Every PR practitioner encounters difficult, demanding clients. But
what if your clients are - literally - divas? What if a wrong move by a
client, who conveniently forgets (or willfully defies) your counsel,
could garner negative coverage read and seen around the world?
Just ask Howard Rubenstein. Client Denise Rich recently rejected his
advice to keep a low profile and granted an interview with Vanity Fair
writer Maureen Orth because she and Orth share the same astrological
Sure enough, the piece is a scathing report on Rich and her ex-husband's
pardon, which sent Rubenstein scurrying to line up damage-control
interviews with Larry King and Barbara Walters.
There are fewer blue-prints of success in celebrity PR than in the
corporate or consumer-product worlds. Each client is an individual with
a different career to preserve and image to project. "No two people ever
have the same publicity campaign, and we are the gatekeepers for
everything from interview requests to invitations to Bar Mitzvahs," says
Marleah Leslie, whose firm Marleah Leslie & Associates handles such
stars as Jim Carrey, Ricky Martin and Tim Allen. "There are no rigid
rules like there are for launching a new product or brand. Each of my
clients has their own quirks and style, and what worked for one might be
completely wrong for another."
Jeff Smith, a former AE for Lee Solters Publicity who spent years in TV
and movie publicity before becoming a GM in Magnet Communications' LA
office, believes celebrity clients require more compassion.
"You have to remind yourself that these are real human beings, not just
a product you are trying to sell," Smith says. "For example, you may
want to splash your client's face all over everything. But maybe that
much publicity would be bad for their future or would be outside their
He adds, "It's difficult to craft a long-term strategy because their
careers bounce around so much. Sometimes you'll pitch a magazine with a
four-month lead time when the client's movie is done and in production,
but then the film release date gets pushed out. Or maybe they get edited
out altogether. Or maybe she gets married or has a baby and suddenly
everyone wants her."
Publicists walk a fine line between maintaining relationships with movie
studios and the celebrities employed by those studios. The two are
"often at cross-purposes," says Joe Libonati, an associate with ID PR, a
boutique firm that handles Brendan Fraser and Milla Jovovich, among
others. "The studio might want your client on the cover of FHM, but the
client doesn't want to be photographed topless. It comes down to
image-branding, and celebrities need to be careful."
One of the most important factors in successfully managing celebrity
clientele is not being intimidated by fame. Starstruck publicists don't
earn respect and trust from clients and aren't likely to last long in
"You have to be able to work with celebrities on a very professional
level," explains Mary Semling, SVP of the Entertainment Marketing,
Celebrities & Athletes division of Edelman PR Worldwide. "You have to
just turn off the side that wants to say, 'Wow, it's Bradley Whitford
(of The West Wing) sitting across from me,' and remember the important
things like, 'Does Bradley know his message points?'"
It's necessary to maintain a sense of separation between you and your
clients and to rarely cross the line into inappropriate familiarity. For
example, Dan Klores, whose New York-based firm has handled such
celebrities as Sean "Puffy" Combs, says publicists should never try to
imitate a client's style or dress. "Most celebrities don't want to see
their publicist as a reflection of themselves. They want a publicist
who's buttoned up, not in a halter top and low-rise jeans."
Publicists make a name for themselves in the business by not dropping
names - and by remembering who is paying their bills.
"You're the counselor, not the star," says Klores. "Many publicists
start to mistake this and can begin to get a little full of
It is also important to set and maintain strong lines between what is
reasonable and what is beyond the call of duty. "There are clients who
demand lots and lots of your personal time, and people do get abused
sometimes," says Smith. "But the responsibility falls on publicists to
set boundaries and enforce them."
Persuading a celebrity to take media advice often means persuading - or
compromising with - other members of their management team. Stylists,
managers, personal assistants, friends and relatives all may have vested
interests in the celebrity's image. "Juggling everyone's different needs
requires lots of diplomacy, tenacity and tact," says Simon Halls of
PMK-HBH, the new firm created by the recent merger of Huvane-Baum-Halls
and PMK, which manages publicity for actors such as Gwyneth Paltrow, Tom
Cruise and Jude Law.
Successful publicists emphasize the long-term rather than dwelling on
the immediate. "Make sure clients remember that everything they do in
the media has long-term repercussions for their careers, and that it's
not just about promoting this one album or that one movie," says
Or as Rogers & Cowan associate Stan Rosenfield, whose clients include
Will Smith and George Clooney, puts it, "It's like playing a good game
of pool. It's not enough to sink the shot, you also have to leave
yourself set up for the next shot."
1. Do maintain a business-like appearance and resist the temptation to
imitate the style and dress of your client
2. Do learn to negotiate and compromise with other members of a
celebrity's management team
3. Do communicate the long-term implications of various media interviews
1. Don't let the fame factor intimidate you. The bottom line is that
these are clients who have hired you for your professional advice
2. Don't let celebrities abuse you. Set boundaries from the beginning of
3. Don't drop names or act overly self-important because of your
association with the celebrity.