These days it seems that companies can’t launch a brand or host an event without enlisting the aid of a celebrity. Whether the bold-faced name is from film, television, music, modeling or sports, savvy publicists know there are winning strategies in dealing with stars. It’s no secret that most larger-than-life personalities (and an even greater number of 15-minute wonders) generally have out-sized requirements.
These days it seems that companies can’t launch a brand or host an
event without enlisting the aid of a celebrity. Whether the bold-faced
name is from film, television, music, modeling or sports, savvy
publicists know there are winning strategies in dealing with stars. It’s
no secret that most larger-than-life personalities (and an even greater
number of 15-minute wonders) generally have out-sized requirements.
’There’s a lot of hand-holding,’ admits Lisa Hollenberg Rowan, director
of publicity for Planned Television Arts, a division of Ruder Finn. ’The
most important thing you can do as a publicist is keep a celebrity cool
and calm, because if they get riled up and say, ’That’s it,’ that could
mean the end of whatever project you’re working on.’
While it’s important for a publicist to keep a celebrity on an even
keel, it’s often even more critical for a flack to keep calm. ’You have
to bite your lip a lot,’ says Hollenberg Rowan, who recalls a
less-than-pleasant experience dealing with Faye Dunaway on a book tour.
’She made me wait in the (hotel) lobby. She then proceeded to live up to
her Mommie Dearest character and yell at me - and the hotel staff - the
But it’s all in a day’s work, says the PR pro. ’The important thing is
that you get the job done you were hired to do no matter what it takes
to do it.’
Those requirements have become more and more elaborate, says Rita
Tateel, president of The Celebrity Source, a Los Angeles-based company
that secures celebrities for events like store openings. ’The
celebrities know they are more in demand than ever. So they can ask for
the moon - and get it.’
But that doesn’t mean there aren’t creative ways to snare an A-lister
without flashing cash or offering four-star accommodations. To get a
well-known TV star to participate in a local fair, Tateel came up with
the idea of inviting the star’s family to come along and gave them the
royal treatment for the day, while promising the celeb he was only
needed for a short time.
Patience is not only a virtue but a requirement when dealing with
celebs, says Dina Wise, account director at Harrison & Schriftman, New
York. ’Celebrities are busy people. You have to work with their
schedule. You wind up spending a lot of time waiting.’
Wise says that accommodating requests also plays an important role in
keeping a star happy and publicity-friendly. ’No matter what they ask
for, the answer is ’No problem,’’ says Wise. ’You want popcorn that is
only sold in New Mexico? No problem. You need shoes for your dress that
have to be special ordered from Malaysia? No problem.’
Sheila Clary, president of Celebrity Focus, a Northbrook, IL casting
agency, says that it is important to warn the star as early as possible
that the schedule may be flexible. ’Last minute changes just never go
over well,’ she says.
Kelly Edwards, press representative for CBS’ The Early Show, says it’s
important to foster a relationship with a celebrity that strikes the
right balance between professional and personal. The CBS PR pro learned
this firsthand last fall when she accompanied Byrant Gumbel and Jane
Clayson on an extensive media tour.
’We were put in lots of stressful situations together,’ she says.
’But we bonded as a group because we kept our sense of humor. As a
publicist, you’ve got to be able to crack a few jokes and keep things
light when people get tired and are looking for the time when they can
Sometimes it’s difficult to be an advisor, publicist and friend - and
you don’t want to go too far there - but they are all part of the
Edwards stresses that there is a lot more to dealing with celebrities
than being a ’yes’ man - it takes lots of preparation. That means being
familiar enough with the publication and writer to discuss why the celeb
should do an interview. At the same time, you can’t overwhelm him or her
with details. ’A celebrity doesn’t have a lot of time to spend sifting
through lots of papers or listening to you if you’re not focused on the
matter at hand,’ she says.
Howard Rubenstein, president of Rubenstein & Associates, whose clients
include Donald Trump, Michael Jackson, David Letterman and George
Steinbrenner, says that gaining the celebrity’s trust is essential.
’Confidentiality is extremely important. My clients know I won’t leak
But even a call in the middle of the night from a beat reporter can
spell disaster for a publicist representing a star if he or she takes
unnecessary risks, says Rubenstein. ’You can’t ever assume you know what
your client will say. I won’t make up a quote. Sometimes reporters call
at deadline and say, ’Can’t you just give me something?’ I never do. I
always check with them.’
Despite the pressure of dodging bullets and tending to enormous egos,
publicists who deal with celebrities say it’s all worth it - and
And the job is not without its perks. ’The major plus of traveling with
a celebrity is that you always go first class,’ says Hollenberg Rowan.
’That’s not something that comes with every job.’
DOs AND DON’Ts
1. Remember this phrase: ’No problem.’ It’s not the star’s problem, it’s
yours. Find a way to fix it without letting your client or guest know
2. Be realistic. Don’t ask an A-list celebrity to attend a B-list
3. Offer perks. Celebrities love getting goodies - the newest cell
phone, a week at a spa, the latest computer.
4. Remember that time is a celebrity’s most valuable commodity. Keep
meetings brief, schedule events carefully and don’t leave a star
unattended with nothing to do.
1. Lie about anything when dealing with celebrities, their agents or
their publicists. It is career suicide.
2. Be starstruck. Remember you’re there to do a job, whether it’s
selling books or raising awareness of a health issue.
3. Treat one celebrity different from another. If you’re hosting an
event with multiple stars, make sure every one of them is treated the
same - like royalty.
4. Gossip. Aunt Edna might want to know what Mr. Morning Television is
really like, but keep your mouth shut. It’s unprofessional.