Twitter Kills The Publicity Star? How Social Media is influencing the business of Celebrity PR.
After a review of key literature, which indicates how closely the emergence of the celebrity system is tied to media developments, but also the rise of Hollywood publicists, the so-called `Fixers`, who would hold an enormous amount of control, it is examinded how this system is now challenged by social media. Celebrities claim how Twitter gives them the chance to bypass traditional media and to fight back against constant intrusion from the outside. Upon closer examination though, the content analysis suggests how Twitter is utilized for promotion, as well as deliberate self-disclosure in order to establish a closer relationship with fans. By all indications a celebrity`s Twitter profile is based on elaborate, sophisticated PR.
Interviewees supported this point of view, admitting that Twitter is ideally monitored by publicists because it provides a perfect opportunity for brand building and directly engaging fans in a dialogue. Publicists are willingly sacrificing some of their control in order to build an environment of credibility and authenticity for their clients on Twitter. Their role therefore becomes more consulting and is shifting more towards planning sophisticated and comprehensive impression management strategies than `just` being the middle man between celebrity and media.
However, this is still a very recent development and by far not all publicists have caught up on it. Thus this topic needs to be further investigated in the future.
TABLE OF CONTENTS
2) Literature Review
2.1) The cultural concept of celebrity
2.2) Celebrity and the media: a love story
2.3) Celebrity PR: from story-tellers to brand managers?
2.4) Personal Public Relations and Impression Management
3) A shifting paradigm through Social Media?
3.1) PR 2.0: putting the public back in public relations?
3.2) Influence on celebrity PR
3.3) Twitter: What's in it for celebrities?
4) Qualitative Research
4.1) Topic of research
4.2.1) Content Analysis
5) Content Analysis
5.1.1) Promotion of new single/album/tour
5.1.2) Information about current location
5.1.3) Conversations with friends/fellow celebrities
5.1.5) Additional obervations
6.1.1) Social media in celebrity PR
6.1.2) The publicists role in Twitter
6.1.3) Twitter as an opportunity for brand management
6.1.4) Threats of Twitter
6.1.5) A shift in the PR's role?
7) Conclusion and Recommendations
“If anything, it has made celebrity PR a bit easier...well, until the celeb gets
drunk and posts Tweets that they regret the next day. “
His fans were witnessing the drama live. At home, in front of their computers, or on the go on their mobile phones. At 0:34AM they received his first distress signal via the micro-blogging platform Twitter: “I'm in shock. I need the police ASAP. Please come to SoHo Metropolitan Hotel now. Please“. Only two minutes later: “I was assaulted by Will.I.Am of the Black Eyed Peas and his security guards. I am bleeding. Please, I need to file a police report. No joke“. This was followed by new Tweets every couple of minutes until the police finally showed up at celebrity gossip blogger Perez Hilton, called by one of his Twitter 'followers'. This incident proves how well the network works. So well that all kinds of celebrities have started to use Twitter as their personal mix of pin board, diary and messaging service. Many of them deliberately disclose intimate details about their personal life, proving more and more popular and slowly establishing their own news channel. Just the latest trend in celebrity representation or a true game changer?
We know them, without ever having met them, we know about their relationships, their feuds and their love affairs as if they were close friends of ours - celebrities are a part of our everyday life, they are an ubiquitous part of our society and dominate contemporary popular culture.
The public longing for information can hardly be satisfied, thus the market of celebrity news and gossip is prospering. Whether it is TV, glossies or gossip blogs, we inhale every piece of information we get. This development came along with a downright „celebrification“ of society, so that nowadays not only movie stars, but also politicians, sportsmen or companies' CEOs are depicted as celebrities by the media.
This industry has been heavily influenced and masterminded by celebrity publicists who form a rather small but powerful group within the public relations industry. They manage their clients' reputation through a combination of strong media relations, impression and brand management techniques. While PR scholars, professional organizations and academic journals hardly address this field of work, the market is booming.
Celebrity PR is managing the relationship between an individual and its public and thus is heavily based on the cultural and sociological concept of celebrity in general. The individual itself, the representation and the media are closely related and interdependent. In fact, whenever the media has undergone changes over the last century, the perception of celebrity and the way publicity was handled changed as well.
The most recent development in the media landscape has been the emergence of social media and 'web 2.0' which has been challenging traditional media and democratizing journalism. It has therefore also been strongly influencing public relations. While there has been some valuable research on how corporate communications or consumer PR can benefit from social media and how it is challenging existing methods of operation, hardly anything has been investigated in personal PR, especially celebrity PR.
This dissertation is an attempt to close this gap in research. It will mainly focus on the micro-blogging platform Twitter which has been attracting many celebrities who claim it gives them the chance to bypass intruding media and handle their PR requirements themselves. In fact, these Twitter accounts at least claim to be updated by the celebrities in person, thus providing a high level of authenticity and attracting millions of 'followers'.
The thesis is set out to explore whether this development implicates a loss of control for celebrity PRs or actually enhances their capabilities of comprehensive impression management and if so, how far this is already incorporated in overall strategies.
This subject is relevant for several reasons. First of all, it is approaching a part of PR that has been widely disregarded by academic research so far. Celebrity PR may be a rather small part of public relations but actually has a quite big influence on the public perception of the profession. “Much of the PR role in celebrity circles is focused on promotion, publicity and media relations, and public relations has received some of its bad press from this association“ (L'Etang, 2008, p.223). It is often regarded as trivial, part of popular culture and 'not serious'. Still, a publicist is without doubt a PR professional and therefore should not be ignored in research. Even one of the UK's best known PR academics, Jacquie L'Etang considers celebrity PR worthy of academic study in her latest textbook (L'Etang, 2008, p.224). Second of all, it is particularly interesting to explore how social media influences a rather spin dominated field like celebrity PR.
In order to explore this, the first section will look at existing literature on the research topic, therefore analyzing the cultural concept of celebrity and its interaction with the public, followed by an overview of celebrity public relations, how the field has developed and what PR theories and tools it is based on. Afterwards the implications of social media on the field will be examined and theoretical opportunities and threats will be outlined.
The second section will look at the qualitative research methodology used in this study and describe how the research has been conducted. This research consists of a content analysis, as well as semi-structured interviews with celebrity PR professionals in Germany and United Kingdom.
The final and third chapter will analyse and discuss the research findings and link them to existing theory and literature.
2 Literature Review
The literature review is set out to develop an understanding of the nature and structure of the topic and to position my research in its historical and cultural context.
There are no specific academic books about celebrity PR, however, popular books of reference like Wilcox and Cameron (2008) or Tench and Yeomans (2009) dedicate chapters to the field of celebrity, entertainment and sports PR. Mark Borkowski put together a well researched history of American celebrity PR, which is very helpful and insightful although it is not an academic text. Since you cannot fully understand celebrity PR without approaching the concept of celebrity in popular culture itself, this literature review will also include a summary of the sociological and cultural implications of celebrity.
2.1 The cultural concept of celebrity
There are countless definitions of the term “celebrity“, from the most common, but all-too-simple “famous for being famous“ to the most practicable “a well- recognized person who commands a high degree of public and media attention“ (Tench&Yeomans, 2009 p.622). The modern use of the term celebrity can be dated back to the early 19th century, a period of time when mass media was on the increase and more and more pages needed to be filled. However, it became significantly more noticeable in the 1920s, when a new invention called the cinema produced its first movie stars and popular magazines turned their attention to them (Boorstin, 1961, p.68). Celebrities were strategically manufactured as a new elite in society, someone to look up to, unreachable and admirable. Chris Rojek even compares them to gods, arguing that through the secularization of Western society, stars and celebrities have emerged as a substitute for religion. As organized religion has declined in the West, celebrity culture became a normative achievement of social integration (Rojek, 2001).
His main argument is that celebrity culture is ubiquitous and has established the main scripts, presentational props and conversational codes through which cultural relations are constructed nowadays. Rojek proofs his argument by drawing several parallels between established religion and celebrities: celebrities are believed to have god-like qualities and are able to arouse deep emotions among their fans. Hollywood is portrayed as a sacred living community, similar to Mount Olympus in Greek mythology. But not only their rise, also their descent and their eventual ascent is portrayed to be very similar to popular religions.
The comparison to an actual religion is of course a bit overdrawn and even Rojek backpedals at the end of his essay, saying that although certain elements of celebrity culture do have a sacred significance, it is not a substitute for religion, it is rather the milieu in which religious recognition and belonging are now enacted. The real issue is the ubiquity of this milieu: “The celebrity culture motivates intense emotions of identification and devotion, but it is basically a fragmented, unstable culture that is unable to sustain an encompassing, grounded view of social and spiritual order“ (Rojek, 2001, p. 98).
2.2 Celebrity and the media: a love story
As already indicated, celebrities are mainly created by the media. A celebrity status does not develop based on certain characteristics or qualities, but simply because of the attribution of those. This is based on a communicative effect of reporting on a person. “The media, whether the mass media of the twentieth century or that of the pre-print period, are and always have been essential to celebrity. For, in order to be 'known' by many and talked of at a distance and from afar, one needs a medium of dissemination“ (Evans, 2005, p.21).
A psychological concept called “para-social interaction“ (Horton&Wohl, 1956) explains why we are drawn to celebrities in the way we are. It refers to relations of intimacy constructed through the mass media rather than direct experiences or face-to-face meetings, a significant aspect of the search for recognition and belonging which every human longs for. Media coverage creates a form of “second-order intimacy“ that derives from the celebrities representation instead of actual physical contact. The physical and social remoteness of celebrities is compensated for by the endless amount of mass media coverage which gives the celebrity-fan-relationship a high level of nonreciprocal emotional dependance (Rojek, 2001, p. 52). It is exactly this imbalance of perceived closeness, simulated by the mass media, but actual distance that makes people 'worship' celebrities.
As the media as we now know it grew, the importance of celebrity grew and whenever mass media has gone through significant changes, celebrities did as well. Both are closely tied together. As mentioned before, our celebrity driven culture first started developing when mass publications established themselves in the 1850s. In the early 20th century Americans first experienced mass theatre going and movies, later TV. Newly expanded markets through urbanization marked the beginning of American consumer culture as we know it today. At the same time a diversification of newspapers and the beginning of the Yellow Journalism took place. As newspapers started to compete for readership, they started to adjust to their readers' interests - entertainment and leisure.
The more content the media had to produce, the more pages to fill and the more minutes to broadcast, the more important celebrities became, since they provide strong stories that attract the audience - this phenomenon is called 'tabloidization' of media. As a consequence, the barriers to stardom have been constantly lowered.
In the beginning of the 20th century, celebrities were indeed characterized by distance and aristocracy, forming an elite in society and therefore being admired. But this has changed since new forms of media came up. “Whereas the film celebrity plays with aura through the construction of distance, the television celebrity is configured around conceptions of familiarity“ (Marshall, 2006, p.119). Even more so, since the rise of reality TV and self-made superstars, a phenomenon called the “democratization“ of celebrity has taken place. It has been argued that audiences have now the power to determine who becomes a celebrity, be it through calling a hotline for them on popular TV shows like Big Brother or X-Factor, or watching their videos on youtube.com over and over again. Especially the internet is seen as a breakthrough in further enabling what is called a “DIY celebrity culture“ (Evans, 2005, p.14). “The internet, for example has been lauded for widening the pool of potential celebrities by allowing would-be celebrities to sidestep the normal centralized channels of the media industry“ (Evans, 2005, p.15).
With the internet being the latest paradigm shift in media, the democratization or “democratainment“ (Hartley, 1999, p.159ff) has reached its preliminary peak. It has never been so easy to display yourself to an audience. Virtually everyone has the opportunity to participate. Does that mean that everyone can be a celebrity? In theory, yes, but scholars warn: “It is important to remember that celebrity still remains a systematically hierarchical and exclusive category, no matter how much it proliferates“ (Turner, 2006, p.157).
2.3 Celebrity PR: from story-tellers to brand managers?
As mentioned above, celebrities are highly independent from the media that draws attention to them and provides them with coverage. The relationship between celebrities and the media has been managed by PR professionals, often called 'publicists', for a long time. In fact, the rise of the modern day celebrity is closely tied to the rise of the Hollywood publicist. According to Mark Borkowski, it is the press agents and publicists who breathe life into fame, who “truly understands the dark Conradian soul of man, who understands that it's the pressure of people tugging at his elbow what makes him important“ and who “supplies immortality in celluloid and print form, the closest thing we get to it, other than our children“ (Borkowski, 2008, p.4f). When the tabloidization of newspapers began in the early 20th century, it was press agents who fed those stories to the newspapers. Great story tellers, like Harry Reichenbach and Maynard Nottage established the industry as we know it today. They were covering the first big Hollywood movies like „The Great Train Robbery“ and began working with later icons like Charlie Chaplin and other stars of the silent movie era. With hard work and creative, elaborate publicity stunts, they soon established a reputation as “star makers“ and there power grew. Reichenbach once bragged in an interview: “I'll take an unknown girl, provided she is fairly attractive, and put her name in electric lights on Broadway in ten days at a star's salary (...), give me a young man who can wear pleated pants and in three weeks I'll make him the idol of American womenhood“ (Borkowski, 2008, p.83). It is that mixture of self-confidence, media contacts and pure swaggering that has defined powerful publicists since then still helps people like Max Clifford being successful.
Those men grew up with the emergent movie industry and its magnates and it was them who led the way for the so called “fixers“ (Fleming, 2004) that would follow.
According to Borkowski, the end of this era was marked by the rapid spread of radio as a new kind of media and a faster way of news. „By 1924 two and a half million radios had found their way into American homes and information was spreading too far and fast for the great imaginative stunts the early publicists thrived on“ (Borkowski, 2008, p.111). The movie industry got more and more fast-paced and commercially minded and so did the publicists - the days of creative, but expensive and time consuming publicity stunts were gone.
From the late 1920s on a restructuring of Hollywood took place, as minor studios merged into the big studios we still know today: Warner Bros., Paramount and, above all, Metro-Goldwyn-Mayers. It was the golden era of cinema, the big movie icons and with it - the big fixers. As the big studios aggregated all the power over Hollywood, they created movie stars and managed to take total control of their public image.
It was MGM's head of publicity Howard Strickling and studio vice president Eddie Mannix, who made a living out of hiding their clients' excesses from the 1920s to the 1950s. Celebrities then were stylized as “higher“ creatures, untouchable and admirable. In some way they became a surrogate for religion, as Rojek (2001) stated. Publicists did their best to keep this godlike, unreachable image alive - mistakes would have made them human and needed to be covered up: “The family of screen gods at MGM, from Gable to Garland, would be built up to appear as over-sized as their screen images“ (Borkowski, 2008, p.129). Once told by an interviewer “Everybody would like to be Cary Grant“, Cary Grant is said to have replied “So would I“. That shows how much pressure was put on the celebrities and how far from reality their public image really was. By 1928, MGM's internal publicity department alone employed 100 people and Hollywood was the third largest news source in the United States (Gamson, 2007). In Fleming's „The Fixers“ (2004), he quotes Strickling: „We did everything for them. There were no agents, personal press agents, business managers or answering services in those days. All these services were furnished by the MGM publicity department. (...) We told stars what they could say and what they couldn't, and they did what we said because they knew we knew best. When things went wrong, we had a way of covering up for them, too.“ In addition, Hollywood publicists had a close relationship to the few and powerful gossip journalists such as Hedda Hopper and Louella Parsons and were able to keep stories out of the papers as much as they brought them in.
But what sounds like a perfect system of control was shaken by another technical development by the early 1950s. The movie industry was then facing a serious crisis with viewers shrunk by two-thirds. That was due to the rise of television which started to displace film as the the dominant entertainment activity - the spell of the big 5 Hollywood studios was broken. TV granted a much higher coverage and changed the way in which the audience perceived celebrities. They stopped being portrayed as an unobtainable elite in society but became more and more “well-known for their well-knownness“, as Boorstin first noted in 1962 (p.57). Whereas the stars of the '30s and '40s were inextricably linked to their movie characters (and were promoted in the exact that way), in the '50s it became clear that the less attached a name is to a context, the more easily it transfers to new markets - celebrities became their own brands. This is when celebrity product endorsement - now a billion dollar industry - started. “As the prime outlet for, disseminator of, and certifier of public images, television has made decontextualized fame a ubiquitous currency“ (Gamson, 2007, p.150). And since celebrities developed into brands, their publicists seem to have developed with them - into brand managers.
The profession of public relations in general started to shape and become more sophisticated in its strategies and tools. Blyskal and Blyskal (1985) mark it as the shift from a one-dimensional press-agentry function into a further developed communications network connecting the most powerful elements of our society. PR started to focus more and more on its audiences' needs, identifying specialized market niches and targeting messages and in a way, so did celebrity PR.
Gamson (2007) proposes that the increased visibility posed a threat to the reigning myth that fame was a natural “cream-rising-to-the-top phenomenon“. While this could be widely controlled during the first half of the 20th century, the breakdown of the studios' power significantly destabilized what had been a tightly integrated celebrity system. In cultural theory, this has been identified as a major shift from an aristocratic to a democratic model of fame, from being “entitled“ to be famous to being more or less in the right place at the right time (Braudy, 1986).
PR adapted to this and shifted from elevating celebrities to showing their “real lives“, the “inside story“ and making them more believable and accessible. The glamorous celebrity was sacrificed for a more realistic, authentic one and publicity faded into the background in order to maintain this status. There is, of course, a contradiction in this: if stars are so much like us, why are we even interested in them? What makes them different from our neighbours? The perception of “knowing“ someone and connecting to someone without ever actually having spoken to this person fits in the concept of para-social interaction described earlier and this is what makes us hold on to celebrities so strongly. It also shows how stardom is still an exclusive and rather closed system which simply gives us the illusion of being accessible and open in order to sell the individual brand.
As stars developed into individual brands, PR shifted towards a brand management approach. Movie studios stopped representing their stars themselves and continuously lost power over their movie stars. It was then that big agencies like Rogers&Cowan, CMA or later PMK were founded. The way they performed PR has evolved into the modern business we are familiar with today - quietly pulling the strings. They are silently running the celebrity industry through a perfect mix of brand marketing, advertising and the subtle arts of PR. One might even say that “publicity“ evolved into “PR“: Borkowski (2008, p.309) features a similar distinction: “Publicity is about noise and the excitement of the moment, whereas public relations is more about planning and carefully structuring a series of events that build to a bigger picture“. Stan Rosenfeld, publicist of George Clooney and Robert De Niro said: “I'm not a publicist anymore, I'm a media strategist. I'm not selling movie tickets, I'm selling someone's brand through a product. It's about control.“ (Borkowski, 2008, p.327).
It seems like since the days of Rogers&Cowan, celebrity PR has entered a new era of control. During the last decades, the biggest American entertainment PR agencies merged into one big PR powerhouse PMK/HBH, all owned by advertising agency giant Interpublic Group which now has a firm grip on Hollywood. If you associated one person with this shift, it would be Pat Kingsley. Trained at Rogers&Cowan, she is said to have rewritten the rules of publicity entirely by drastically limiting the number of interviews her clients would give and thus taking control of the media. Having a mighty conglomerate of agencies behind you, this tactic actually works out. It seems to be the right strategy to avoid overexposure in order to stay interesting, but the way in which publicists like Kingsley handle the media and dictate their clients' every move instantly reminds of the studios' powerful inhouse publicists of the 1930s. The trick is fairly easy: ask an unapproved question and you will never talk to our A-list clients again (Forrest, 2006, p.1). The example of Tom Cruise reveals how influential Pat Kingsley really was. She had managed his career for decades and built up his image as the “cocky, charismatic boy next door (...) neutralising any potential scandal at its source“ (Muntean&Petersen, 2009, p.3f). Once he fired her and hired his sister as his new publicist, his image was melting down rapidly. He jumped on Oprah's couch, had a public feud with colleague Brooke Shields and made his heavy involvement with scientology public. All these little missteps eventually resulted in his latest movies flopping at the box office and him being fired by movie studio Paramount. Forrest (2006) commented on the famous couch incident: “Would it have happened had Pat been at the helm? Yes. But not on tape. The show would have been re-recorded.“
As Borkowski (2008, p.358) concludes, “less is more is a reasonable modus operandi in an age of celebrity at all costs, where TV shows promise fleeting game“. It is just another adjustment PR had to make in order to fit the ever changing celebrity culture.
In 1968 pop artist Andy Warhol famously said: „In the future everybody will be world famous for fifteen minutes“. It seems like we have reached that future, when casting shows, reality TV, youtube.com and thousands of other platforms produce instant celebrities on a daily basis.
2.4 Personal Public Relations and Impression Management
In order to fully explore the concept of celebrity PR, the tools and strategies actually practiced should not be left out. Theoretically those are based on the rather unexplored field of personal public relations and reputation management and the psychological concept of impression management and image management.
First of all, the term image should be defined. A person's image is an idea, a perception that others have of him. For the public this idea is the reality, rationally as well as emotionally.
Ambrecht, Avenarius and Zabel (1993, p.10f) mention that the construction of trust, the control of reputation, the creation of a profile, as well as the maintenance of an image are part of public relations. According to them, the construction of an image is one of the most common activities of a PR manager. Thus the term image has to be taken into account as a part of public relations, especially personal public relations. PR images simplify processes by creating mental images in the public mind.
There is, indeed, a difference between an image and an actual person. Mary Spillane (2000, p.35) is differentiating between a “public“ and a “private“ self, based on the following model (the so-called 'Johari window') by psychologists Luft and Ingham (1955):
Abbildung in dieser Leseprobe nicht enthalten
The open/free area, also called 'arena' equals the public self. “The public self is what you show the world - it is the image I have developed“ (Spillane, 2000,
p.35). It describes that part of a person that everyone can see. This is usually the part of the self that impression management is working on. When it comes to celebrities, this self is mostly mediated.
The 'hidden area' is the private self, which can only be made public by selfdisclosure. Dreams, hopes and fears are part of this. It is an area of avoiding and hiding and contains things that we know of ourselves, but conceal from other people. Only radical impression management touches this part of the self: it is being shaped so it fits in a preformed image.
The 'shadow area', otherwise known as 'blind spots' are “things that others see about me but I can't see for myself“ (Spillane, 2000, p.35). One aspect of impression management is to minimize those blind spots and get a comprehensive outline of one's public image.
The remaining category 'unknown self' is an unfamiliar dimension, invisible for both the person himself and the public and should also be minimized. Piwinger and Ebert (1998, p.14) define an image as a link between selfperception and identity. So ideally, a person's public image should be as close as possible to his actual character or at least be an extension of it.
But what is Impression Management? It is defined as the “conscious or unconscious attempt to control images that are projected in real or imagined social interactions“ (Schlenker, 1980, p.12). It is an attempt to influence the perceptions of other people about a person, object or event by creating or changing images and therefore producing a certain typing. Typecast makes it easier for us to distinguish one another, to interact and to form decisions, it is also simplifying communication. This refers to our everyday life just as much as to public relations. Everybody is constantly working on his image and trying to impress their surroundings, be it consciously or unconsciously, but PR professionals took the concept to another level by strategically forming the public image of brands, corporations - and people. According to Nessmann (2008), personality PR involves impression management (conscious use of language, clothing and symbols); social management (taking on social responsiblity, getting involved with associations and interest groups, supporting charitable institutions, attending and hosting parties) and of course media and topic management (press releases, press conferences, in-depth interviews, home stories, autobiographies and personal websites).
Celebrities have to practice a certain amount of personal PR in order to maintain their image, to drive people to see their newest movie, listen to their latest album or simply buy the products they endorse. A distinct profile, as well as a high level of credibility and trustworthiness helps them to maintain their status as a celebrity. As Boorstin (1961) said: “Stars do not have a 'strong character', but a definable, publicizable personality: a figure which can become a nationally-advertised trademark“ (p.162). This is why their public image is constantly under construction.
Gamson (2007, p.144f) gives an overview of the tools celebrity publicists have been using in the 1950s: “After test-marketing the image, promoting the personality through advertising stunts, rumors, and feature stories and photos; and releasing and exhibiting films in premieres and opulent theaters that underlined the stars' larger-than-life images, the studio publicity departments took over to match a star's personal life with the traits of the screen character.“ As mentioned earlier, at some point stars where no longer matched their movie characters, but tried to build an own, individual brand.