Tuesday, July 12, 2005

Is there such a thing as too much PR? Ask Tom Cruise

In order to promote their movies, actors seek the limelight – the more media coverage the better. The audience cannot get enough of the loves and lives of the famous, so the system works and leads to mutual satisfaction.
But something interesting is happening with the media coverage of Tom Cruise.
Tom is a well-established A-list actor who is perceived as a good actor in decent movies and liked for his humanitarian work. So far, so good. Mr. Cruise got married, adopted two children and divorced in what seemed to be an amicable way. It was known that Tom is a member of Scientology, but until recently it didn’t tarnish his all-American clean-cut image, so the Tom Cruise brand kept in tact.

In his notorious interview with Matt Lauer on the Tonight Show, high school dropout Tom Cruise attacked psychiatry (informing his host that he didn’t know what he was talking about) and lashed out at Princeton-educated Brooke Shields and author of the book “Down Came the Rain: A Mother’s Story of Depression and Recovery” for taking post partem anti-depressants. He went on advocating Scientology and vitamins as the cure.
Brooke Shields reacted with a well-crafted response in the New York Times stating: "if any good can come of Mr. Cruise's ridiculous rant, let's hope that it gives much-needed attention to a serious disease." It definitely increased her book sales, an effect for sure not intended by Tom Cruise. Politicians also took notice: New Jersey’s acting Governor Richard J. Codey reacted by ordering Cruise to stick to acting and stop upsetting sick women. There is even a boycott petition: http://www.petitiononline.com/
Scientology also reaped the results of the media exposure: their official web site shot up 263 percent to reach 375,000 visitors per day and Google listed Scientology as the 10th fastest gaining query for the week of June 27.

To promote his new movie “War of the Worlds”, Tom appeared on one of the best media outlets – Oprah. For somebody who has been in the business for decades and who is quite media savvy, his performance was disastrous. He sort of “attacked” Oprah three times, announced his engagement to Katie Holmes, who is young enough to be his daughter and dragged his fiancee forcefully on stage and jumped on the couch like a four-year old. It completely missed the mark of promoting his upcoming movie. The media reacted by labeling the engagement a PR stunt, especially since Katie is starring in the just released movie “Badman begins”. A People poll found that 62% believe the romance is a publicity stunt. A Star cover story asked: "Are they faking it?" and even The New York Times got in on the debate with a story headlined "I Love You With All My Hype."

At the London premiere of “War of the Worlds”, Tom was the victim of a prank show by being sprayed with water from a water pistol. Tom started a whole discourse with the prankster calling him a “jerk” and pressed charges against the four men involved in the prank. Especially the European media labeled Tom as too serious, humorless and over-reacting.

Tom’s image has been tarnished and his persona is being ridiculed; blogs discuss “TomKat” with relish. The Tom Cruise brand has suffered so much that it spawned satirical websites – the latest being http://www.tomcruiseisnuts.com/

So what happened? The reason is the change in Tom’s PR team. In the beginning of 2005, Tom fired his long-standing publicist, Pat Kingsley, and Tom’s sister Lee Anne De Vette now heads the new team. After his Oprah appearance, his publicists bombarded him and his sister with calls begging them to “tone it down”. His new team is also working overtime emphasizing that his relationship with Katie Holmes is “genuine” and will be sealed in a Scientology wedding.
From a PR perceptive, Tom Cruise needs to evaluate his situation carefully and had to decide on a course of action before his personal brand is so tarnished that his bottom line will suffer. The writing is already on the wall: although “War of the Worlds” is doing well at the box office, Cruise’s performance received a lukewarm reception. His planned performance in “Mission Impossible III” was cancelled when the project was postponed indefinitely. Fiancee Katie Holmes lost out on the main lead in the next Badman movie.
In contrast to popular opinion – there is such a thing as too much PR.

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