After stints at Folio Magazine and Star Magazine, Katie Caperton was hired to help launch the British celebrity weekly OK! in the US two years ago. She spoke to PRWeek about playing nice with publicists and America's stargazing fascination.
PRWeek: The celebrity magazine field is so crowded—what sets OK! apart?
Katie Caperton: OK! Magazine is sort of an international brand, starting out in the UK. It’s always been known for our access. We have more access to celebrities than any other weekly magazine, or any other celebrity magazine in the world does, because we work specifically with the celebrities and their publicists as well to get the pictures and the interviews from their wedding, from their baby showers, all these great life events. So what OK! Magazine has more than any other celebrity weekly here in the US is, we have this access. One of our biggest selling covers this year has been Eva Longoria’s wedding. People just love OK! Magazine for that. We’ve worked with Larry Birkhead and Dannielynn, the first pictures of them together. So I think our reputation has always been known throughout the world as the magazine that has the most access. But I think over the last few years here since the launch, people are really starting to get that—to get the idea that we get the exclusive, we get the big stories, we get the first picture, we get the first interview, we get the wedding. A lot of magazines are competing, and obviously it’s an extremely saturated market at this point, but the way we’re letting ourselves in is letting the readers know that this is where they come for the real story. We work directly with publicists and celebrities themselves to get the real story.
PRWeek: When OK! launched in the US, a major point of the coverage was how closely you work with celebrities themselves. Do you think competitors are bitter about the way OK! operates in terms of getting access?
Caperton: Absolutely. Again, it’s probably the longstanding relationships. You can’t have these relationships if they’re just sort of a one-off. You can’t go to a celebrity one week and say ‘Oh, I’m going to do your wedding,’ and then write a terrible story about them the next week. So what we do is we work with the celebrities themselves and with their representatives to say, ‘If you trust us to do this shoot, if you trust us to do this interview, if you trust us to do these exclusive pictures, we’re not going to use this interview and bash you. We’re not going to run a picture of you with cellulite on the beach.’ We don’t do stories like that. That’s not what we do. So you can trust us that if you’re going to give us exclusive access to your client, you can feel comfortable this is a longstanding relationship.
PRWeek: Do you feel like your readers are happy with the content without the negative stories?
Caperton: Yes, I think so. Because the market is so packed right now with different weeklies, what’s come out of that is the reader’s a lot savvier than she or he used to be in years past. They know all the stories. They can tell you Jen and Ben Affleck and J-Lo—everyone’s history for the past ten years. So they know the story on all these different celebrities. And they can also sniff out when a story is fake or made up. But they can also tell when you’ve got that picture, when you’ve got that moment, that first baby picture, that walk-down-the-aisle photo. That sort of floats to the top. They can definitely differentiate between that and the fake news story that’s been made up.
PRWeek: Why do you think there’s such a big appetite for celebrity news in America?
Caperton: It’s just everywhere. I think with reality TV, and celebrity reality TV, and sort of realizing that celebrities are these normal people, and they also have lives, and they have husbands, and they have divorces, and they have children, and they have all these things that men and women can connect with. You see Angelina Jolie on the red carpet looking beautiful, that’s really great. We love seeing that. But I think that our average reader, like a mom picking up our magazine at a Barnes & Noble or at a grocery store, she sees Angelina Jolie getting out of the care, schlepping the bottles—it kind of has that connection. So seeing the real side of celebrities, and having our readers connect with that. I think that is what makes people just wild about them; to think that even though they have all this money, they do the red carpet, they do all these movies, they are carrying the stroller, they are fighting with their husbands, and things like that. It’s just a connection that people, for the first time, are able to make with these A-listers.
PRWeek: How important is the Web site to OK!? How much of a factor are blogs as competitors?
Caperton: In terms of our own Web site, that’s something we have learned over the past two years is a huge factor. We’ve responded to that. We’re undergoing a major Web site relaunch right now. It’s going to be debuting right after Labor Day. We’re completely overhauling our Web site; it’s going to be 24 hours a day, news, video, something that’s just going to blow the competitors out of the water. We have learned over the past two years how important that is for us. And the blogs, too. That’s one of the things, realizing that people are not only getting our magazine every week, but are looking at these blogs all day long, refreshing their favorite sites because they want that information constantly. We need to be able to supply it.
PRWeek: Any specific celebrity who you think handles the media particularly well, or particularly poorly?
Caperton: Particularly well—Angelina Jolie. I think she has a really good attitude about the whole thing. She doesn’t let any of the stories get to her. She kind of does her own thing. Given someone who has so much attention, so much pressure, such a spotlight put on her for so many years—she’s a mom, she has a couple kids, she has partners—it just seems quite normal, in that regard. So I think someone like her has done a really good job handling all the media attention.
PRWeek: For bad, we’ll just put ‘Britney Spears.”
Caperton: You said that, not me…You can look at Britney Spears as someone who, maybe she should rethink her strategy. Maybe she should work with a different team.
PRWeek: Tell me what your interactions are usually like with PR people.
Caperton: With the big exclusives, we work very closely with the publicists, and there’s a lot that goes into pulling off a wedding exclusive or baby party or anything like that. So we have really good relationships with publicists in that regard, in terms of making sure everybody’s happy in that scenario. I spoke with a publicist for one of the networks recently, who said ‘Any time we hand over talent to you guys, I always feel comfortable, because I know you guys, as much as the publicist does, want them to look good.’ So what we’re hearing from publicists is that, it’s hard to trust the magazine sometimes, to give them your client and say ‘Here, go off and shoot them,’ and know that it’s going to look good. But what we hear every time we do a shoot from publicists is that they feel like they can let the reins go a little bit. Because looking at the shoots that we do—and we do more of our own original shoots than any other weekly—publicists are quite willing and happy to give us an entire day with some of their bigger name clients, because they know at the end of the day the shoots going to look really good, and the interview’s going to be great. We’re going to live up to our end if they’re able to work with us exclusively.
PRWeek: Any tips for PR people, or pet peeves?
Caperton: Pet peeves—getting pitches that have nothing to do with celebrities. It happens more often than you can think. I think also, you can tell right off the bat if a publicist has actually read your magazine or not. We have restaurant shoots that we do fairly often, where we’ll take a celebrity out to a restaurant. So if a publicist can call me up and say ‘Hey, I really like the shoot you did with so and so at that restaurant, I was thinking my client might be good, and their friend owns a restaurant it San Diego.’ If a publicist is familiar with our book, I’m a lot more open to work with them, because they’re as excited about the thing as I am.
Also if we’re working on news stories, we’re a weekly, and time is of the essence. They have a million clients, but when I need an answer I get it back [quickly]. They know that these deadlines that we work under are just insane on Fridays and Mondays, so they are able to respectful of that, even if they just want to say ‘No comment,’ or ‘I’m not sure, I’ll get back to you’—just to touch base.
Also, I think that a lot of publicists don’t know that we are not just in the US. That we have all of these international editions of OK!. So a lot of times, if they have a client and they’re looking to pitch them around and get a photo shoot somewhere, if they work with OK!, if there is international interest, a lot of times we can do one shoot with them and then—boom—you tell us when their album’s dropping in Australia…you can have it go around the world.