The impact of celebrity culture on public relations

Is there any point in PR people keeping abreast of current affairs when consumers are so obsessed with celebrity these days? For example, a recent study showed that online readers are far more interested in George Clooney than they are in more serious news such as Ebola – global audiences engaged with Clooney content nearly six times more than with Ebola and over four times more than with ISIS content.

Content discovery platform Outbrain followed several major news stories over a period of six weeks up until 5th November, looking at the number of stories written and the number of stories read online, including: the Ebola outbreak, the iPhone 6 launch, ISIS, the Nobel Prize announcement and George Clooney's wedding.

But before PROs get the idea that no one cares about “proper” news anymore, let’s remember that we all need a bit of light relief sometimes. As Sarah Gavin, European marketing director at Outbrain, says: "With the majority of press focused on reporting serious and dangerous events, it is perhaps not surprising that readers should choose to balance this by seeking out lighter stories, such as George Clooney's wedding. It's no secret that most of us love a showbiz wedding and while the media coverage of George and Amal's big day accounted for the smallest volume in our analysis, audiences revealed themselves to be most engaged with this content. The magical world of celebrity will always deliver its fair share of light-hearted and fun news to readers.”

For those working in scientific PR, the news is not so cheerful. Gavin says: “In particular it seems online audiences prefer celebrity news over science – the audience paid 10 times more attention to the details of Amal Alamuddin's white dress than to the ground-breaking scientific discoveries of this year's winners of the Nobel Prize."

Online and social media means that celebrity lives are far more accessible than before and this has fuelled the public’s hunger to find out more about them, whether they are A-list or D-list. As Emma Hazan, deputy managing director at agency Hotwire Public Relations, says: “Anyone can now follow the rich and famous online and get regular glimpses into their lives, thoughts, beliefs and even abusive arguments with other famous faces. Addictive viewing for many!”

Inevitably this has altered the news agenda. Hazan comments: “The media is under pressure to constantly monitor, report and comment on the juiciest elements of this steady stream of celebrity content to keep up with growing consumer appetite. Getting exclusive shots, stories and footage that has not yet reached the masses through social media is imperative for selling newspapers and magazines and driving traffic.”

Just because the public loves a star, doesn’t mean PR must always use celebrities to get attention. Hazan says: “The temptation for PR is to throw more money than ever at the celebrity world to endorse products, attend events or act as brand ambassadors – not only do they attract media attention, but with such a strong social media following they can communicate and engage with consumers all on their own. Whilst this in itself isn’t wrong it does make for rather obvious, me-too PR campaigns that can lack much innovation and creativity.”

“The challenge for PR is to weigh up the power – and cost – of celebrity engagement versus what the brand is really trying to achieve. A campaign that can stand on its own two feet rather than on the shoulders of the latest reality-TV celebrity will certainly be more respected and in the long-term probably more successful.‌”


The value of being professional, no matter who is in the news

Simon Merrick, PR director at marketing and public relations agency Zest ST:

“Be it celebrity weddings, or hostage footage, newsroom producers are in touch with the economic reality that celebrity sells, and not just watches, perfume, and cars, but indirectly the space around news programming. Is it blasphemy to state that the news agenda is influenced by the value of the media space around our news sites and programming? That value is enhanced when celebrity is a staple content.”

“Celebrity has always been newsworthy. We are working in a changing environment where gaining and retaining a mass following ensures that celebrity stays on the news media’s radar. After all, higher ratings generate higher advertising revenue and positive balance sheets maintain services. Surely what is essential is that all news is investigated and reported to the highest possible professional standards.”

Nafisa Nathani, account manager at PR agency The Media Foundry:

“Consumers may be obsessed with celebrities, but as traditional media becomes disempowered, bloggers are more readily trusted and perceived as authentic. As consumers become even more overloaded and drenched in content, using a celebrity is no longer good enough to differentiate your product or brand in the marketplace.”

“PROs need to not only be braver and more creative to ensure cut through, but campaigns need to have a real meaning, cause and be authentic to be believed by the increasingly discerning consumer.”

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