Though Hollywood publicists and journalists moved to a 24/7 news cycle years ago, the two camps still used to enjoy something of a reprieve from their conflicting missions in the run-up to the Oscars.
For more than half of the year, industry reporters chased stories — often publishing or posting prematurely in the ever-increasing quest to be first — while handlers tried to protect their clients from the fallout. Then, from October to late February, the goals of journos and flacks would dovetail as the focus switched to feeding the awards-season beast, with exclusives and firsts taking a backseat to smarter analysis and better access.
But that vacation is over, at least according to Hollywood’s media strategists, who will gather today at the 48th annual ICG Publicists Awards luncheon at the Beverly Hilton. In its place is a 365-day news cycle in which Oscar-related scoops — like last year’s story involving “The Hurt Locker” producer Nicolas Chartier being banned from the Academy Awards over an anti-“Avatar” e-mail — have newfound value and often play out for days.
“There is no harmonious truce that magically breaks out between publicists and journalists just because it is awards season,” explains Steve Elzer, senior VP of media relations at Sony Pictures Entertainment. “There is a lot of reporting that goes on (during) this period.”
In fact, the hardball/softball paradigm has morphed into a mandate of hardball all of the time.
“There is no question that the proliferation of blogs and online journalism has put enormous new pressure on publicists and journalists alike,” Elzer says.
Oscar strategist Tony Angellotti, who is handling the “Toy Story 3” campaign this year, quips that he is “irascible year-round, not just off-season.”
In fact, he says the feeling is mutual with Hollywood’s hungry press corps. “I don’t see a disconnect between the way press treat us or we treat them (during awards season),” he notes.
Last year’s Les Mason Award recipient Stan Rosenfield, a personal publicist who handled the Oscar-winning campaigns of clients George Clooney and Helen Mirren in back-to-back years and is overseeing Geoffrey Rush’s supporting actor bid this year, insists that the same rules apply out of season as during the Academy race.
“Journalists want certain stories from us, and when they don’t get (them), they are not happy with us,” notes Rosenfield, relaying an anecdote about a reporter pleading that his boss expected him to break a particular story involving an A-list client. “But if you want to be good at what you do, you need to have a meaningful relationship with the press. Everyone has a really good memory. Whatever your relationship is in May is your relationship in December.”
As the media landscape has become more sophisticated, both sides are increasingly adept at playing the other side.
“At the risk of oversimplifying the complicated co-dependency shared by publicists and journalists, it is fair to say that no matter how contentious or challenging a story can get, each side uses the history of their relationship to push their agenda as far as possible to do their jobs effectively,” Elzer concludes.
And the honorees and nominations are:
Motion Picture Showmanship Award
John Lasseter (Disney/Pixar)
Television Showmanship Award
Gary Newman and Dana Walden (20th Century Fox TV)
Lifetime Achievement Award
Maxwell Weinberg Publicist Showmanship Awards – Film
“Despicable Me” (Universal)
“Inception” (Warner Bros.)
“The Social Network” (Sony)
“Toy Story 3” (Disney)
“Waiting for Superman” (Paramount)
“Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps” (20th Century Fox)
Maxwell Weinberg Publicist Showmanship Awards – TV
“The Big Bang Theory” (Warner Bros./CBS)
“Fringe” (Warner Bros./Fox)
“The Good Wife” (CBS Prods./CBS)
“The Vampire Diaries” (Warner Bros./CW)
“The Walking Dead” (AMC)
Les Mason Lifetime Achievment Award
Jennifer Allen, Viewpoint, Inc.
Tony Angellotti, The Angellotti Company
Rob Harris, Unit Publicist
Michael Singer, Jerry Bruckheimer Films
Murray Weissman, Weissman/Markovitz Communications
Geoff Boucher, Los Angeles Times
Jeff Jensen, Entertainment Weekly
Tom O’Neil, Gold Derby
Sharon Waxman, The Wrap
Jeffrey Wells, Hollywood Elsewhere
International Media Award
Philip Berk, Australia/Malaysia
Jose Ignacio Cuenca, Spain
Elaine Lipworth, U.K.
James White, U.K.
Stevie Wong, Asia Regional
Excellence in Unit Still Photography – Film
Excellence in Unit Still Photography – TV