For a diehard hack like myself, Daily Variety’s revelation on Sept. 7 that Viacom would merge with CBS was highly satisfying. A world exclusive for the paper, it proceeded to earn wall-to-wall coverage in every other outlet across the globe.
For a diehard hack like myself, Daily Variety’s revelation on Sept.
7 that Viacom would merge with CBS was highly satisfying. A world
exclusive for the paper, it proceeded to earn wall-to-wall coverage in
every other outlet across the globe.
It reminded me, unfortunately, how impossible it is for newspapers to
get such scoops in today’s Hollywood, where PR execs painstakingly
control the flow of information to the media like a drip-feed. Oh, for
the days when we were free and strong, and broke a story of this
magnitude every week.
Nostalgia is a strong force in Hollywood. They don’t make ’em like they
used to, say the old-timers. Of course, they’re not just talking about
films; they also mean publicists.
A subject of continuous debate is whether the veteran talent handlers of
yesteryear were more effective than today’s MBA-toting,
cellphone-touting PR pros, who are more likely to present their clients
with set of market data than escort them to a photo shoot.
This shift in the nature of publicity over the last 30 years mirrors the
transformation of Hollywood itself - from a ragbag collection of
family-owned businesses to a group of dynamic media conglomerates worth
many billions of dollars. There are benefits and disadvantages to both
The old-school publicists were an integral part of their companies’
operations, dealing directly with CEOs. They knew exactly what was going
on and routinely confirmed it to the press when asked. There was no
stock price to worry about back then. Publicists developed excellent
relationships with the talent, and acted as quasi-confessors to many of
But the new generation couldn’t be more different. Bearing college
degrees in communications or market research (and frequently some
journalism experience), they have more respect for statistics than
hunches. They see themselves as the people who set the agenda for the
media, yet unlike their forebears, they are tiny cogs in a giant
And while what they say or don’t say to the press matters a great deal,
they have little influence over their bosses. Only execs such as
DreamWorks’ Marvin Levy, who has handled Steven Spielberg for years, are
an exception to this rule.
To put it simply, the majority of today’s corporate PR pros have no idea
what’s going on. They are the mouthpieces of enormous media
conglomerates, where decision-making takes place a long way from the
So while today’s publicists are hi-tech, professional, well-qualified
and accomplished, they are still inferior to older ones in one key