Wednesday, 12 September 2012

How To Spot Publicity Whores?

Caught in the Act! 

How Hollywood's bold-faced names secretly steer the celebrity news machine.

Excerpts from The Wall Street Journal article, March 4, 2006:

A delicate new game is under way between the stars and the vast gossip industry of TV shows, magazines and Web sites that feeds upon them.

It has always been a relationship built upon animosity and mutual need. But tensions have grown with the explosion of media running paparazzi photos of stars canoodling or emerging from coffee shops in frumpy track suits.

Now many stars including Gwyneth Paltrow, Angelina Jolie and Jessica Simpson are fighting back. They are hiring their own photographers to capture supposedly private rendezvous, tipping off reporters to their whereabouts and developing relationships of mutual back-scratching with magazine editors.

The result is the flowering of a genre: fake paparazzi journalism, or the staging of "unstaged" moments. It is an art form that benefits both stars and the press. Stars get to participate in the framing of their image and magazines appear to give readers a glimpse of the real celebrity untouched by public-relations varnish.

When Ms. Paltrow gave birth in 2004, she knew there would be a high bounty on the first photo of her newborn daughter. A staple of the celebrity press, the actress and her husband, Chris Martin, leader of the band Coldplay, decided to take matters into their own hands and tip off a photographer they knew, Steve Sands.

Mr. Sands took what appeared to be surprise shots of the two emerging from the hospital in London with the baby and sold them to People for $125,000, according to a person familiar with the arrangement. Larry Hackett, managing editor of People, says he knew that Mr. Sands had been tipped off by Ms. Paltrow. But he didn't see the need to inform readers about it. "I just don't know how illuminating it is," he says. Stephen Huvane, a publicist at public-relations firm PMK/HBH who handles Ms. Paltrow, confirms Mr. Sands's account. "You'll see a lot more of that happening," says Mr. Huvane.

The magazines are lucrative. US Weekly sells a million copies a week on the newsstand at $3.49 apiece. The magazine turns an operating profit of $50 million a year, says a person familiar with its accounts.

Network TV programs like Access Hollywood, cable channels like E! Entertainment Television Inc. and Web sites have added to the coverage. All these outlets compete for photos documenting the daily lives of a small cast of celebrities. These stars, in turn, seek to control their images without appearing to, because doing so would ruin their mystique.

"All those dirty little secrets in Hollywood include tipping paparazzi off and playing games with them," says New York-based public-relations professional Ken Sunshine, whose clients include corporations and stars such as Ben Affleck and Leonardo DiCaprio. He says people might find that "unethical" if they knew about it, "but unfortunately it seems to be an accepted part of the business."

Magazines have generally played along. In 2003, Ms. Jolie tipped off US Weekly that she would appear in a park one afternoon with her adopted son, Maddox, according to two people familiar with the situation. The actress had recently divorced actor Billy Bob Thornton, a relationship which was portrayed as reckless and bizarre. These two people say US Weekly knew Ms. Jolie had green-lighted the photo, which softened her image by showing her maternal side.

The photographers' onslaught has put stars in a tough spot. If they ignore the magazines, they let such pictures define their public image. But sitting down for formulaic interviews and staged publicity shots won't necessarily satisfy the magazines' lust for juicy stories.

The answer is manipulation so subtle it's hard to say if there's any manipulation at all. In January, when rumors swirled in the press that Ms. Jolie might be pregnant with the child of actor Brad Pitt, Ms. Jolie arranged for an employee of the charity Yéle Haiti to take a picture of her with her growing belly.

Ms. Jolie then let Yéle Haiti sell the picture to People, according to Mr. Hackett, the magazine's managing editor, and a representative for Mr. Pitt. A person familiar with the situation says People paid $400,000 for the picture. It appeared on the cover of the magazine with the headline: "Angelina Reveals: 'Yes, I'm Pregnant.' "

By arranging the Haiti photo, Ms. Jolie reaped several benefits. She ensured the picture was flattering. In diverting the money to charity, she put a twist on a tactic used by celebrities in recent years in which they arrange to be paid for wedding or baby photos with the proceeds going to charity. And Ms. Jolie reminded fans of her devotion to humanitarian causes. She had taken a hit months earlier when she struck up a relationship with Mr. Pitt shortly after his marriage to actress Jennifer Aniston broke up.

In many cases, stars don't need to try that hard. When celebrities pick a location like the terrace at the Ivy restaurant in Beverly Hills, they know they're liable to appear in the glossies the next week. A bank of photographers regularly sits on the other side of the street with long-range lenses. Actor Tom Cruise was thus captured on film last year when he roared up to the Ivy on his motorcycle accompanied by then-new girlfriend Katie Holmes.

"I would probably say at least 50% of what you see in terms of Hollywood coverage is something that was not necessarily born organically," says Janice Min, editor in chief of US Weekly. "This is a totally symbiotic relationship. This is how celebrities survive."

Source: The Wall Street Journal - Caught in the Act!