Celebrity PR has acquired a high profile and has become a popular starting point for those thinking about PR career. Celebrities now play a central role in contemporary culture and a large and seemingly growing proportion of media content is devoted to their activities. The lion’s share of this is supplied by the PR industry. Celebrity PR crosses over into other areas of PR partly because the original reason for a celebrity’s fame often involves a sector covered by specialist PR-for example, music, enterntainment, sport, fashion or food. In addition, one of the most typical ways by which PR people seek to secure publicity for products is to win celebrity endorsment together with celebrity involvement in associated PR activity. Too often this is a knee-jerk response to a PR problem:celebrities have to be carefully chosen and do not guarantee success.
As with other specialisms, celebrities can employ in-house PR people and employ PR agencies-often smaler firms which specialise in such work and perhaps related areas of specialist PR. Indeed when the footballer David Beckham faced allegations of an extra-marital affair in 2004 it emerged that no fewer than three PR firms were responsible for his and his wife Victoria’s image, while the allegations concerned a “PR girl” who worked for another company which they had allegedly ceased to use. Much of the discussion of the case concerned the implications for the Beckhams’ large range of product endorsements.
However, many large PR agencies are reluctant to work for celebrities. There are two main reasons. First, even if the individual celebrity is able to pay the substantial fees which suck firms demand, they are often reluctant to do so.: it involves parting with money from their personal earnings which feels more painful than it does for a large company which is accustomed to paying large amounts for marketing services. Second, large PR firms are accustomed to dealing with clients which are structured, disciplined organisations which attempt to behave in logical and fairly predictable ways. Celebrities are individuals who have often achieved fame or even notoriety precisely because of their idiosyncratic behaviour and turbulent lives. If a new product causes problems it can be altered or dropped but the scope for repackaging an individual personality is much more limited. If an employee of a corporate client steps out of the line they can be disciplined or sacked. If a member of a celebrity’s family causes problems they cannot readily be dealt with in the same way. All of this means that celebrity PR and the handling of personalities it entails often requires a different approach and temperament.
A niche area of PR- although its exact status is disputed-has emerged in response to the growing numbers of ‘wannabe’ celebrities. Such people are seldom in a position to pay up-front for PR but often their initial claim to fame is an association with one or more existing celebrities-most typically a sexual liaison. Whereas once upon a time they might have approached the media directly, increasingly they can choose to do so via PR people who are experienced in media handling and can negotiate a fee for the story and take a percentage of themselves. Although relatively few PR people make their living in this way it is a high-profile activity and is undoubtedly responsible for a significant proportion of media content. Many other PR people seek to distance themselves from such work, seeing it as distasteful. Its practitioners are often described as publicists, although that term has a wider meaning.
While the rights and wrongs remain a matter of personal judgement, what is true is that the modus operandi of such people is significantly different from conventional PR. Normally PR people are paid by their clients or employers for media handling. In this case the ‘PR’ people are more akin to an entertainment industry agent in that they receive a percentage of their clients’ fee, although they may also offer advice on other matters.