By finally hiring a celebrity publicist, Cruise scores points for an undervalued job in PR

Publicists - a term that broadly applies to PR practitioners who work for and promote celebrities - can get a raw deal from the larger profession, which is still somewhat preoccupied with emphasizing all the other things that PR does.

Publicists - a term that broadly applies to PR practitioners who work for and promote celebrities - can get a raw deal from the larger profession, which is still somewhat preoccupied with emphasizing all the other things that PR does.

In the world of corporate reputation management, CEO counseling, and strategic brand marketing, helping overpaid, underfed famous people get even more media attention can seem like a shallow pursuit.

Ironically, of course, celebrity endorsements can take a product or nonprofit campaign to another level. Harnessing the power of celebrity to meet a commercial or charity end is common practice. Stars can also be nightmare clients, demanding low fees for the dubious honor of chasing around after them.

It may take a particularly patient and motivated person to make a relationship work.

It took the public tailspin of Tom Cruise's reputation to put the importance of the celebrity PR pro into the spotlight. Cruise put his sister in the job vacated by the legendary Pat Kingsley. The impact of subsequent PR gaffes was instantaneous, as Cruise became a laughingstock for jumping on sofas on Oprah and taking Brooke Shields to task for postpartum-depression medicating. His romance with screen ing?nue Katie Holmes has been called a media ploy. Studio executives are reportedly nervous, Spielberg has reportedly stopped calling, and Scientology may be the only one reaping the benefits.

Cruise has always seemed a bit high-strung and certainly litigious with certain media outlets, but the more extreme aspects of his personality were smoothed out for public consumption under the guidance of Kingsley. Now that Cruise has turned to Rogers & Cowan, he has presumably realized that celebrity PR should be handled by the pros.

Indeed, much of the coverage of Cruise's decision focused on his hiring a "professional," Paul Bloch, to do the job. Even a celebrity may underestimate just what is needed to smooth out those rough edges - namely, relationships, crisis response savvy, and media smarts - borne of nothing less than hands-on experience in the trenches. The Cruise case study in celebrity PR may be the best promotion for what may be an underappreciated part of the industry.

Student of the Year competition kicks off

The Student of the Year competition is under way. Sponsored by Weber Shandwick, this annual competition gives students an opportunity to pitch ideas for a real client - this year's is Royal Caribbean - and compete to win an internship and cash prize.

An upcoming feature in PRWeek focuses on PR professionals who are giving back to the industry by taking up adjunct teaching positions, becoming full-time professors, or working with the educational system in other ways to promote a PR career. There is growing recognition that more direct interaction is needed to direct individuals to the industry. Anyone who is working with universities and colleges to build the next generation should direct students to this and other programs that enable hands-on experience with real clients.

For more information on the Student of the Year competition, log on to www.prweek.com and click on Events.

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