The cult of personality is not a 1990s phenomenon, but celebrity
status has never been so marketable.
While there has always been interest in celebrity news, the recent
explosion of celebrity and men’s magazines, together with the increase
in space being devoted to showbiz gossip in the national press, have
combined to make the celebrity a highly valuable commodity.
As the new millennium beckons, a virtuous circle is forming. Celebrities
are endorsing products helping to win newspaper readers and boosting TV
ratings by their involvement. In return, celebrities use the media to
drive their careers forward.
Ghislain Pascal, managing director of celebrity PR agency Panic, says:
’The tabloids feed off celebrity news. Ten years ago it was politics
which made the front page; now it’s celebrity news. The broadsheets are
just the same, although they pretend not to be. We need them and they
Pascal, whose clients include It-Girls Tamara Beckwith and Caprice, says
men’s magazines, in particular, are ’crying out’ for his clients and
constantly asking for new faces.
Mark Borkowski, of the eponymous agency Mark Borkowski Press and PR,
agrees that the relationship between the celebrity and the media is
’There is a much higher awareness of celebrities now, brought about by
Hello and OK! magazines and the opening up of the TV listings market.
Added to this, you have a proliferation of people who feed off
celebrities for product endorsement.’
Alan Edwards, managing director of The Outside Organisation, whose
clients include David Bowie, the Spice Girls and Des’ree, says: ’In the
past, celebrities would have winged it, perhaps working with their TV or
record company. But in-house press offices tend to be reactive, whereas
PR agencies can help plan careers.’
Edwards believes the management of a celebrity’s reputation is
essentially the same as any other product in PR terms, but adds: ’You
are not marketing cornflakes. There is always the human factor - the
missed flight, the argument with the boyfriend. It makes it all very
His views are echoed by Adrian Wheeler, chairman of the PRCA. He says:
’If PR skills range from one to 100, then I would say most celebrity PR
practitioners use skills one to 20. It is quite a specialised area.’
While some would prefer to label such activities as publicity rather
than PR, Wheeler does believe the activity is PR in the true sense,
although he is unaware of any such agencies which are current members of
Borkowski, whose clients include the Three Tenors, Shirley Bassey and
Jubilee 2000, as well as companies Glaxo Wellcome and Carlsberg,
believes celebrity PR is like any other niche, such as public affairs or
’PR is a many-headed hydra,’ he says. ’As a discipline it is becoming
more niche, but essentially PR is there to communicate a message,
whether it be the best lollipop or the fastest car. A celebrity is a
brand, no different to Action Man - they have a value on their
He agrees with Pascal that in terms of newsworthiness, celebrity news
has eclipsed even politics. ’Nothing can change the news agenda as fast
as an incident concerning a celebrity,’ he says. ’You need specialist
skills in this field to deal with the kind of attacks made on your
But while Borkowski laments the kind of press intrusion shown by some
journalists and photographers, he does not believe celebrities should
have it all their own way. ’In the US, there are these worrying
combinations of lawyers and publicists. Publicists sign exclusive deals
for their clients and have the right to vet the article. This makes for
The power of the celebrity can sometimes give the publicist a warped
sense of their own power,’ he says.
Depending on your standpoint, the ’talent’ of many of today’s celebrity
PR practitioners is their ability to take relative unknowns and turn
them into money-making machines. The recent boom in TV channels has
created a much bigger platform for those with ambition to perform. The
proverbial 15 minutes of fame is being stretched to its limits.
One of the most successful stars of this new wave is Caprice
Pascal has been working on her career since she arrived in Britain from
the US two years ago as an unknown model. Pascal’s first coup was to
dupe the media into believing Caprice was the new Wonderbra girl by
organising a week-long promotion with Wonderbra. Since then, there has
been no looking back. As a model, she has a host of magazine covers
under her belt and Pascal has negotiated editorial coverage in titles
such as FHM and Esquire.
As a television star she has a second series of her show Caprice’s
Travels, broadcast both on ITV and worldwide on the Travel Channel.
And now Caprice can add a new job title to her CV - singer. She has
signed a multi-million pound recording contract with Virgin, and her
first single will be coming out in July. Pascal says: ’If you’re in the
media eye, you’ve got to be noticeable.’ Accordingly, he has sent
Caprice to a television awards ceremony wearing a revealing Versace
gown. It may not be the most strategic form of PR, but transparent
dresses have been the making of several other celebrities - notably
Elizabeth Hurley and Emma Noble.
While from the outside, this branch of PR appears to be one of the most
fast-moving and glamorous, practitioners are at pains to stress that
it’s not all about attending glitzy premieres.
Anyone considering getting in to this sector may be interested to know
that it is not one of the most profitable in the PR industry. For
example, Freud Communications, famous for handling PR for big celebs
such as Chris Evans and Geri Halliwell, has an income of pounds 5.9
million yet only around three per cent of that is generated from the
personality management side of the business.
So if you enjoy the unpredictable world of celebrity handling and like
dealing with Hello and OK!, personality PR could be for you.
But heed the words of Mark Borkowski: ’It can be a glamorous job, but it
is also the most stressful. Waiting for the early editions on a Saturday
night at a train station in the pouring rain isn’t glamorous at all.’