Merging of entertainment and corporate PR places premium on the ability to transition between them
Entertainment is big business. In America, it's perhaps the biggest business. US pop culture is its strongest worldwide export, and it often serves, for better or worse, as a unifying force on the home front.
Considering the stakes in play when entertainment companies and their products - movies, TV shows, albums, and even celebrities themselves - are navigating the waters of public opinion, it is perhaps surprising that entertainment PR is considered a field far removed from corporate PR. "Entertainment" in the communications world conjures images of glossy publicists scratching the backs of tabloid editors while keeping celebrity foibles under wraps. "Corporate," on the other hand, brings to mind a buttoned-down suit, a stern visage, and networking that trends more toward Wall Street than Rodeo Drive.
But some in the industry say the once disparate fields of corporate and entertainment PR are slowly merging into a potent combination. The entertainment world is learning, through recent events, that the disciplined, strategic approach that large corporations apply to their communications planning can pay off in more glamorous industries.
There is now a premium, therefore, on agencies that can move seamlessly between the corporate and entertainment spaces. When former Seinfeld star Michael Richards was recorded shouting racial slurs, he turned to the veteran Rubenstein Associates, one of a handful of prominent New York firms with strong reputations in industries ranging from entertainment to finance. Chairman Howard Rubenstein says the changing nature of the media (Richards' incriminating video was spread via YouTube) - an issue the corporate world is struggling with - is changing the celebrity management game.
"Under normal circumstances [in the past], people might not have seen the whole performance, which was atrocious," Rubenstein acknowledges. But he managed to use the same technology on behalf of his client; when Richards released an apology statement, Rubenstein made sure that it was posted on YouTube, as well.
"I went right back to the source," he says.
Corporate thinking is a must for cutting-edge entertainment communications, notes Rachel McCallister, cofounder and co-president of LA-based mPRm, which targets clients at the nexus of the emerging media, entertainment, and corporate worlds.
"There's increasingly more crossover, as entertainment has become increasingly more corporate," she says. "The studios are all publicly held media companies. So, by definition, they've become more corporate, and that translates to all their properties."
That's why, when a celebrity misbehaves, his or her actions affect a slew of properties. Mel Gibson's Passion of the Christ, for example, benefited from extensive, meticulous communications outreach to a wide range of audiences. When Gibson was caught driving drunk and making anti-Semitic remarks, not only his reputation, but also millions of dollars in future profits was put in danger. Richards' rant came just as a new season of Seinfeld was being promoted on DVD.
Despite the high stakes, McCallister says that at the product level - promoting specific shows, films, and other properties - the personality-based skills commonly associated with entertainment PR still reign.
"The entertainment world moves very quickly," she says. "You need the strategy of the corporate side. You need the pace of the entertainment world. And you need the knowledge of pop culture."
For firms nimble enough to win respected clients from both realms, the rewards can be large. "Corporations are very attracted to companies that have a foot in the entertainment world," notes Sean Cassidy, president of Dan Klores Communications. He says smart celebrities and smart companies handle a brand the same way: guarding its reputation closely and leveraging it to spread into new, revenue-generating fields.
But does the corporate PR world hold any secrets that could painlessly restore the reputations of the likes of Gibson and Richards?
"Philosophically, no," Cassidy says. "A crisis is a crisis."