A Dangerous Game: Are Celebrity Interviews Worthless?

Are celebrity interviews worthless? Laura Brown argues, if you’re bringing in stars for headlines, you’re playing a dangerous game with your brand…

The first time I thought that this celebrity PR lark might be more trouble than it was worth was when somebody emailed a death threat to me. It was a Friday afternoon. I went to the pub.

If that seems a little laissez fair it’s because it wasn’t my first death threat. The first one was from serious gangsters who had form for blowing stuff up. This one was about a celebrity filmmaker. I put my faith in my instincts, forwarded the email to an HR manager and went for a vodka and cranberry juice.

The celebrity in question was controversial. Unfortunately the person (very much not connected to the celeb) who sent me the death threat hadn’t fully read into his satirical approach to the thing she, the sender of said threat, was annoyed about. That, apparently, was my fault. But hey, I was working in PR, we get blamed for a lot.

“The stress and bullshit that surrounds the celebrity interview is difficult to explain if you’ve never been at the centre of it”

The stress and bullshit that surrounds the celebrity interview is difficult to explain if you’ve never been at the centre of it, but, believe me, it is not PRs pushing for them. Last week’s car crash interview in The Times with Rhys Ifans mentions a PR hovering in the background. I can bet you all the change in my purse she wasn’t thinking “this is brilliant, I’ll get such great headlines”. She was thinking “Fuck. I. Am. Going. To. Get. Fired”. The TV show he was meant to be promoting was barely mentioned in the finished piece. The piece was about him being a prat, nothing else.

Many journalists muttered that they’re forced to do these kind of interviews. PRs, they decree, push them towards celebrity features and interviews. Dahling, they’d much prefer to be contributing their critical voice to the latest interpretation of Chekhov but these ghastly PRs make them – nay force them – to get involved in this little circus.

What tosh. It is journalists who have created this situation. They want to interview celebrities because it sells more issues. And it’s led to a situation where cultural organisations feel as though they have to find enough names to fill the top bill to get coverage, buzz and for punters to come through the door.

Imagine I send two pitches. They are identical. Same production, same theatre, same interpretation. One features a celebrity, the other doesn’t. Which do you think gets picked up?

While all this is happening you cannot do any other work. Everything gravitates around this VERY FAMOUS PERSON who is DOING SOMETHING in your vicinity.

“It would be so much easier if your fate was in the lap of the gods. Instead you’re in the lap of an ego”

It would be so much easier if your fate was in the lap of the gods. Instead you’re in the lap – so to speak – of an ego. And no one knows what direction the ego will be pointing in on any given day. If they want to talk then junket day will be fun. If they don’t you’re all buggered.

It isn’t a failing that journalists like interviewing famous people. Everyone likes a little stardust. If punters didn’t all buy the magazines and newspapers with the celebrities on the cover then they wouldn’t be pushing those interviews to the top of the list. Every week I get a press request from a freelance journalist who fills around five to ten celebrity features for a range of national titles. Each week she sends out a list of 20 celebrity names she wants to contact. If you’re working with them you’re in. Otherwise your project wouldn’t even get a look in – it still might not.

It doesn’t help programming teams either. If a curator, producer or CEO is banking on a celebrity turn as part of their annual programme then it’s warping what you want to achieve as an organisation, surely. It isn’t every celebrity – in the same way it isn’t every PR or every journalist – who wouldn’t want to see Kenneth Branagh as Hamlet because he’s one of the finest Shakespearean actors of his generation? Similarly Graham Linehan is a bloody fantastic comedy writer, who wouldn’t want to know how he handles the Ladykillers (absolutely stonkingly, since you’re asking). When it fits it’s because the celeb has an astonishing talent which would be evident whether they were famous or not. They’re the cream for a reason.

But it isn’t every celebrity. The virtue of fame does not equal talent, nor does it suggest a voice or opinion worth listening to.

Imagine you’re walking into a massive playground you don’t know with a lot of different games being played. You don’t know all the rules and a couple of them look like you could get smacked in the face very hard if you were looking the wrong way. That’s what the celebrity PR game is like. The fear is that programmers and curators don’t realise the game they’re playing. They sometimes see it as a shortcut to coverage and an audience when in fact what they’re doing is putting the pocket of their organisation into the hands of someone they don’t really know.

And please don’t blame the PR. Unless it’s for the cheap coffee. That is almost certainly our fault.

Laura Brown

Posted on 11/06/2013 by thedoublenegative