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Have Press Agents Become “Suppress” Agents?

Recently I attended an awards luncheon where a prominent PR woman was honored for her fierce protectiveness of her clients and her way of shutting out press who didn’t promise positive coverage. It made me wonder about the guard-dog publicist in the age of social media.

A few days later, I read the New York Times feature about entertainment publicists who struggle to rein in their clients on Twitter and other social platforms, often with limited success. (Are you listening, Gilbert Gottfried?)

Is the publicist as gatekeeper an anachronism? Maybe it should be.

Of course, we all want to do well by our clients, and that can mean blocking media access or counseling against certain actions. And I know it’s standard operating procedure in Hollywood, where celebrity representation has always meant painstaking image crafting and aggressive press management.

But, in becoming “suppress agents,” entertainment publicists (and some corporate communicators) may be going too far. First, they miss opportunities to convey the human dimension of their clients, and to actually build something like authentic engagement with fans.  And when access is too limited or the image too divorced from reality, they might just be setting them up for a fall.

Think back to Tiger Woods. His drive into the rough might have been smoother if it hadn’t contrasted so sharply with the carefully crafted image of Woods as a loyal family man and a paragon of self-restraint.

And one of the reasons Charlie Sheen’s outburst was so fascinating was that it felt so real. I, for one, am tired of the bland diet of banal profiles, puffy writearounds and praise for brilliant colleagues. Sheen’s unfiltered outbursts were like juicy red meat. As Entertainment Weekly‘s James Hibberd wrote, “Well, at least he’s not reciting the same carefully crafted humility that we hear from everybody else.” It’s true. Where can we get a break from those overscripted moments? The answer seems to be Donald Trump and Snooki. I wish there were something in between.

Every publicist wants to help clients be the best possible versions of themselves. But there needs to be something genuine at the core. Sometimes  you can just feel the journalist struggling to eke out a spontaneous moment. It’s not to terrible to show your client’s humanity, and in the age of social media, it just may be inevitable.

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