Tom Cruise, Katie Holmes and 2 Broken Rules of PR

Interesting, wasn’t it, that news of the TomKat divorce hit on a Friday? Maybe not: There are two often used sayings that fit nicely into this celebrity “shocker” news:

Any publicity is good publicity.


Release bad news on a Friday afternoon.

Let’s start with any publicity is good publicity:  If you are in Hollywood, this might indeed be true. To wit: the Kardashians. However, John Travolta might disagree with this rule of thumb. As might Tom Cruise.  From what I can tell after digesting countless tweets, articles and TV commentary between real stuff like work, family and walking the dog, Tom was shocked by the news as he was filming the aptly titled movie Oblivion in Iceland.  Between this and the bad reviews for Rock of Ages, Tom is not in a good place right now (full disclosure: I liked Tom in Rock of Ages). But Tom will recover and jump on another couch sometime soon.  If you’re with a company that finds itself in the news getting unwanted publicity: you know that there is indeed good publicity and bad publicity. You also know that publicity is fleeting, so while you might be in the news for a NY minute, this is when your PR chops really come into play. Mismanaging bad publicity leads to more bad publicity. Managing it well means you’re out of the headlines.  For the Church of Scientology, this might mean calling off the spies who are allegedly trailing Katie and Suri in NYC.

To the notion that you should release bad news on a Friday afternoon: this no longer applies. In fact, it can be a bright red flag that there’s more to your story.  Sometimes you have no choice: the crisis hits on a Friday and there’s no hiding from it. That the Katie-Tom divorce broke on a Friday was healthy relief from Obamacare coverage and, in my opinion, no different than the announcement coming on a Tuesday or Thursday. Social media has made this so.  A corporate announcement of massive layoffs will be covered ad nauseum whether you announce it on a Tuesday or a Friday.  Announcing it during the workweek at least allows your employed spokespeople to manage the crisis during the week rather than a weekend.  With the TomKat divorce, there’s possibly even more chatter because we may feel at ease dishing on this topic over the weekend rather than during the week. It’s entertainment, after all. Thousands of people file for divorce every day and we don’t read about it, or care. Perspective being what it should be, this is just another celebrity story: Stars, They’re Just Like Us!

What do you think: is all publicity good publicity? And is a Friday news announcement wise timing?

– Diane Schwartz

On Twitter: @dianeschwartz




  • James Bigg

    Interesting piece. The subject of “timing” was one I was thinking about only this week.

    As a PR pro, I’m often asked when the right day to release a news story is. In the past, good news was generally pitched to reporters earlier in the week, first thing in the morning. I’m not sure this needs to be the case any longer.

    News deadlines are no longer dictated by the printing presses. If it’s a worthy story, it’ll earn coverage whenever it’s announced.

    On the flipside, if you’re pitching something which is not time sensitive, which you merely want to get in front of a reporter, perhaps first thing in the mornign still works to ensure it’s at the top of their (probably overloaded) inbox.

  • Diane Schwartz

    James – good points and thanks for commenting.

  • Alex Anderson

    The concept that there is no such thing as bad publicity is clearly industry-specific. As you quite rightly point out, the entertainment industries (Hollywood, sports, etc.) really lives by this cliche. However, I’m not sure executives at RIM would concur. Nor would Administrators at Penn State.

    I disagree with your point about controlling the timing of bad news though. This depends on a lot of intangibles, like the industry, which reporters are going to be covering you, how important are you that your bad news is worth reporting on and just how bad is the news in question.

    In a lot of cases the reporters that cover you will be off on the weekend and — assuming they don’t do something quick and dirty that will fade away anyway — they might end up with numerous stories to consider on Monday morning. Either way you won’t get the same splash you would earlier in the week.

    Along a similar vein, be aware of what other companies — both in your space and outside it — are doing. If I know a market leading player in another industry is going to be releasing bad news then that becomes a pretty good time to release my bad news as most of the attention will go that the bigger story. This only works if they are not in your industry though, as two related pieces of bad news combine for five times the attention.

    There’s no doubt that for many things we have a genuine 24 hour news cycle with multiple channels to deal with, but timing can still be a very important factor in managing your story. It all depends on who you are and what your story is.

  • Amelia Richmond

    Great article – thanks for posting. I definitely agree with the mention that poor management of bad publicity breeds more bad publicity (and fast). Almost all of us handling PR in the ski industry faced this problem this past low-snow winter, however, my resort was particularly in the spotlight, much to our chagrin.

    One lesson that I learned is that it doesn’t always pay to be the most accommodating (or the first person to return a phone call) to the media. This goes against nearly everything I believe about good media relations, however, after living through it, I now believe in the “let someone else be quoted” principle. Not going to far as to ever ignoring calls – but maybe just returning them a little later than you normally would. Missed the deadline? Perfect.

    Has anyone else learned this the hard way? Or gotten burned trying this approach?

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