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The Film Industry Has a New Definition of PR

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Variety editorial director/longtime man-about-town Peter Bart has a problem with Hollywood’s new communications strategy.

What, you didn’t realize that the major studios were conspiring to neuter the press?

Here’s the gist of Bart’s complaint:

In short, the faces populating a new crop of chief executives at top studios apparently share a common goal: keeping media relations as dull and buddy-buddy as possible.

In Bart’s words:

“Maintain an aura of Corporate Calm whatever the circumstances, avoid all public appearances unless they’re carefully scripted and stay aloof from the press.”

This means ensuring that executives and directors only speak to friendly outlets–and particularly generous reporters–in order to minimize contradictory messaging and maintain the “everything’s just peachy” facade.

Bart, on the other hand, wants a bit more of the dirt:

“The multinational entertainment companies seethe with ferocious rivalries that can erupt at any moment.”

Yet he asserts that these new leaders are so well-trained in keeping things opaque that the entertainment press has no real idea what’s going on inside their studios–except the things they want the public to know.

As evidence, he cites this New York Times profile of “deceptively mild-mannered” Comcast CEO Brian Roberts, published as his company looks to finalize its merger with Time Warner Cable. Of course Roberts promotes the idea that there’s “nothing to see here” as far as said merger is concerned, but then what would you expect him to say?

It’s important to note that Bart himself was a studio chief; he rose to VP in charge of promotion at Paramount. To us, his complaint sounds like a classic PR vs. media spat. No one wants their own boat to rock–and if we’re being honest with ourselves here, the practice of seeking out the friendliest journalists in town is hardly a new one.

What do we think? Is there something to Bart’s column, or is the trend he notes just the latest version of message management?

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