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Buzz brains unite

Studio, personal praisers are playing nice these days

TIP SHEET
WHAT: ICG Publicists Awards
WHEN: Today
WHERE: Beverly Hilton
HOST: Craig Ferguson
WATTAGE: Julie Andrews, Danny Boyle, James Cameron, Marg Helgenberger, John Stamos

There are two buzz words dominating the buzz-generating business of Hollywood publicity these days: cooperation and collaboration.

Entertainment publicists — whether they’re acting in a personal, studio, network or independent capacity — find themselves working more closely and planning more carefully with each other than ever before.

“There’s a greater collaborative effort now, and it’s necessary,” says Stan Rosenfield, who helped longtime client Will Smith and Sony open “Hitch” to the tune of $45 million over Valentine’s Day weekend. “There’s too much money at stake to just set a movie out there and see what happens.”

Driven by the financial pressures of studios and networks as well as the need to manage the public’s increasing celebrity appetite, publicity veterans from every side seem to be embracing the shift toward teamwork.

Personal publicists, for instance, welcome the chance for input on a creative level, as they help plot marketing campaigns with their studio and network counterparts. Meanwhile, studio and network publicists appreciate the big-picture viewpoint that celebrity handlers bring to the mix.

“I tell people we’re not personal publicists anymore, we’re individual media strategists,” explains Rosenfield, who boasts a client list that includes Smith, George Clooney and Robert DeNiro, and a career that spans Hollywood eras. “You can’t just do Leno or Letterman and a morning show and then go home and see what happens. We’re a part of the equation now.”

For a lesson in what can happen when publicity and celebrity converge strategically in the spotlight, look no farther than the surprise Paramount hit “Mean Girls.”

The film and star Lindsay Lohan jointly shot to the top of the nation’s pop culture consciousness last spring, thanks to a combination of advance planning, a blend of proactive and reactive skills and seamless coverage across disciplines.

“Lindsay had ‘Confessions of a Teenage Drama Queen’ open one month before, and it didn’t really do much,” says Paramount senior publicist Tim Menke, who is nominated this year by the Publicists Guild for the Les Mason achievement award. “But we had some very good reaction to early screenings, and you just got the feeling there was a wave coming.”

Paramount and Lohan’s personal publicity firm, Baker Winokur Ryder, placed Lohan on the crest of that wave.

She hosted the May 1 episode of “Saturday Night Live,” which aired the same weekend “Mean Girls” premiered. Two weeks later, Lohan was announced as the 2004 host of the “MTV Movie Awards.” She also appeared in Vanity Fair.

The film went on to pull in $86 million at the domestic box office, and Lohan became a household name.

Of course, when arranging a flurry of high-profile appearances for a relative unknown, it behooves a performer’s publicist to know the movie being plugged is a good one — or for that matter, if the performer’s even in it.

In 1998, for example, actor Adrien Brody did quite a bit of advance press for Terrence Malick’s war film, “The Thin Red Line.”

Unfortunately for Brody and his publicist, by the final edit, the actor’s role was greatly reduced.

If anything, personal and studio publicists say improved colloboration bridges the gap that exists between their often differing agendas.

“Most of the time, we want the same thing they do, but there are times when we’ll ask a studio not to pursue something that’s not good for our client,” notes I/D Public Relations president Kelly Bush. “We have our wish list, and they have theirs, and it always works best when we compare notes.”

While personal publicists have gotten closer to their studio counterparts, there have been some high-profile separations within the ranks of the top celeb PR firms of late.

Late last year, PMK/HBH chief operating officer and heir apparent Leslee Dart was fired from her post after 23 years by longtime CEO Pat Kingsley.

Reverberations were felt throughout the talent and publicity communities, as both trade and consumer press tracked Dart’s departure and the potential fallout for her clients, including Ron Howard and Brian Grazer, Mike Nichols, Conan O’Brien and Woody Allen.

Then in January, publicist Bumble Ward announced she was closing her successful 10-year-old shop and leaving the world of entertainment PR.

Ward’s client list features many of the top directors in Hollywood, including Quentin Tarantino, Tony Scott, Sofia Coppola and Peter and Bobby Farrelly. Ward’s reasoning? She’d simply grown tired of working as a publicist and decided to spend more time with her family and to write the novel she’d been putting off.

Despite the difficulties and changes to the business, most within the industry have plenty of reason for optimism.

“I feel very positive and very upbeat about our business,” says Warren Cowan, who at the age of 80 remains the dean of Hollywood publicists. “I speak to publicists all day long, and every one feels things are more interesting and challenging today than they were a dozen years ago. Today we see results quicker, sometimes in a matter of minutes. And there are new possibilities and outlets that haven’t even been tapped yet. It’s more creative and exciting every day.”

But perhaps the biggest challenge for publicists today and going forward is generated internally.

“Every year it seems the bar is raised higher in terms of the standards that are set, what’s expected and what’s achieved,” says Paramount’s Menke. “Everyone is looking for a unique angle, and there are more shows trying to make an impact. But there are no tricks. It’s all in plotting a good strategy and taking the time to make sure it gets implemented.”

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