It interestingly brings into focus the murkier side of the business, where opinion and statement outsourcing is commonplace.
Shilpa Shetty provided much amusement to all and sundry on Monday, when she suggested George Orwell’s Animal Farm to be included in children’s syllabus, since it would help them ‘understand animals better’. That it is a dystopian allegory about the Russian revolution was evidently unknown to the actress, and as it turns out, to her publicist too. While Shilpa brushed aside the gaffe calling it a ‘misunderstanding’ on Twitter, her PR agent owned up to it — albeit only partially. The agent was quoted in another publication, pinning the blame on Google, which threw up the title when the team searched for books related to ‘animal and farm’.
It interestingly brings into focus the murkier side of the business, where opinion and statement outsourcing is commonplace. Whether it is due to time constraints or the fact that the question is out of the realm of the celebrity’s knowledge, fact is that publicists are known to ‘take over’. There are times when the swap works fine, but then there are times — like Shilpa’s — when it goes for a toss.
A freelance publicist admits that there are times when PR agents have a free reign. He says, “There are two types of clients—some who are too lazy to type the quotes and give you a free hand, and others who are very cautious and therefore take their time out to answer each query on their own. There are times when the client is busy with a shoot and we have to adhere to a strict deadline for print news, so we go ahead with the made-up quote because we know there is no factual error, but we always keep the client in the loop because their image is at stake.”
The damage is done both ways, of course, since it means bad press for the celeb and the publicist. Salman Khan’s publicist learnt this the hard way. When the actor was named the goodwill ambassador for the Indian contingent at Rio Olympics, amidst much controversy earlier this year, his publicist did little to defend the position. An industry insider on the condition of anonymity said, “His Twitter account, clearly managed by someone else, was constantly sending out tweets about the games, but conveniently left out P.V. Sindhu’s silver medal victory, which was most relevant to his Indian fans. Someone obviously had to face the music.”
Referring to another high profile actor’s incident the source continues, “This particularly long-standing publicist of a major star kept denying the buzz around him expecting a little one. The actor was shooting abroad, and the publicist took the liberty to shun all rumours when journalists kept nudging. It was a rather sticky situation when the baby did arrive. It obviously led to the exit of the publicist.”
A cherubic actress who found her photographs with her beau splashed across tabloids recently learnt that the ‘candid shots’ were in fact being circulated by her PR team, since they deemed it good publicity. When she got to know of the ploy, it was the last the team heard from her.
While publicity is definitely the main purpose of a publicist, often they act as spin-doctors too, there to clean up after a star’s mess — often after a fit of rage or a drunken spree. International singing sensation Adele had come on record saying how her team didn’t allow her to access Twitter. A former celebrity manager on the condition of anonymity rues, “It is a tough job and not as easy as it looks from the outside. Why do you think some of the biggest names in the industry are away from social networking sites? Because they’ve been advised to do so.”
On rare occasions though, the favour is returned too. Abhishek Bachchan is known to have clarified on social media that all is well between him and his manager, after news spread about their alleged fallout. “It was very sweet of Abhishek to do that. Not many are known to stand up for their managers, but he did it, possibly at the insistence of her publicist himself,” says our source.