The fame game: Personality and PR go a long way to creating cult status

The cult of personality is not a 1990s phenomenon, but celebrity status has never been so marketable.

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

need us.’

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

the PRCA.

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

bland journalism.

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.’

Have you registered with us yet?

Register now to enjoy more articles and free email bulletins

Already registered?
Sign in