A publicist is a person whose job it is to generate and manage publicity for a public figure, especially a celebrity, a business, or for a work such as a book, film or album. Most top-level publicists work in private practice, handling multiple clients. The term "publicist" was coined by Columbia law professor Francis Lieber (1800–1872) to describe the public-like role of internationalists during the late nineteenth century.
In the world of celebrities, unlike agents or managers, publicists typically take a monthly fee for serving a client (whereas agents and managers tend to take a percentage of their client's gross income). Publicists can be local, regional or national level. For example, a small restaurant seeking only local publicity would want a local publicist - whereas an author seeking nationwide visibility would want to search for a national publicist.
One of the publicist's main functions is to generate press coverage on behalf of clients and to serve as the bridge between clients, their public and media outlets. A publicist manages campaigns and performs other public relations functions. It usually takes many years to develop the media contacts, experience and relationships necessary to be an effective publicist.
Some publicists specialize in representing ordinary members of the public to procure the maximum possible fee for stories they wish to sell to newspapers, television stations and magazines. A number have now sprung up on the internet and work as media agents gaining members of the public multiple deals with publications.
An older meaning of the term is closer to pamphleteer: someone who circulates ideas by publishing them, perhaps in ephemeral forms. This term is still in use in some countries, such as Israel.
Types of publicists
Publicists in the Hollywood industry
Hollywood publicists create and manage relationships between film stars and the array of other media channels through which the identities of stars are circulated. Stars have a dual relationship with publicity, for they publicize films but also, and importantly in the freelance market, have an interest in self publicity. It is for the latter reason that while many stars continue to regard managers as an optional luxury, today the majority of stars in Hollywood hire publicists to manage their media visibility. In other words, celebrities hire publicists who will be able to get their name out to the public preferably in a positive light.
Compared to channels of paid advertising, publicity generates exposure which is relatively "free." Publicity is at work whenever stars make personal appearances at press conferences or film premieres, give television interviews, are displayed on magazine covers, or allow the press to cover a private event. Independent publicists include Hollywood stars and studios as their clients, alongside corporations and individuals from the worlds of entertainment, sports, finance, technology, retailing, and other business sectors.
The role of a publicist in Hollywood has changed and become more challenging in recent years. With the enormous increase of entertainment news outlets such as Perez Hilton, TMZ, and Page Six, it has become much more difficult for publicists to control negative stories. Publicists must also work much harder to keep some of their star clients relevant in the media with the entertainment options in Hollywood continuously growing. Even booking a star for an interview or on a television talk show has become a challenging task, because if something goes awry, the publicist and the star could both be highly criticized by the media.