Managing fame and celebrity

Actor Joaquin Phoenix signs autographs for fans at the gala screening of his latest film Inherent Vice during the 2014 American Film Institute Fest at The Egyptian Theater in Los Angeles, California, on November 8.

Fame is a bee.

It has a song—

It has a sting—

Ah, too, it has a wing.

 

THE poem above, titled “Fame is a bee” and written by 19th-century American poet Emily Dickinson, serves as a fair warning for people. It aptly describes how a fleeting celebrity life is played out. You’re handed just enough time to enjoy fame; capture media attention; and be written and talked about, “Facebooked,” tweeted or “Instagrammed.”

A celebrity or entertainment public-relations (PR) communicator has the enviable opportunity to regularly come face-to-face with famous and “want to be famous” people. From these encounters, the communicator can debunk or reaffirm time-tested principles of good PR, as well as pick up new knowledge and skills to add to his or her years of practicing PR professionally. Having been involved in celebrity-communications management for some time, allow me to share some observations on how celebrities or would-be celebrities can thrive in the ephemeral world of showbiz.

 

Start with your truth

People, products, places or events can be written or talked about in the media positively or negatively. But it’s best to start with your truth every time. For sure, it will not be a bed of roses. Thorns will prick your sensitive fingers very often. Unpalatable information, whether accurate or distorted, will cross your path and it can be picked up with delight. And if you go by the classic communications theory that says, “Perception becomes reality,” the lie will be received as fact if it becomes talked about in broadcast media or shared in social media frequently. In such a situation, you will undergo media scrutiny. But, at the end of it, what will emerge as valuable is your truth, and that is the information you can start with for your defense.

Everything starts with the basic idea of dominance. In PR communications, the “rule of first” prevails. Your first claim, your first image or your first mnemonic device will form the belief or attitude of the targeted publics. It could be the most influential message or visual element that will create people’s perception of and stance about you.

 

Have a clear personal brand

Whatever your role in life is, you should stand for something. You are a brand. Your branding must be clear, focused and differentiated from the rest. Know your best and worst traits, and work around them. Define your publics and determine how you want them to see you. Be familiar with your landscape, develop an intimacy with your publics, efficiently connect with them and gradually turn them into brand evangelists. Support an advocacy or public-service project that resonates with your targets. It can provide a conscience to what you are doing, attract legions of fans and bring lucrative advertising endorsements.

Getting bad press is part of the territory. Expect it to confront you. It is uncomfortable, but you can’t avoid it. But you can be a “darling of the press,” too, if you are seen as so won- derful and lovable that editors and reporters are not eager to rip you apart. If you err, they can rush to your side and give you the benefit of the doubt. The best way to evade bad press is to conduct yourself well, especially in the public eye, and to treat your media partners with respect and sincerity.

An indiscretion can become fodder for public discussion. Be on your guard. Always behave as if you are constantly being watched. Your misbehavior can be photographed or recorded on video, and uploaded to a website or published in a leading tabloid. You can run, but you can’t hide—the truth has been exposed, and it’s going to haunt and damage you.

 

Take care of your fans

YOUR fans will give you career support. Take care of them. Have a target niche. It can be as small as three or as large as a million. You can define it by looking inward and being aware of who you really are. The niche groups, once you develop them, will help open doors, push you into the mainstream-star arena, expand your territory, sustain your competitiveness and protect you from falling out. They can be your most loyal followers who will be around, come rain or shine.

Key messaging is important in projecting your star. If you have to face the media, make sure you have something to say. Identify your “selling propositions” clearly and proactively convey them at every interview opportunity. If these are not clear in your head, don’t even dare to bring yourself to a media briefing. You might just blabber and lose your bearings.

Whatever you call it, the public loves persistence. “Try and try until you succeed” is a timeless adage found in many slum-book entries, and is truly a reminder that patience is a virtue. A matinee idol followed his dream of becoming a rock singer and was able to cut some records. He may not have been thoroughly successful in his experimentation, but he persisted in realizing his dream. In the process, his mainstream presence was reduced, but he was able to stage a successful comeback.

 

Be visible in the media

VISIBILITY in media-covered events can provide productive results. Walk the red carpet dur-ing awards nights, participate in a celebrity auction or join a fashion-for-a-cause affair. Show off your wit, your fashion sense and your band of devotees.

Media people are your friends; develop and nurture your camaraderie with them. There is no reason to avoid the entertainment pages of the tabloids and broadsheets, and the TV and radio talk shows. They are important coverage channels. They bring a big number of dedicated readers and viewers. Be friends with them.

If you have reached the top, prepare for the eventual descent. When you attain iconic status, expect to be knocked out and brought down from your pedestal. British-American actress Olivia de Havilland, known for her early ingénue roles, enthused, “Famous people feel that they must perpetually be on the crest of the wave, not realizing that it is against all the rules of life. You can’t be on top all the time, it isn’t natural.”

Author Mark Twain echoes this when he said, “Fame is a vapor, and popularity an accident or something you design. The only earthly thing is oblivion.”

If you wake up one morning and find yourself famous, relish it, for it can be short-lived, especially if you are not able to handle it well. Fifteen minutes of fame—that’s all you have if you listen to American artist and pop-art movement leader Andy Warhol. Enjoy the view, fast.

 

Bong R. Osorio is the communications consultant and spokesman of ABS-CBN Corp.

PR Matters is a rotating column of members of the local chapter of the United Kingdom-based International Public Relations Association, the association of senior PR professionals around the world.

PR Matters is devoting a special column each month to answer readers’ questions about public relations. Send comments or questions to [email protected]

 

Image Credits: AP

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Bong R. Osorio is the communications consultant and spokesman of ABS-CBN Corp.

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