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Publicists adapt to new media frenzy

PR pack challenged by more outlets, Internet

If the Internet has taught us anything, it is that — like dinosaurs — we must adapt or die.

That axiom has found full expression in the ranks of Hollywood’s publicists, whose efforts to manage the images, reputations and awards campaigns of their high-profile clients have faced fierce interference in recent years from the unfettered Web arena, where anyone can post a story that, true or not, suddenly becomes accepted “fact.”

Add to that the ceaseless, speculative chatter of 24-hour cable — something that publicists of old never had to contend with — and your client’s standing in the world is no longer in your hands.

“It’s very difficult to keep up to the moment with any of these new platforms,” says Henri Bollinger, who joined the Publicists Guild in 1957 and is awards chairman of the 45th annual ICG Publicists Awards, to be held today at the Beverly Hilton Hotel. “I make use of the Internet constantly, but it’s always ahead of me. And it’s redefining the way we do public relations and marketing for movies and television.”

In such an environment, some of the awards to be given out at today’s luncheon may be more hard-earned than in the past, inasmuch as the panoply of new media has placed increased demands on publicists.

Six of the industry’s most visible veterans — Tony Angellotti, Claudia Gray, Mary Hunter, Pat Kingsley, Stan Rosenfield and Deborah Wuliger — are up for the Les Mason Award, the highest honor paid a publicist for lifetime achievement.

The Publicists Guild will also bestow the Maxwell Weinberg Publicist Showmanship Awards, which credit union publicists for promotional campaigns last year. In television, the nominated publicists are those who worked on “Aliens in America,” “Bob Barker’s Retirement From ‘The Price Is Right,'” “CSI,” “Dirty Sexy Money,” “Gossip Girl” and “Pushing Daisies,” while their motion-picture counterparts were the ones behind “Enchanted,” “Knocked Up,” “The Simpsons Movie,” “Superbad,” “300” and “Transformers.”

The Publicists Guild, a 450-member body that has resided under the mantle of the Intl. Cinematographers Guild since 2002, also bestows prizes outside its own ranks. This year, its Motion Picture Showmanship Award will go to writer-director-producer Judd Apatow; the Television Showmanship Award will be given to Warner Bros. Television prexy Peter Roth; and Harrison Ford, whose first film credit dates back to 1967, will receive the guild’s Lifetime Achievement Award.

The Publicists Guild also extends kudos to journalists covering the entertainment industry. This year, the Press Award nominees are Variety’s Anne Thompson; Scott Mantz, of Access Hollywood; LA Weekly’s Nikki Finke; and Bill Keveney, Claudia Puig or Susan Wloszczyna, all of USA Today.

Up for the International Media Award are Didier Allouch of France; Germany’s Anke Hofmann; Lorenzo Soria of Italy; Japan’s Yuko Yoshikawa; and Philip Berk, former president of the Hollywood Foreign Press Assn. who files for media outlets in Southeast Asia.

Finally, the guild gives out an award for Excellence in Unit Still Photography and this year considers the contributions of Andrew Cooper, Francois Duhamel, Melinda Sue Gordon, Frank Masi and Ron Jaffe.

But while those photographers and their colleagues worked legitimately with actors, directors and set designers, a huge number of unauthorized images have been making their way onto the Web, undercutting the pros’ efforts. In response, the Cinematographers Guild is attempting to ensure that unit still photographers are the only ones shooting pictures around working talent. A new rule stipulates that no additional cameras — whether still, video or cell phone — be allowed on film sets or locations, says ICG president Steven Poster.

“There was some very ugly stuff going out instantly on the Internet about every little detail of a production, and it’s something we’re working very hard to stop,” says Poster, speaking from the Newport News, Va., set of “The Box,” a horror thriller directed by Richard Kelly and starring Cameron Diaz. “It became epidemic for a while, and it wasn’t helping anyone. It’s our job to police that, not only for the publicists and the artists, but it’s better for the producers to have control over the images that are taken on the set. We’ve successfully done it on this film.”

For Bollinger, who recalls that just two prizes were given out during the Publicists Guild’s first awards ceremony in 1964, the new-media dynamics of marketing and publicity have forced a reordering of priorities.

“I keep on adding outlets to my list, and a lot of them are Web-only,” he says. “Everyone is desperately trying to adapt, and those who are not are left behind.”

TIP SHEET

WHAT: ICG Publicists Awards luncheon

WHEN: Today, 11 a.m.-2 p.m.

WHERE: Beverly Hilton Hotel

WHO: Show host Billy Bush and presenters including Anthony LaPaglia, Hill Harper, Christopher Mintz-Plasse, Hal Holbrook, Mace Neufeld and Shirley Jones

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