It’s not always easy to know the exact moment when your job shifts gears, but Prime co-founder and partner Joy Fehily is pretty sure she has a good idea: It was a few years ago, when one of her clients was rumored to be the next Bond girl. Suddenly, the publicist recalls, the actress was “inundated with Twitter inquiries and congratulations.” Working together, the pair dispelled the rumor with a tweet of their own.
“And that was the end of it,” she says.
It was an ending that couldn’t have been written 10 years ago, when Facebook was in its infancy and Twitter still to be born. But today’s social-media revolution has changed all that, turning consumers into reporters, and reporters into high-metabolizing information machines. Along the way, it has also transformed the role of the publicist by giving anyone who has access to the Internet some influence over the flow of information.
Today, mitigation, damage control and corrections are major staples of publicists’ diets.
A series of negative or positive tweets on a movie’s opening weekend, for instance, “can literally affect the outcome of your weekend box office,” says Dennis Rice, CEO of Visio Entertainment. “You have to take the lead and manage the information out there; otherwise, someone else will manage it for you.”
Education is the watchword for publicists, who need their clients to be savvy about social media. If clients are interested in using some of the platforms, 42 West founder and partner Leslee Dart says they guide them with “some ‘best practices’ to ensure they understand how best to use each platform to communicate with their friends and the public.”
Adds fellow 42 West partner Amanda Lundberg, “For directors and producers who tweet, it can be very impactful when they want to get a message up out there.’ ” She recalls a director who was on the blunt end of a stick wielded by audiences who did not care for his adaptation of a beloved book. During the promotion for his next film, he opened up on social media with his explanation.
“My job is, No. 1, support their projects; No. 2, help brand them and help them understand what’s appropriate; No. 3, make sure they know it’s not all about selfies — be a well-rounded person online; and No. 4, be aware of security concerns,” says Howard Bragman, founder of Fifteen Minutes PR and vice chair of Reputation.com. “Don’t say something if it puts you in danger. I’ve absolutely had to have them delete a tweet.”
But the real education has been in publicists teaching themselves to use social media as a promotional tool.
Kelly Bush, CEO and founder of ID-PR, notes that many actor contracts, particularly ones that deal with endorsements, now come with specific language about the timing of their posts. She also enthuses about using less ubiquitous social media platforms, such as Reddit’s “Ask Me Anything.”
ID-PR’s creative department wrote the creative for Dannon’s “Full House” Super Bowl spot and did all the teaser and additional content around that effort. The unit also crafted a “Netflix adultery” campaign, which involved commissioning a survey on viewing habits of couples who secretly watch shows before their partner.
“If you’re strategic about it,” says Bush, “you can use social media to tease details to your advantage and lay the groundwork for a long campaign.”
Lauri Metrose, senior VP of communications for CBS Television Studios, says they’ve done everything from pairing the cast of “NCIS: Los Angeles” with iPhones and Instagram accounts, to posting pictures from backstage, to putting “NCIS” showrunner Gary Glasberg on Facebook to explain directly to perturbed fans why a favored actress was leaving. “Social media used to be the gravy in our campaigns,” she says. “Now, it’s the meat. It has to be part of our campaigns.”
“It’s an inevitable evolution of technology,” says Visio’s Rice. “Regardless of how hard it makes your job, you have to embrace it. I’m sure it’s taken several years off of my life, worrying about how things will go. But it’s also part of what makes this job so exciting.”