Charlie Sheen appeared on Today on Tuesday morning to say he is HIV-positive. The strategy behind the announcement led to a split between the actor and his longtime publicist, Jeff Ballard, according to The New York Times. Yet Larry Solters, a publicist who previously worked with the actor, stepped in last week to aid Sheen with the announcement.
Solters talked with PRWeek on Tuesday about what it is like to work with such a big personality on such a personal announcement.
PRWeek: You previously worked with Charlie Sheen amid his very public 2011 meltdown, during which he coined catchphrases about "tigerblood" and "winning." Your relationship with him ended, however, in December 2013. Why did you decide to represent him again last week?
Larry Solters: For fun. If you can't have some fun in your job, you shouldn't be doing it. I stopped working with him in December 2013 because he wanted 24-hour exclusive representation. I couldn't do it with the client load.
PRWeek: Why did you and Sheen decide to break his news on Today?
Solters: Matt Lauer contacted Charlie and his manager directly. They felt comfortable with him, and I complied.
PRWeek: Is there an overarching comms strategy behind Sheen’s HIV announcement?
Solters: It is not about my PR strategy, my relationship, my campaign. No, it is all about the artist. And with an artist like Charlie Sheen who is creative, imaginative, intelligent, and a little bit on the wild side, you need to respect that.
There is nothing better for a campaign than for the client to be honest and [say it] in his own words.
PRWeek: What is your approach to working with a big personality like Sheen?
Solters: The biggest compliment Charlie ever gave me was, "I like you. You’re different than every other publicist I have because you don’t tell me what to do and you don’t tell me where to be and what time or anything."
And I said to him, "Do you ever think maybe I do but you are not aware of it?"
And he said to me, "Oh, you’re good."
With some artists, if you give them a schedule and exact times, with exactly what they have to say – for some clients that is the right thing, and for other clients that is exactly the wrong thing.
A PR executive has to be very understanding of who his client is and not try to make himself the story. With PR people, the idea isn’t to publicize yourself. There are a lot of people in the PR business that feel they have to comment on clients and what Charlie should and shouldn’t do. You have to respect the client and what they want to do and make it as comfortable as possible.
PRWeek: Can you elaborate on what assistance you provided to him as his publicist today?
Solters: I provided assistance today. He was looking for some water on the set of the Today show, so I got it for him.
[Before today’s announcement] we have really just talked for the past three days. We talked it out and I respected where he was coming from. It was all him – his words coming out of his mouth.
PRWeek: Was there any tie to doing advocacy for World AIDS Day, which falls on December 1? Or was the timing of Sheen’s announcement just driven by tabloid news?
Solters: The timing was driven totally by when he was comfortable doing it.
PRWeek: Is he going to be communicating further about this?
Solters: No. We are not doing other things – just the Today show. And there is a reason for that. The typical PR thing would be to do a whole tour and exploit the situation. A typical PR person would have [the client] on at least eight different shows. That is not what we are doing. We are not trying to do a campaign. People would just say, "This guy again?" It should be about quality, not quantity.
PRWeek: What other clients do you work with?
Solters: Other clients my firm, Scoop Marketing, represents include The Eagles for the past 40 years, music exec Irving Azoff, Spotify, and Dick Clark Productions.