Episode 6: Celebrity PR Campaigns

It’s awards season! So Graham Machacek nabbed PR pro Kathryn Hendrick of K. Hendrick & Associates and Betsy Kitchen of Total Communications Group for a chat about handling PR campaigns involving celebrities and high-profile influencers — including a recent project they all worked on involving His Excellency the Right Honourable David Johnston, Governor General of Canada. Graham shares insights from his MuchMusic days and Kathryn and Betsy dish practical advice about on-site logistics with His Excellency.

Produced at the MediaStyle Studio at The CodeFactory.


  1. Claire Mills says:

    Thanks – I really enjoyed listening to that podcast. In particular I enjoyed the exchange regarding never assuming. My father must have said that to me daily and it has saved me many times. Events whether 2 minutes in length or 3 days all need intricate planning and it sometimes amazes me what needs to be said. I agree that one should err on giving more information than less. I could go on, but it would only be to agree with appreciate all the great points raised.

  2. Thanks Claire. It’s true. Anyone doing campaigns, events, whatever – especially involving celebs – should always do the due diligence when it comes to planning. 1) floor plan 2) event work back schedule 3) event scenario doc (up to the minute — with weather report) 4) division of labour and cell phone contacts 5) walk throughs with celeb management pre event 6) Q&A doc with core messaging / key messaging included 7) appropriate and approved positions for media…..all the obvious basics. That said, you can plan as much as you want — but I always say…be prepared to roll with all the things you can’t plan for when dealing with celebs – and events. Ultimately, all the above serves as a framework. Case in point: 2008 MuchMusic Video Awards. Live TV. We knew rain was coming…but not like this…Sky opens up… extreme torrential downpour! The storm was so severe it even washed out our red carpet rain plan (umbrellas were laughable at this point). Hundreds of media, thousands of fans, and all kinds of celebs running for cover — but some quick thinking and a skilled PR team had media and celebs moved swiftly into a building lobby for interviews. Whew! Stressful in the moment. Funny looking back on it now. Just wish we had captured a shot of Rihanna under her umbrella-ella-ella!

  3. Betsy Kitchen says:

    You’re right on the money, Claire and Graham, there is no such thing as ‘too much planning’ when you’re in charge of a special occasion or media event involving celebs or high-profile participants. As they say, ‘the devil is in the details’ and the smallest oversight can make things suddenly go awry, requiring lightning fast reflexes and the ability to problem-solve on the fly. I remember coordinating a national news conference where we’d invited the Prime Minister to announce a campaign celebrating a milestone anniversary for our client, a top-tier health organization. In addition to accommodating major TV crews, we were set up to broadcast the event via live webstream, as the plan was to have the PM and our client jointly unveil and officially launch a unique anniversary web portal. As the site’s content developer I was monitoring ‘my baby’ via a remote laptop station, while my associate was personally escorting the PM to his place at the podium to join our client’s top brass. Unfortunately, a member of our client’s leadership team forgot that the mike pinned to her shirt was still on following sound check minutes earlier (cue the foreshadowing), so imagine my horror just as the PM approached the stage when I suddenly heard my client’s voice through the laptop speakers say under her breath to her colleagues how much she disliked the PM and his politics! Of course, neither she (nor anyone around her) had any idea that her diatribe was in fact being broadcast loud and clear via the webstream. Fortunately, our crack team of digital techs had built in a 10-second delay, giving me just enough time to send a 911 message to the BlackBerry of another colleague positioned in the front row…she gave our client the ‘zip it NOW!’ signal just as the event officially went live over the web and TV! Whew. In the end, only I had heard what would have been very embarrassing for our client (not to mention rather difficult to explain the next time the organization approached the feds for funding). Needless to say I sprouted several gray hairs that day, and added the small but critical detail: ‘confirm all participants’ microphones are mute prior to live launch’ to my checklist for future events! Often it’s in these moments when your heart skips a beat and your career flashes before your eyes that we learn some of our most valuable communications lessons…

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