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
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'
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
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
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
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
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
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
Owned by: McCann-Erickson
Clients: Primarily celebrities, including Tom Cruise, Johnny Depp and
Bragman Nyman Cafarelli
Owned by: Weber Shandwick Worldwide
Clients: Cameron Diaz, Kate Hudson, TV show Just Shoot Me; Sony
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.