will be is anyone's guess.



So even if they are lucky enough to get an invite to the Oscars, British

stars quickly discover they are a small fish swimming in a big pond.



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