Despite its power to generate millions of miles of media coverage – do public relations practitioners understand enough about the cult of celebrity? University lecturer, Honey Langcaster-James thinks there needs to be more research into the psychology of fame .
She is reported as saying: “the celebrity scene is something of a modern-day phenomenon, the psychology of fame in the UK is surprisingly under-researched.” Undoubtedly there is a modern trend for any reality tv contestant or relative of other minor “celebrities” to be publicly recognised (15 minutes of fame) – but from a PR perspective, using famous folk is a long-standing technique.
Public relations campaigns frequently feature celebrities – hoping to generate media coverage and, fingers crossed, awareness and transfer of “goodwill” to their cause or brand. Century of the Self showed Bernays using high profile characters in campaigns in the early 20th century, and in the UK, commercial royal endorsement can be traced back to Queen Victoria.
Not surprisingly, given this history, there is actually an existing body of knowledge which PR practitioners can draw on when thinking of using celebrities in campaigns. In particular, source credibility theories – developed by Hovland and colleagues at Yale initially in the 1950s – offer a lot of insight. More recent work by Erdogan looking at the use of celebrities by marketers is also relevant.
When she publishes her findings, Ms Langcaster-James could add an interesting dimension regarding why so many people see fame as a career option. I’d like to see an adjunct to this – why being a celebrity’s PR is also an appealing career option. Personally, I think putting up with the diva-attitude of those desperate for fame is one of the worst jobs in the world. Shovelling up real manure would be more of a pleasure than clearing up the mess of those hungry for fame, but too stupid to recognise its responsibilities.
With the New Year avalanche of celebrity “reality” programmes about to begin (Celebrity Big Brother, The Two of Us, Soapstar Superstar) , you can bet there are many press agents on 24:7 stand-by for shovelling duties. Is this really good for PR?