It wasn’t so long ago that the chance to visit a movie set, attend a junket or interview top Hollywood talent was a privilege reserved for a small network of print and TV journalists. Today, as such outlets wane, studio publicists are increasingly relying on websites to spread the word on their films — though they haven’t entirely rethought the underlying strategy to fit this fundamentally different type of venue.
“There’s this urgency to get to those people — and we do try to get to them — but there’s always the question of, ‘Is it worth it?’ ” says Jonathan Taylor, VP of publicity for Starz Media and a former journalist with stints at such places as Variety, the Los Angeles Times and the Los Angeles Daily News.
The most difficult task for publicists these days is simply staying on top of all the sites out there and deciding which ones to work with. “You’re looking for the ones that seem to resonate,” Taylor says. “Who are the ones who are picked up by the aggregators? Whose reviews show up on Rotten Tomatoes or Metacritic? Who’s on Huffington (Post)?”
Among the writers invited to junkets or press events, the range of professionalism varies widely (just as it does among print and TV outlets). Many of the online outlets who participate are small operations that rely on writers who are moonlighting, volunteering or just plain fans (even HuffPo depends on pro bono contributors).
The resulting air of amateurism can plague the larger and more serious sites, some of whom have come to surpass the depth of coverage offered by their print rivals. “The level of journalism online has increased dramatically — and I mean that as a positive,” says Paul Pflug of Principal Communications Group. “The standards and practices are coming in line with the print medium.”
According to Edward Douglas, associate editor for ComingSoon.net, it’s still a big deal for most Web outlets to be invited to a set visit or junket. But among the more experienced, the thrill has worn off. “These days, they’re doing it for so many sites, it’s not as exclusive as it used to be,” Douglas says.
Those who have been at it for the longest are frequently rewarded with better opportunities (for example, a select crowd of Web writers will get to grill Peter Jackson in an intimate post-“District 9” screening mixer at Comic-Con).
As Devin Faraci, an editor and writer for the movie site CHUD.com, puts it, “The best publicists are the ones who understand that there are some folks in the online world who know what they’re doing.”