As published this morning at: http://popdemonium.com/2010/07/challenges-celebrity-pr/

One of the most challenging parts of working in celebrity publicity is re-shaping an image which the world already thinks they know. Constant public scrutiny, the demand of hundreds of media outlets calling non-stop, and the immediacy of today’s media make this even harder. The latest news from Lindsay Lohan, Mel Gibson, Tiger Woods and other shining stars, makes one wonder about the differences between a celebrity and a “normal” human being.

After years of work with corporations and celebrities, I realize that the media often decides a story angle before they actually hear the facts. In “Bias” – probably the century’s most significant media-criticism book – Bernard Goldberg, ex-CBS producer, states that a lie in media terms is not really a lie, “they would pass the polygraph test… they honestly believe what they’re saying. And that’s the biggest problem of all”. Just last week, in an unprecedented rule in England, Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt won their case over privacy against a gossip outlet that reported an upcoming divorce. The damages will be accounted for by the paper and offered to the intruded couple. And, all this because drama sells paper, whether it’s true, false or exaggerated. I mean consider how many headlines were written on Tiger Woods, but what do we really know other than that he cheated on his wife?

The media simply feels compelled to respond to massive public interest, and human fascination. Celebrity representatives often can’t respond quick enough to damaging news – and this lack of response, or failure to fix the issue, can often shape the story. In contrast to a company, brand or product, the “celebrity brand” stands alone. If something is perceived to go wrong you can’t accuse production lines, ‘industry trends’ or forces of nature, like BP has tried to do. Instead, the individual celebrity is the only one who can break, or fix, his or her “brand.”

In today’s new media world, information is excessive. It has inflated the online market, and questionable stories and their sources are all around. The media and its key players – reporters, producers and editors – find themselves competing hard for your attention, click, and ‘retweet.’ This struggle makes it more challenging to proof-check every single story as the cycle is a 24-hour “news” cycle where everything and anything can happen anytime. Unfortunately, this also allows some to promote their own goals and stockholders’ interests by bullying people along the way. Perhaps the cure will come with online, fee-based content, which will charge readers for access but in exchange make a commitment to value and quality for the reader. It’s rumored that the New York Times and Apple will adapt such a model.

I have commented extensively in the media regarding Woods, Lohan and Gibson, and I believe in today’s America, with strategic planning and a PR plan, all of these figures can make a return to some degree and repair their image. They too are human beings, and for them too life shall go on.

Recently we have seen a return of sorts of Rev. Ted Haggard, who was forced to resign nearly four years ago as president of the politically powerful National Association of Evangelicals and to step down from the mega church he founded, after admitting that he had bought methamphetamine from and had a sexual interaction with a male prostitute. Haggard confessed in a tortured letter, calling himself “a deceiver and a liar” who had long wrestled with desires he described as “repulsive and dark.” Now, in his comeback, the energetic and positive Haggard says he is back to doing what he was born to do. “Tiger Woods needs to golf. Michael Vick needs to be playing football. Mr. Haggard needs to be leading a church.”

Celebrities, too, are human beings, not lab rats. They make mistakes, like human beings, but their image can be harder to manage. They possess a “brand personality” that’s constantly up for scrutiny.

There is logic in a celebrity stating “this is what I do best, let me do my job.” Some can and will recover a blunder with the media, while others will not stand the test. Celebrities are individuals with red blood. They’re individuals with a wide public awareness and they represent something – bad or good. Working closely over the years with some of America’s most famous people, I wont allow my children to worship someone who can dunk a ball, golf the best, win an Oscar; look up to people you know, not people on TV or movies.

Ronn Torossian is the CEO of 5WPR, one of the 15 largest PR firms in the US. Named to the “Ad Age” and “PR Week” 40 under 40 lists, he was a semi-finalist for the 2010 Ernst & Young Entrepreneur of the Year Award. His agency represents leading brands in all spaces, and has worked with celebrities including Snoop Dogg, Pamela Anderson and Nick Cannon.


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