The rise of celebrity, and the rise of PR

L’Etang, J (2008) Public Relations: Concepts, Practice and Critique, Sage Publications
In Jacquie L’Etang’s well-received textbook, chapter 10 is devoted to Public Relations in ‘Promotional Culture’ and ‘in Everyday Life’.
‘Much of the PR role in celebrity circles is focused on promotion, publicity and media relations, and public relations has received some of its bad press from this association’ she writes. Yet ‘according to public relations scholarly conventions, publicity is a small part of public relations’.
That explains the problem of celebrity endorsement as a dissertation topic: it has not been viewed as a respectable academic subject by lecturers.
‘Some PR academics seem uncomfortable with students’ interests in celebrity and its connection to public relations… Why is this? Perhaps because celebrity is seen as hype from which academic public relations tries to distance itself.’
L’Etang, perhaps the most prominent of UK public relations academics, is best placed to attempt a rehabilitation. She even names a list of celebrities within the PR world: Max Clifford, Matthew Freud, Lynne Franks, Julia Hobsbawm and Anne Gregory. (Note how she includes the UK’s two public relations professors, so perhaps she’s also attempting a rehabilitation of the PR academic).  Mark Borkowski is absent from her list, though he’s done most to provide a media face for the role of public relations in celebrity, especially following the publication of The Fame Formula, his book on Hollywood PR and the celebrity industry.
L’Etang also guides students to key texts in this area including Graeme Turner’s Understanding Celebrity, published in 2004.
Tench, R and Yeomans, L (2nd ed 2009) Exploring Public Relations, FT Prentice Hall
The second edition of Exploring Public Relations includes a new chapter on Celebrity and public relations written by Elliot Pill.
There’s space in this chapter to link the rise of the celebrity to the emergence of mass media in the middle of the nineteenth century; to cite Bernays’s use of socialites to promote cigarettes; and to discuss Boorstin’s criticism of the fabrication of celebrities in place of true heroes.
Pill rightly argues that ‘celebrity culture is not new; it has just been taken to new heights with changing media consumption.’
Following L’Etang, he also challenges the perception that celebrity PR is the ‘Cinderella specialist area of the PR service portfolio’. Indeed, he cites the work of Rein et al to show that public relations is the dominant communication discipline contributing to celebrity. (It’s no coincidence that the rise of celebrity coincides with the rise of PR.)
He ascribes the effectiveness of celebrity endorsement to ‘credibility’, and goes on to discuss ‘attention’. Celebrities attract attention and this is the most vital ingredient of success in a world saturated with media and commercial messages.
These two chapters on celebrity and public relations in two mainstream textbooks will provide a good starting point for students wanting to study the phenomenon in more detail – and should answer any lingering suspicion of the subject from their tutors.

Public Relations: Concepts, Practice and Critique
by Jacquie L’Etang
290 pages, Sage Publications, 2008

Exploring Public Relations
by Ralph Tench and Liz Yeomans
666 pages, FT Prentice Hall, 2nd ed 2009

Public Relations

Two public relations textbooks plug a gap in the literature by reviewing the relationship between public relations and celebrity culture.

In Jacquie L’Etang’s well-received textbook, chapter 10 is devoted to Public Relations in ‘Promotional Culture’ and ‘in Everyday Life’.

‘Much of the PR role in celebrity circles is focused on promotion, publicity and media relations, and public relations has received some of its bad press from this association’ she writes. Yet ‘according to public relations scholarly conventions, publicity is a small part of public relations’.

That explains the problem of celebrity endorsement as a dissertation topic: it has not been viewed as a respectable academic subject by lecturers.

‘Some PR academics seem uncomfortable with students’ interests in celebrity and its connection to public relations… Why is this? Perhaps because celebrity is seen as hype from which academic public relations tries to distance itself.’

L’Etang, perhaps the most prominent of UK public relations academics, is best placed to attempt a rehabilitation. She even names a list of celebrities within the PR world: Max Clifford, Matthew Freud, Lynne Franks, Julia Hobsbawm and Anne Gregory. (Note how, in Hobsbawm and Gregory, she includes the UK’s two public relations professors, so perhaps she’s also attempting a rehabilitation of the public relations academic).  Mark Borkowski is absent from her list, though he’s done most to provide a media face for the role of public relations in celebrity, especially following the publication of The Fame Formula, his book on Hollywood PR and the celebrity industry.

L’Etang also guides students to key texts in this area including Graeme Turner’s Understanding Celebrity, published in 2004.

Exploring public relations – and celebrity

Exploring Public RelationsThe second edition of Exploring Public Relations includes a new chapter on Celebrity and public relations written by Elliot Pill.

There’s space in this chapter to link the rise of the celebrity to the emergence of mass media in the middle of the nineteenth century; to cite Bernays’s use of socialites to promote cigarettes; and to discuss Boorstin’s criticism of the fabrication of celebrities in place of true heroes.

Pill rightly argues that ‘celebrity culture is not new; it has just been taken to new heights with changing media consumption.’

Following L’Etang, he also challenges the perception that celebrity PR is the ‘Cinderella specialist area of the PR service portfolio’. Indeed, he cites the work of Rein et al to show that public relations is the dominant communication discipline contributing to celebrity. (It’s no coincidence that the rise of celebrity coincides with the rise of PR.)

He ascribes the effectiveness of celebrity endorsement to ‘credibility’, and goes on to discuss ‘attention’. Celebrities attract attention and this is the most vital ingredient of success in a world saturated with media and commercial messages.

These chapters on celebrity and public relations in two mainstream textbooks will provide a good starting point for students wanting to study the phenomenon in more detail – and should answer any lingering suspicion of the subject from their tutors.

Comments

  1. I recently went to a panel debate called “Celebrity Brands – Desire, Dollars and Danger?” at the University of Westminster sponsored by PRCA and among the panelists there were Max Clifford and Mark Borkowski. They debated on how celebrities are constantly under the media spotlight and in particular, they focused on Tiger Woods’ case debating on the risks and benefits for brands to associate with celebrities. Moreover, they all agreed that there’s no limit (so far) to public interest in celebrities’ stories and the stardom is still the fuel for a large slice of media, so in my opinion celebrity world should be recognized by PR academics as a growing facade of public relations.

  2. Whilst this post is a few years old, I expect it is still widely read, so picking up on the point about celebrity endorsement as a dissertation topic (as I’m supervising a few of these this year), my problem is not that it isn’t a respectable academic subject or that celebrity is all hype. Indeed, I’d like to see students go beyond the literature on endorsement (much of which is very advertising focused) and investigate the topic robustly within different theoretical frameworks to enhance the existing body of knowledge and dominant paradigms in public relations academia.

    The historical dimension is relevant as often students do feel this is a new phenomenon, and also they lack a critical perspective as to its effectiveness. The third area I’d highlight is the difference between PR for celebrities and celebrity endorsement of brands (although these blur in some cases). Nessmann’s work on personal PR (personal communication management) is definitely useful for students looking at the former aspect.

Trackbacks

  1. […] Students wanting to research celebrity and PR for their dissertations have been frustrated by how little space the topic attracts in the maintstream textbooks. This is now changing, and we review two recent contributions to the literature. […]

Leave a comment