’Today’s gossip is tomorrow’s gospel,’ as the saying goes - and if you’re looking to tap into the media food chain, there’s no better place to start than the gossip columns.
’Today’s gossip is tomorrow’s gospel,’ as the saying goes - and if
you’re looking to tap into the media food chain, there’s no better place
to start than the gossip columns.
Gossip columnists assume almost legendary positions on their respective
publications. Writers such as Walter Winchell were feared and revered
because of the power they held over celebrities.
PR practitioners certainly know who the most influential writers are
these days. High on the list are: syndicated writer Liz Smith, Richard
Johnson’s Page Six, Army Archerd at Variety, Rush & Molloy and Mitchell
Fink at the New York Daily News, Irene Lacher at the LA Times, Jeannie
Williams at USA Today and Laura Rich at The Industry Standard.
Meanwhile, on the Internet there is no bigger gossip than Matt
And on cable TV, MSNBC’s Jeanette Walls is a popular call for PR
Marc Malkin, on the Rush & Malloy column at the Daily News, says
celebrities will always be at heart of what gossip columns are all
about. ’We want celebrities, but celebrities now are different from what
they used to be.
It’s authors, politicians and Hollywood. And when any of them are
combined, that’s even better.’
Using the gossip columns is an art form, so it helps if you can get to
meet some of the columnists as they make their way around the bars and
restaurants of your city.
But what are they going to do for you? As one Hollywood-based publicist
puts it: ’They make the information seem more sexy. They add
Another reason for using a gossip columnist is to get information that
isn’t quite ready to become a rounded story into the public domain.
Henri Bollinger, president of the Entertainment Publicists Professional
Society based in Los Angeles, says: ’They are helpful if you have a
story that isn’t fully fleshed out or there is a topic or angle that you
couldn’t approach the newsdesk with.’
Gossip columns constitute some of the most popular parts of their
respective publications. ’I don’t think there are very many people in
the entertainment business who don’t read Army Archerd (Variety) every
day,’ says Bollinger.
Andy Morris, vice president with New York agency Dan Klores confirms:
’The gossip columns are one of the first things I look at in the paper.
They can be very strategic.’
If you are looking to gain interest from the rest of the media
community, then a well placed mention in a column can move you up the
food chain, according to a number of PR pros. If an upcoming event
appears in the gossip columns, then it can often promote interest among
media and help to mobilize TV crews.
The two best pieces of advice about pitching columnists are also the
most obvious: be familiar with what they’re writing about; and ’master
the 10-second pitch’ says Bollinger.
Columnists, who often work with a large team, take hundreds of calls on
prospective stories a day. They know in an instant whether an item is
going to make the grade. For instance, sports events are not going to
make the paper unless you happen to have spotted a certain celebrity in
Malkin, from the Daily News reminds PR pros they are there to create
buzz: ’Some people call and say, ’If you’re having a slow day, I have an
item.’ There is nothing more guaranteed to kill interest in your
Go for exclusivity, creativity
It is also worth keeping in mind that the columnists are driven by
Try and choose where your story sits best. What are the politics of the
paper, reputation of the web gossip or TV reporter?
It is also worth noting that although the rivalry among columnists is
fierce, they reportedly swap items thatmay offend some of their sources,
or even worse, their proprietors.
While the nature of gossip is that it isn’t verifiable, check out rumors
as far as possible before feeding them to columnists. The staff sre
going to remember if they spent time tracking down items that were
highly embellished or proved to be false.
Andy Morris at Dan Klores suggests being creative with your clients even
if they are not obvious candidates for the columns. Morris managed the
task of getting his healthcare client a positive mention in the New York
Post’s racy column, Page Six. Morris provided the column with a
photograph of a doctor he was representing. The doctor was being
considered for a People magazine spread on ’Beautiful People.’ The Post
staff picked up the picture and ran a story dubbing him ’Dr Love.’
Understanding how to keep your clients out of the columns can be just as
important as getting them in. But once the desk has a hold of something
juicy, they are not likely to let it go easily. Bollinger recommends
that one way of protecting your client from hot news is to make sure you
have something even hotter on someone else to trade with.
DOS AND DON’TS
1. Give the columns the stuff on the big stars so you have a better
chance of getting coverage of your not so famous client.
2. If you want to keep someone’s name out of the paper, have something
better to swap.
3. Use the columns as a way of boosting interest from other media.
4. Use the columns when you are prevented from detailing all the kind of
facts a news desk would require.
5. Think of different angles for different columnists if you want two
bites at the cherry.
1. Don’t be tempted to embellish or elaborate to sell the story. Always
2. Don’t deny stories that are true - gossip columnists have a wealth of
3. Don’t make your pitch too long winded - columnists’ phones ring off
4. Never double plant material - gossip columnists live and die by their
5. Don’t presume the columnists are only interested in celebrities.