Women In PR thought we should be reminded on how to tell our clients to be quiet!!
By LAURA M. HOLSON This was orginally Published: April 15, 2011
CELEBRITY publicists these days should demand hazard pay.
The R&B singer Chris Brown and his publicist parted ways on March 22, the same day Mr. Brown shattered the window of a dressing room during a violent tirade at “Good Morning America,” photos of which were quickly posted online.
Eight days earlier, Gilbert Gottfriedlost his job as the voice of the Aflac duck after a series of tsunami jokes on Twitter that his publicist now wishes the comic had run by him. And Charlie Sheen’s longtime publicist walked out in late February after the actor held forth in a series of multiplatform stream-of-consciousness rants that kept Americans agog for days.
Remember when a publicist was called a “press agent”? Now, to quote the legendary Hollywood publicist Pat Kingsley, “suppress agent” might be a better term. In the new era of social media, any celebrity with a half-baked idea and a laptop — or any fan with a cellphone camera — can quickly undo years of careful image crafting. And many publicists (and their studio overlords) demand that clients refrain not only from talking to reporters, but also from posting anything on personal sites or blogs that could jeopardize their projects.
Other publicists have become de facto privacy coaches, going so far as to vet individual tweets, as even benign television stars (think Miley Cyrus, who quit Twitter in 2009 but recently returned) can find themselves instantly mass-excoriated or, in the case of more-difficult personalities like Courtney Love, sued. With easy access to democratizing social media, celebrities’ most dangerous enemies may no longer be the paparazzi or sites likeTMZ, but themselves.
“This new dynamic gives our clients many new opportunities to screw up,” said Allan Mayer, a crisis management and corporate public relations adviser at 42West in Los Angeles.
Stan Rosenfield, who represented Mr. Sheen through two divorces and multiple trips to rehab, declined to say much about his former client’s unscripted ramblings, except, “He paid handsomely for that.” (Mr. Sheen lost his job on “Two and a Half Men.”)
Tammy Brook, Mr. Brown’s former publicist, wrote in an e-mail that reports of her quitting in a huff were overblown. (Mr. Brown got upset when a “Good Morning America” host, Robin Roberts, asked about the assault in 2009 of his ex-girlfriend,Rihanna, a subject he contended was off-limits.) Ms. Brook said she was hired for the release of his album F.A.M.E., which Mr. Brown now seems to be promoting without her.
Still, if she had quit over Mr. Brown’s temper tantrum, few would have blamed her. “If somebody does not understand the value of a public image that has to be managed or considered, there is nothing you can do,” said Terry Press, a veteran Hollywood marketing executive. A career is built on a certain public perception, she added, “and there is no advantage in showing people the reality is different.”
Patti McTeague, a senior vice president for communications at the Disney Channels, has for the last two years held a talent orientation for teenage newcomers who are hoping to be the next Ms. Cyrus or Shia LaBeouf. In the daylong seminar, held in Burbank, Calif., she not only talks about how they should handle interviews or manage the stress of fame, but also coaches them on Internet privacy.
Lessons include why a nude photo should never find its way online (the “High School Musical” star Vanessa Hudgens could have used this advice in 2007) or how lashing out on Twitter can backfire.
“That’s what they consider publicity,” marveled Ms. McTeague, of the celebrities’ use of social media. The problem with the Internet is not only the potential for overexposure, but also the quickness of the medium to disperse false or easily misinterpreted information.
“The margin of error is slim when you go directly to the public,” said Steve Honig, the publicist who works for Mr. Gottfried. “One comment can become a fiasco in 10 seconds.”
That’s what he said happened to his client, who is best known for his caustic and often inappropriate humor. On March 13, Mr. Gottfried posted a series of jokes about tsunami victims on his Twitter account. Mr. Honig said he first heard about it from reporters contacting him for comment. When he looked up the news online, he said he initially saw the postings mentioned 300 times. Seconds later it was 600 times and, within a few minutes, more than 1,000 times.
“You could watch it spread in real time,” Mr. Honig said. Mr. Gottfried decided he wanted to apologize, the publicist said. But by then it was too late. Aflac, the insurance company that had hired him as a voice-over artist, fired him within 48 hours.
“Hindsight being 20-20, I wished he would have run it by me,” said Mr. Honig. Sounding like a concerned baby sitter, he added, “But you can’t follow them around all day.”
It’s not just the stars who mess up. Adam McKay, a producing partner of the comedianWill Ferrell as well as director of “Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy,” has aTwitter account where, a year ago, he announced that Paramount Pictures had passed on “Anchorman 2.” The post, Mr. McKay said, prompted a call not only from his publicist, but also from a Paramount executive who chided him.
More recently, Mr. McKay posted on Twitter that he and the stars of the movie “Step Brothers” (including Mr. Ferrell and John C. Reilly) were working on a rap album, a seemingly innocent bit of news. As the tweet made its way around, Mr. McKay admitted, somewhat sheepishly, “Even Will said, ‘I wish you had given me a heads up.’ ”
“I don’t think about it as if I’m talking to a reporter,” he said of Twitter. “It’s a bit strange.”
One leading “suppress agent” monitoring such exchanges is Kelly Bush who in 1993 started the agency that became ID and now regularly advises her clients about Facebook and Twitter as well as where to go if a photographer is following them — to a police station parking lot.
“We do everything now,” Ms. Bush said with a sigh.
One celebrity recently sought advice about whether she should propose to Stephen Colberton Twitter. “She said, ‘I love him so much.’ ” Ms. Bush said. The publicist issued a warning: Mr. Colbert is married. “Compliment him in some other way,” she told the client. “She wrote back, ‘Boo,’ with a sad face.”
This article has been revised to reflect the following correction:
Correction: April 24, 2011
An article last Sunday about publicity agents whose celebrity clients publicly misbehave misidentified the singer Chris Brown, who damaged his dressing room on March 22 after an appearance on “Good Morning America.” He is an R&B artist, not a rapper.
A version of this article appeared in print on April 17, 2011, on page ST10 of the New York edition with the headline: When Publicists Say ‘Shh!’.