Several months ago, Brad Pitt fired his flack. His other half, Angelina Jolie, doesn't have a dedicated, full time PR rep herself either. The fact that the couple generally gets great press anyhow raises the obvious question: if Brangelina doesn't need a publicist, who does? The nuanced answer has to do with the changing nature of the celebrity media and the shifting balance of power among various types of Hollywood insiders. The blunt answer is, "Very few Hollywood people need flacks any more." Disintermediation is the new black! When you think of celebrity media today, think of two words: OK! magazine. Its entire business model is based on working *with* celebrities to come up with the nicest, most agreeable presentation possible. OK! is so celebrity-friendly it is edited by a former celebrity flack. Although OK! may not be the most powerful celebrity magazine, its business methods pull US Weekly, People, and the rest of its competitors in its direction. Outlets have to fight for celebrity exclusives, and when a celebrity knows that she can go to OK! and be treated to only the nicest coverage in exchange for cooperation on a story, it's incumbent upon anyone else who wants to land that story to put up a similarly sweet offer. The other significant part of today's celebrity media consists of the dirt-mongering gossip hounds-TMZ, Perez Hilton, etc. They place less stock in treating famous people respectfully, but they are susceptible to favor-trading. So what many celebrities have come to realize is this: the fact that they will be covered is a given. The fact that they will have to endure a certain amount of unwanted published gossip is also a given. Modern media saturation ensures it. Luckily, they're in a position to counter any negative coverage from the dirtmongers with positive coverage from the friendlier celeb press. It's all waiting there, right out in the open. What they need is not a flack; what they need is simply a broker. We think of the classic Hollywood publicist as a highly-connected favor trader in a position to keep a handle on the constant demands of the media with clever spin, keeping the bad news secret and the good news front-and-center. But the explosion of online media outlets has rendered this model anachronistic. The big media outlets that were once in a position to bargain with flacks are now struggling to keep up with online competitors. So Brad Pitt doesn't need to pay a special PR person for her services. He can simply get his manager to handle it. He doesn't need a lying flack to call up newspaper editors and berate them; he just needs someone who can get the editor of celebrity weeklies on the phone to work out the best deal. He doesn't need a pit bull; W magazine just let him take its cover photo with his own camera, for chrissake. That's better PR than money can buy. Eventually, Hollywood flackery will dwindle down to two primary categories: crisis specialists like PR ninja Mike Sitrick, whose services will be in demand as long as celebrities are fucking up in any way; and those who specialize in clients with some political inclinations, like Ken Sunshine (pictured), who reps Hollywood superliberals like Leo DiCaprio, helping to assure that they're taken seriously. All others should be able to do away with their general-purpose flacks. Studios and networks can handle publicity for their own movies and shows. Managers can determine the best place to place stories for their celebrity clients. One less middleman won't be mourned. Even celebrities deserve to save a few bucks sometimes.
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