Tactics used by celebrities and their PR’s to stay in the limelight
By Andy Michael
The world of celebrity and what it means to be ‘famous’ has become a lot harder to define of late. Back in the day, being a ‘celebrity’ was more about your craft and your critical and commercial reputation. As a result, the real stars stood out and glistened, and audiences willingly brought into and embraced the shiny Hollywood veneer.
Today, largely thanks to cable TV (with oh so many channels to choose from), social media creating its own influencers left, right and centre and a hell of a lot of reality TV, there’s quite an over-saturation of so-called ‘celebrities’ all vying for column inches.
And, as an audience, we’ve grown a little…cynical. We can spot what’s staged managed from a mile away. But whilst some celebs brazenly flaunt their ‘fame engineering’ (inviting the cameras and the world’s eyes into their living room is often why they’re ‘famous’ in the first place!) or in many cases, don’t do a very good job of keeping their self-promotional orchestrations discreet, there are others who know exactly how to play the game…
- The ‘Match made in heaven’
Another week, another story about Taylor Swift and her new man of the moment Tom Hiddleston. A far cry from the happy glory days of public handholding in far flung locations and slogan vests proclaiming undying love, rumour has it there’s trouble in paradise. If reports from ‘insiders’ are to be believed Swift is uncomfortable with Hiddleston’s desire to be so public about their relationship, concerned that this little known British actor might be using her to piggy back into the spotlight.
You. don’t. say.
Whether it’s the case for Swift and Hiddleston it’s undeniable that being photographed in the company of someone else who has a bigger household profile is a common self-promotional tactic undertaken by those wanting to climb their way up the fame ladder. Most notably, in a romantic context.
— Megan Frances (@ReadingBennie) September 6, 2016
How many celebrities can we think of who first stepped onto the scene and gained prominence as a romantic attachment to someone else way more famous than them? Liz Hurley, Amanda Holden, Nick Canon, Amber Rose, Scott Disick, Chrissy Teigan…Plenty, is the answer. And you can find further examples where the ‘newbie’ on the block has ultimately become more famous than the celebrity they were originally photographed with in the first place.
On the more sordid end of the spectrum you only need to look at the number of kiss and tells and sex tapes to see that ‘romantic’ involvement with a celebrity can attract a lot of media attention and propel someone relatively unknown into their own spotlight, their own reality TV show, and even their own development deals. Paris Hilton and Kim Kardashian have created multi-million dollar brand empires out of their videoed intimate exploits!
- The ‘Stolen Moment’
When a celebrity or high-profile individual wants to make a statement (perhaps ‘subtly’ showing off a new engagement ring, a pregnancy bump, flaunting their weight loss or a fantastic bikini shot) but doesn’t want to liaise with the media directly and publicise the fact that they are manufacturing a potential photo opportunity, it is quite common for them to engineer a snatch photo. This minimises the ‘obviousness’ whilst giving them their ‘look at me moment’ when they’re vacationing in the Hamptons, St Bart’s or enjoying a romantic stroll around Venice (ahem Kim)…and of course, it secures them coverage and keeps their profile resonant in the media!
So how do they do it?
Some individuals will directly tip off the paparazzi, a national newspaper or a picture agency themselves and share in the profit that the picture makes. For a bit of rehearsed posing, it can cover the cost of their holiday!
The sensible celebs, however, will consult their celebrity publicists. With their know-how, they can negotiate a split on fees with photographers, perhaps a 50/50 deal for whatever money is generated for syndication of the picture taken.
This is why celebrity PRs are so important.
A professional, respected and well-connected celebrity PR firm will have pre-existing relationships with picture desks and pap agencies and sometimes discreetly step in to negotiate these photo opportunities on behalf of their celebrity clients. The good celebrity PR firms not only have the clout to negotiate a handsome fee, but they can sometimes pull off picture approval too, giving the ‘papped’ celebrity license to see the pictures of themselves in advance before publication to make sure the pics are suitably flattering. And, providing the pics suit the wants and needs of the celebrity, who says they have to be flattering? Call me sceptical, but exactly how many TOWIE stars have we seen pictured in the Balearics ‘eating away their heartache’ with a giant burger stuck in their mouths? The answer is: enough to suggest that many are clued into the fact that the next weight-loss DVD deal is waiting just around the corner.
- The ‘Gift Experience’
Celebrity gifting and brand partnering are also win – wins for celebrities. They get to boost their style stock, look great and earn plenty of kudos for doing so in the press. They also save themselves some pennies just by striking such a deal with a fashion or lifestyle brand. Instead of shelling out thousands of pounds for the latest must-have dress, they can be supplied one by a top designer in return for a tweet or wearing at an event where they’re likely to be photographed. The celeb gets to keep a high-value product, doesn’t have to pay for it and they get themselves in the press looking fantastic on the Red Carpet. And the designer piggybacks on the free PR. It’s not just the celebrities that get the exposure.
Think about this year’s Oscar goody-bags and how many press mentions the contributors got too. This form of promotional activity involving celebrities can also be further extended, formalised and monetized by way of a brand extension opportunity, like an endorsement/licensing deal or brand ambassador appointment. Depending on how many hours the celebrity is putting in, the value of the potential sponsor and the impetus behind / resources invested in a particular campaign, celebs can earn mega bucks from brand partnerships. The likes of David Beckham and Beyoncé have earned hundreds of millions by way of plugging haircare products, fragrances, underwear, grooming essentials…the list is endless.
However, despite this (seemingly) mutually beneficial relationship between celeb and social media the celebrity in question still needs to be mindful. There’s a fine line on platforms like Twitter and no one wants to end up becoming a tacky marketing tool and puppet for a C-List clothing brand. Yes, celebrities should honour the terms of their arrangement and plug their gift donors if they’re accepting what they’re being offered, but there is such thing as overkill.
In 2011, a high profile soap star was given a formal warning about not using Twitter to earn extra money and freebies by excessively plugging different companies and products. This prompted a company-wide email to all cast members warning them against using Twitter in such an explicit manner.
In 2013, a number of Coronation Street stars were reportedly stitched up after Tweeting about fake products they were given for free at a celebrity ‘gifting suite’. This nearly got them in hot water with Advertising Standards Authority guidelines, which stipulate that sponsored messages on social networks should be made perfectly clear to avoid tricking followers.
- The ‘Social Butterfly’
The rise of celebrities on social media has added a plethora of additional opportunities for celebrities to raise their profile. They can showcase their projects, set the record straight or challenge something that’s been said about that. Plus, they can do this without the additional help (and expense) of a celebrity PR.
— Cheryl (@CherylOfficial) March 11, 2016
Or can they?
Don’t get me wrong platforms like Twitter can be a fantastic bridge between celebrity and fan-base. In an age of engagement, they offer an immediacy like no other. If you’re someone like James Blunt, or Dr Christian Jessen or Bette Midler, and you just ‘get it’, social media can be your best friend. These guys just nail it when it comes to Twitter banter – their comebacks, put-downs, witty observations and self-deprecating quips make the very best of 140 characters and have made them all social media winners. But if a celebrity doesn’t think before they speak they can come a cropper and do more damage than good.
Must be approaching that time in my career when I do “I’m A Celebrity, Get Me Out Of Here."
— James Blunt (@JamesBlunt) November 12, 2015
We’ve seen many car crash examples over the years, but both Kanye West and Azealia Banks seem to have the most consistent track record when it comes to getting it wrong on social media. While West struggles to separate his point of view from his ego, Banks goes the extra mile with profanity so intense it borders on litigious. A recent Twitter offensive caused Sarah Palin to call in the lawyers!
Hi Grammys this is the most important living artist talking.
— KANYE WEST (@kanyewest) February 24, 2016
You need only glance over some of the worst offenders of this year to see that some celebrities could benefit from a seasoned eye over their social media. With some help from a trusted celebrity PR situations such as this could be easily avoided:
I'm sorry for what I did… I need to take some time to myself now to reflect on why I did this horrible thing. Goodnight.
— Dani Mathers (@DaniMathers) July 14, 2016
So yes you could argue that the rise of social networking is a threat to celebrity PRs. Gone are the days when publicists to the rich and famous would consult with their client’s every time about what nuggets of information should be put out in the public domain, what should be held back and what to say and what not to say. But this if often to the detriment of the celebrity.
Now, many publicists are waking up in the morning to shit-storms of epic proportions after discovering their famous clients have taken to Twitter overnight and given it their unbridled, all with disastrous consequences.
Sure, Twitter can raise your profile. But if you suffer from verbal diarrhoea, it might not be your best friend and can damage reputations. And your credibility.
If you over-step the mark, you can get it totally wrong. Kim Kardashian and Emily Ratajkowski’s recent topless selfies, plastered – by themselves – all over the internet, were apparently meant in the name of feminism and empowerment. To millions of others, however, it just came across as a desperate bid to get some attention.
After nearly 20 years in the industry and having had 2 children, there’s no denying Britney Spears looks absolutely incredible. But a recent bikini shot posted by her on Twitter prompted thousands to question the integrity of the picture and whether Photo Shop had been used. So celebs had better beware: it’s a great tool for social outreach, promotion and fan-base building but if you don’t get it right, social media can be your undoing.
And lest we forget the progenitor of examples: The Bling Ring saga way back in 2008/2009 when the houses of Paris Hilton, Rachel Bilson, Lindsay Lohan and Orlando Bloom were systematically robbed by a group of young thieves who used Twitter and the internet to discover what recent luxury splurges the celebs had made, when they were out of their homes and where they actually lived!
So whilst in the right hands social media can be a profile enhancer. It can also get you burgled if you’re not careful!
So…there you have it. There are a number of strategies – some blindingly obvious, others more on the down low – that celebs deploy to raise their own profile. Effectively stage managed, and with the right PR counsel in place, these manoeuvres can often yield great, positive publicity. But, undertaken by celebrities who aren’t savvy and well versed in the dos and don’ts of the print and social media minefields, and the results can be perilous.
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