Overzeal­ous PR peo­ple hurt celebri­ties

China Daily (Hong Kong) - - PAGE TWO - Ray­mond Zhou

My friend Zeng Jian re­cently posted an ar­ti­cle rail­ing against one com­po­nent of the celebrity en­tourage, i.e. the pub­lic­ity per­son and his or her fas­tid­i­ous­ness with which re­porters’ ques­tions are vet­ted.

Zeng is a vet­eran re­porter who covers China’s show­biz, and he works for one of the big­gest por­tal sites. That is to say, he prob­a­bly gets more re­spect than the av­er­age work­man on the beat. As he com­plained, re­porters were rarely asked to sub­mit a ques­tion list when he first started out in the busi­ness. Of course, a dili­gent per­son would pre­pare at least a page of ques­tions in ad­vance just for him­self or her­self. It could be a scrib­bling only the writer could rec­og­nize.

How­ever, a new prac­tice

This Day, That Year

has come into be­ing: Re­porters have to file the ques­tions to the PR firm, who will for­ward it to the as­sis­tant to the star. And they will ask you to re­vise the ques­tions, add some­thing here or delete some­thing there. Mostly dele­tions, though.

Zeng’s grip­ing got a lot of re­sponses from his WeChat cir­cle of friends. I chuck­led but did not add to the spool of in­crim­i­nat­ing tales.

The most fa­mous story in re­cent mem­ory of pub­lic­ity screening that hurt more than helped its client is the one in­volv­ing movie star Tang Wei. She di­vulged in an in­ter­view that her fa­vorite dish is pork braised in brown sauce. Her PR team deemed this in­nocu­ous de­tail un­fit for her pub­lic im­age and forced the re­porter to change it to mush­room and veg­eta­bles. The re­porter spilled the beans and Tang was viewed as hyp­o­crit­i­cal. In later in­ter­views, re­porters were strictly for­bid­den from touch­ing upon this topic. In the end, Tang came out to clar­ify that she in­deed likes the pork dish.

Zeng said it was the PR guard who pre­vented Tang from of­fer­ing a timely clar­i­fi­ca­tion on the is­sue.

In my ex­pe­ri­ence, the celebrity client rarely reads the ques­tions. It is the as­sis­tant or pub­li­cist who per­forms the men­tal ac­ro­batic rou­tine of shield­ing fly­ing dag­gers. So they would pre­fer soft­ball ques­tions or ques­tions couched in the idol­iz­ing lan­guage of fan­dom.

Most movie stars I’ve in­ter­viewed are very in­tel­li­gent. De­pend­ing on their sched­ul­ing, which could be hec­tic on a cam­paign, they can be quick-wit­ted and will­ing to com­mu­ni­cate. It is the rou­tine ques­tions that bore them (though they’re good at not show­ing it). If you come up with un­usual but rel­e­vant ques­tions, they light up. But those are of­ten the ques­tions that get nipped in the bud by the PR ma­chine.

I don’t have a prob­lem with vet­ting, but it would be hard for me to stick to a script. If it’s a nat­u­ral di­a­logue, it would cre­ate its own flow and Ques­tion 10 may jump to Ques­tion 2 as it hap­pened with my con­ver­sa­tion with Bri­tish ac­tor Colin Firth. Korean stars would not al­low this, says Zeng, be­cause the trans­la­tor would not budge if you de­vi­ate from the pre­pared list.

Sure, re­porters ask stupid ques­tions, too. It is the job of their ed­i­tors and read­ers to weed them out.

If you treat celebrity in­ter­vie­wees as frag­ile porce­lain, they will lose their tenac­ity as nor­mal hu­man be­ings and be­come brit­tle.

Con­tact the writer at ray­mondzhou @chi­nadaily.com.cn

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CHARLES MCQUILLAN / GETTY IM­AGES

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