The recent death of one of Hollywood’s top publicists, Ronni Chasen, has piqued the interest of outsiders into the role of publicists in Hollywood. What are publicists and what is their role specifically in the entertainment industry?
Public Relations, commonly abbreviated as PR, is the practice of maintaining the public’s image on behalf of businesses, NGO’s, celebrities, politicians and countries among others. Modern Public Relations has its roots in 18th Century English politics. There, the Duchess of Devonshire, Georgiana Cavendish, applied her tremendous influence on behalf of her cousin, Charles James Fox, a Whig. Other pioneers in the United States include, Ivy Lee and Edward Bernays.
In Hollywood, the publicist takes on the added role of actively controlling the image of their celebrity clients. They act in conjunction with celebrities’ agents and managers to carefully craft the image the public has of their clients. In the case of their more trouble-prone clients, publicists are called on to do damage control. They’ve been known to call in favors with their connections at media outlets to control what press gets written about their clients. Celebrities are not the only clients for publicists in Hollywood. Studios, movies, television shows, talent agencies and production companies also hire publicists.
In Hollywood, movies have budgets dedicated exclusively to Public Relations. This money is spent on controlling the press’s message about the film. This budget may be spent on press junkets, appearances of the movies’ stars on media outlets such as television talk shows or radio shows as well as the movie’s premiere. Anytime the film gets a mention on television or in the press, it has generally because of the work of a good publicist. Ronni Chasen also specialized in a niche market, that of lobbying the Academy of Motion Picture Arts members to vote for their movies to win Oscars.
Publicists have many tools at their disposal. Publicists use events, galas, parties, award ceremonies to spotlight their clients. They use the media: paparazzi, magazines, newspapers, online outlets, television and radio to influence public opinion favorably for their clients. More recently, publicists use social media tools such as Facebook and Twitter to promote and manage their clients’ images.
Publicists also target specific demographic groups known as their target audience. This may be male, female, members of specific generations or age groups, even members of subcultures. Publicists also use focus groups, polls, and research to divine the most effective way of swaying their audience. In Hollywood, the target audience may also include casting agents, directors, producers and studios, those that do the hiring in Hollywood.
The world of Public Relations in Hollywood is dynamic and changing at a rapid rate. Good publicists harness the power of old media while staying current with emerging social tools. Ronni Chasen was revered by her clients and praised by Hollywood as being an old-school publicist that really cared about the people she represented.