REGIONAL FOCUS LOS ANGELES: From strike it rich to strike -Hollywood anticipates a strike, and the promise of entertainment techloses luster. Aimee Grove reports

Los Angeles - land of palm trees, convertibles and celebrities -

has long been a beacon for those seeking fame and fortune. Consequently,

it has captured the attention of some of PR's major players.



Hoping to harness Hollywood star power for corporate clients and get in

on the new-media/online entertainment market, agency conglomerates have

rushed to snap up established, showbiz publicity powerhouses such as Pat

Kingsley's PMK, which became part of the McCann-Erickson network in

1999, and Bragman Nyman Cafarelli, acquired by the newly combined Weber

Shandwick Worldwide in January.



Unfortunately, even the City of Angels is not immune to bigger economic

realities - nor to the whims of the industry, to which its fortunes are

tethered. Today's LA PR market is in flux as never before and two

factors that could determine the fate of its economy hover on the

horizon: impending strikes by screenwriters and actors, and the

uncertain future of the entertainment tech sector.



Labor disputes likely



Few, if any, issues could more negatively impact LA's PR scene and the

metropolitan area's overall economy more than the ongoing labor dispute

between producers, screenwriters and actors. If agreements are not

reached between producers and both the Screenwriters Guild and the

Screen Actors Guild (SAG) before contracts expire on May 1 and July 1

respectively, the vast majority of Hollywood TV and film production will

shut down.



For most Americans, the biggest hardship endured as a result of such a

strike might be the lack of new Friends episodes, but the repercussions

for LA could be devastating. The Los Angeles County Economic Development

Corporation claims such a walkout would cost the region up to dollars

500 million per week, factoring in the trickle-down effect on service

businesses such as restaurants, limousines and law firms.



For those directly tied to the entertainment industry, the tremors will

be felt immediately. Already big-name talent agencies, such as ICM, are

warning of plans to slash costs. Entertainment PR firms heavily weighted

by TV clients (such as Bragman Nyman Cafarelli, which handles Ally

McBeal star Lucy Liu and TV show Just Shoot Me, and Ogilvy subsidiary

Baker Winokur Ryder, which represents TV shows Dark Angel and

Providence) will feel the most immediate impact.



'There's a very predictable nine-month arc to the publicity for a new TV

series,' says Magnet Communications general manager Jeff Smith, 'and

people in this line of work, including the reporters and reviewers, are

tied to this time frame.' Smith went on to explain that the strike would

throw off the publicity cycle for fall's new lineup because there would

not be enough episodes recorded in time to support critics'

appetites.



Networks hope to mollify the viewing public with reruns, live sports

coverage and reality programming.



But an actors' strike is likely to impinge on efforts to promote even

this B-side programming because SAG is expected to ask actors to refrain

from doing publicity junkets, interviews or TV appearances - something

that would also adversely affect movies opening after July 1.



'If a movie is opening in October, we will not encourage clients to do

press junkets in June,' says one publicist for an agency representing

most of the industry's A-list stars. 'However, we will do everything we

can to keep clients on retainer.'



Most of the firms have already made moves to diversify client rosters

and acquire more strike-resistant accounts. BWR's Larry Winokur says his

agency may be best-known for representing actors such as Brad Pitt and

Benicio Del Toro, but it also has a thriving hospitality practice

working with clients such as Club Med and Sun International, as well as

name-brand consumer clients Champagne MUMM and Perrier.



'We are moving increasingly away from motion pictures and more towards

video, music and other types of industries, like publishing,' Winokur

says.



BNC president Michael Nyman claims his firm's client base is equally

diverse. 'We are not too heavily skewed on the celebrity side, and we

have lots of other consumer and corporate business that should cushion

us in the vulnerable areas. So we think we should be okay' he foretells,

citing new projects for Diet Coke, Sports Illustrated and BBC

America.



Rogers & Cowan, which represents Faith Hill and Jennifer Lopez, is

looking to its extensive music division for strike insurance. 'Even if

the strike lasts longer than six months and we run out of product to

promote, our music side won't be impacted,' says managing director Tom

Tardio. 'And we can always bring out our celebrities for promotions and

special events.'



Ketchum/LA managing director Sean Fitzgerald adds: 'Even though there

would be fewer shows and films in which to place products, a strike

would free up celebrities to do other types of promotions and

events.'



All agencies, whether they represent celebrities or not, will face the

challenge of securing space in the business pages, where labor issues

are sure to dominate headlines should the strikes occur. 'It will be

difficult to divert media attention away from strike coverage,' warns

Gail Becker, GM for Edelman's LA operations.



For now, most industry executives are playing wait-and-see. 'We will

continue to ramp up on entertainment business with the hope that a

strike will be averted or short-lived,' says Winokur. 'Right now there

seems to be the desire to reach a peaceful resolution, so we are

cautiously optimistic.'



Death of digital entertainment



Just a few years ago, online entertainment was one of the hottest

sectors in the so-called New Economy, luring Hollywood heavyweights like

Spielberg and Walt Disney to sink millions into content-driven Web

properties that promised to deliver everything from movies and music to

cartoon series. Fleishman-Hillard, Edelman and a crop of LA-based

independents, such as Bender Helper Impact and mPRm, grew fat on

well-funded start-ups like Pop.com, Kibu and Digital Entertainment

Net-work. And other Internet boutiques from Silicon Valley and New York

- Connors Communications and Hype-Lab are two examples - opened LA

offices to score a piece of the action.



Like most other companies in the consumer Internet space, the so-called

new-media companies fell victim to last April's market collapse and

subsequent funding loss. Most LA agencies took some kind of a hit as a

result, and what was once thought of as the city's next fertile frontier

for PR is now largely an arid plain.



'Even though we got great results for our new-media clients, most

consumers didn't have broadband Internet access, and the content was

just not quite there yet,' admits Lolita Basu, whose 15-person firm,

Urge PR, handled companies such as Icebox.



Basu and others once heavily en-sconced in consumer-oriented Web

entertainment have shifted their attentions to broadband infrastructure,

digital technology (personal recording devices like TiVo), wireless and

the still-thriving online gaming sector.



'Internet is just one part of convergence,' notes Steve Honig, SVP for

Bender Helper's corporate digital entertainment group. 'For example, one

of our new clients, Discreet, makes video editing software used in

movies such as The Perfect Storm.'



Alexander Ogilvy's Michael Garfinkel, who heads up the firm's LA office,

agrees with Honig. 'We are not abandoning the convergence space; in

fact, we still consider it a hot growth area,' he says. 'We just added

two new clients, iBlast and eyeMatic. But the old content companies like

DEN and Pseudo.com aren't the same. They were just entertainment plays

that happened to be on the Web.'



Put on a happy face



Not everyone has given up on the content sites, however. For example,

Edelman/LA still handles a handful of such companies. 'We saw a bunch of

positive media coverage for the entertainment technology space when it

was new, but when the companies didn't really pan out, a negative news

cycle began,' says Becker. 'Our clients are waiting it out and going for

more strategic PR.'



No matter what LA's immediate future holds, most PR executives there

continue to maintain a characteristically sunny attitude. As BNC's

Michael Nyman puts it, 'The next three months are going to be an

interesting time, between the economy and the possibility of a strike.

But, with uncertainty comes opportunity.'



LA'S TOP ENTERTAINMENT PR FIRMS



Rogers & Cowan



Owned by: Weber Shandwick Worldwide



Clients: Microsoft, Nabisco and Kraft, and celebrities Robert Downey

Jr., Mel Gibson, Faith Hill, Jennifer Lopez and Denzel Washington



PMK



Owned by: McCann-Erickson



Clients: Primarily celebrities, including Tom Cruise, Johnny Depp and

Denise Richards



Bragman Nyman Cafarelli



Owned by: Weber Shandwick Worldwide



Clients: Cameron Diaz, Kate Hudson, TV show Just Shoot Me; Sony

Playstation 2



Baker Winokur Ryder



Owned by: Ogilvy



Clients: TV production companies, new-media companies and celebrities

such as Brad Pitt, Chris Rock and Benicio Del Toro



OTHER KEY CELEBRITY PUBLICISTS



Wolf Kasteler Public Relations



Clients: Ashley Judd, Meg Ryan and Rupert Everett



Marleah Leslie & Associates



Clients: Pamela Anderson, Celine Dion and Jim Carrey



Huvane Baum Halls



Clients: Jennifer Aniston, Gwyneth Paltrow and Liv Tyler.



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