We are currently in the midst of an interesting time in history.  Thanks to technology, everyone *thinks* they have access to levels of the industry that they never did before.  Some go one step further, and think they can exert more control, or drive their career with this new access.  We now see child actors and/or their parents taking what they perceive as proactive measures in the realm of publicity, that they believe will increase their child’s career opportunities. We call this “manipulative marketing” because it isn’t authentic.  It is an attempt to manipulate decision makers into thinking you have an authentic body of work.  We thought it was time to take a closer look at this current phenomena that many people might just accept as the normal routine behavior.  Here are three examples:

IMDB logoIMDb Starmeter Manipulation

While this is not a new concept, small parent groups have been “clicking” each other’s children’s IMDb page hoping to affect a lower Starmeter number for years. Now the entire process is becoming big business, with multiple services offering to “1250 views a week to lower your Starmeter” for $70/month.

Remember that IMDb is not an industry site, it is a fan site. No one knows exactly what hocus pocus formula is used to determine Starmeter numbers. You can read more about IMDb marketing here. Keep in mind though, that it is just trivia. At its best, it is meant to reward those actors who work high profile jobs in high profile movies… the true “stars”. Clearly, there are some glitches, since it is not uncommon to see someone who worked background work on a very popular project see a drastic dip (remember lower numbers are better) in their Starmeter number because of the project. This is one of the flaws in the hocus pocus system.

Remember that true professionals in the industry have many other tools to help them find and request meetings with talent. However, for the creative professional, or someone with specific needs, it is possible that IMDb may become a complimentary resource for them. There are search options on IMDb whereby a user can select certain criteria and be given a list of the actors who fit the criteria. If they have included a Starmeter number range in their criteria, they likely have an idea of the level of experience they are seeking.

Manipulation of Starmeter data from actions other than legitimate work might lower the number. But what really is the result of that? Is it the positive that you assume it is, or are there negative consequences?

If a professional is conducting an IMDb search that includes Starmeter (or even an individual search just to research your child’s resume) and they see a number that is lower than it should be based on their work history, do you think that bodes well? The arbitrary, fictional number isn’t a replacement for work experience. Not only does it not mean anything, but there is always the possibility that it makes the child (and parent) appear to be dishonest in some way. You might get the click, but is it going to get you an opportunity you wouldn’t have gotten otherwise? Most likely not. Could it cost your child an audition opportunity? Quite possibly, yes. Everyone is aware of the current services offering to lower star meters. If you are desperate enough to utilize one of them, you won’t be perceived as the professional you would want to be. Nothing screams “Stage Mom” quite like these types of maneuvers.

Instead of trying to manipulate something with very little meaning, put your efforts into keeping information current and up to date, making sure that work done is appropriately credited. Let it develop organically. One last thought: aggressive behavior that falsely creates a lower Starmeter will bring the attention of those with less than honorable intentions toward your child (see Child Safety)  We know there is an element of fun and excitement to this kind of attention, but in the long run is it REALLY what you want for your child?

This leads into the other area of publicity that we see becoming more and more common…

figurine of a photographer on a red carpetAppearances on Red Carpets via Hiring Publicists

We are friends with a few publicists who deal with children, and they would be the first people to say that there is no point to doing publicity if you have nothing to publicize. Have a great booking? Then absolutely take advantage of the publicity options available to you. That doesn’t always mean hiring a publicist either. The show or film you are involved with may have publicity opportunities for you at no cost. To read more about effectively using a publicist for your child actor, read here: Publicists.

Why Red Carpets Exist (spoiler: it isn’t for the actors)
Let’s take a look for a moment at red carpets and why they exist. A public red carpet is used as a way to attract the public (or media) to an event. The event could be a film premiere, a charity event, or even a business sponsored “publicity stunt” birthday party.

Using a film as an example, quite often you will see the stars of a film arrive and be photographed on the red carpet. In fact, in most cases they are contractually obligated to attend the premiere. Why is that? Is it just because they did the hard work and they deserve the attention and fun? No – it is because their presence, and the media interest in them, and the sharing of pictures of them at the premiere will generate interest by the general public.

It is a marketing tool utilized by the film producers, and publicists, to create this interest. If you pay attention, this becomes really clear. But you don’t just see the stars of the film at the red carpet – you see lots of stars because each of them would ideally generate interest in the film within their fan base. This is also a great place to see the effects of cross promotion at play. If it’s a Disney project, you will likely see many actors in the “Disney family” at the premiere, even though they had nothing to do with the particular film. If you watch Dancing With the Stars, isn’t it convenient that someone doing an upcoming ABC project happens to be there watching the show so that they can introduce them? For the studio, this is marketing 101. Make no mistake, they have a plan.

Did you know that many of the lesser known actors may not even be allowed to attend their own premiere? Why would that be? Their presence, although they might have deserved to be there because of their work on the film, might not be as publically “valuable” as someone else. Never assume that working on a project will allow an actor to attend the premiere. This is a contractual item that must be negotiated by an agent prior to the booking. It’s not automatic, and it’s not related to the fun for the actor. It’s a very important element to the movie making process and the box office sales.

Why Charities Do Red Carpet Events
Jennifer Anniston and children from St. JudesIf an event is related to a charity, the goals are similar. But unlike commerce based ventures, charities look to celebrities for participation beyond the red carpet. Typically, celebrities invited to a charity event are expected to:

  • endorse the cause publicly
  • make a significant financial donation
  • do the work, stay for the event, etc. . For example, if Habitat for Humanity is the charity, they expect that you will walk the red carpet and then pick up a hammer and work.

You might wonder how all of this relates to the aspiring child actor who utilizes a private publicist to attend events. Much like the manipulation of IMDb Starmeter numbers, attending red carpets can be a manipulation of the intent – both of the event producer, and of the media. If you don’t follow the accepted norms, you may be unintentionally making enemies. We saw this frequently when we hosted the the CARE Awards. The show drew legitimate press, but it took a lot of extra work because the current “star level” is not quite high enough to generate a huge media interest. Our press attended because they appreciate the spirit of the event and want to support the awardees. They knew that it wasn’t likely to be profitable for them, because there won’t be a demand for exclusive pictures of our awardees, at least not immediately. However, we did not manipulate the press by promising people who won’t be attending. They were well aware of who they are hoping to photograph, and we were well aware of which kids are supposed to be there.

How is the press aware? It is common practice for the event producer to provide media with a “tip sheet”. This isn’t everyone who is expected at an event, but a few of the bigger known actors. Media requests this tip sheet well in advance of an event, and it is how they decide if they choose to send photographers and journalists. Keep in mind, they have an expectation, in advance, of who will be at an event. Again, there is a plan.

We already mentioned above that attendance at an event is by invitation only. Sometimes the invitation is given because of the project itself, or a contractual matter. But most often, it is something sought after by your publicist. That is what you pay them for, to get appearances at these types of events, and to understand the industry norms so that it is all “good publicity” and not “bad publicity”.  Sometimes a publicist will be able to get a spot for one individual person, sometimes they will pitch that one celebrity and be allowed to bring a few of their clients. That is the category many of the children who attend events fall in to – the extra people.

Step and repeat opportunities are also something that is contractual. An event will display certain logos on their step and repeat based on sponsorship – a reflection of producer and sponsor needs. Again, this is not something set up to be simply a Kodak moment for others. It is a part of the big business machine.

Model with a purse and boots
Gifting Suites,  Influencers and the Business of Gifts  

Gifting Suites are events where businesses with a product and “celebrities” are matched up for endorsement.  They are typically attached to an event, like the MTV awards, Emmys or Oscars.  At these events, business owners pay thousands of dollars to have a display table or booth where they can offer their product for free (thus the “gifting”).  Celebrities are offered the opportunity to come to the room, choose their favorite freebies, and be photographed with the product (for free). Charities also participate as vendors in the suites, but make no mistake — they are also hoping for a celebrity endorsement, which they will spin into more donations.

Gifting Suites are organized by business who specialize in producing these events, like this one.  They are almost always UNRELATED to the actual awards show.  The gifts given to Academy Awards nominees are delivered personally (and by the way, those gifts are almost always donated by the celebrity to charity, but they do get taxed on them).  Agents with General Service Agreements (GSAs) take commissions on your gifts as well.

To give you an idea of the press coverage of an Oscar themed gifting suite, which actually have no endorsement or connection with the Academy:  here is a positive spin.  And here is a negative one.

Gifting suites sound really fun, right?  They are, but they are also a bad idea for child actors.  Why?

Two reasons gifting suites are a bad idea:
1.  Because an actor’s endorsement is worth money.  That’s why we get paid to do television (and why the good spots are union).  That’s why influencers get paid for what they do.  Why would you do advertising for free, for a product that you haven’t tried yet?  It is giving your child’s image, the only product you have to sell, away for free.  This isn’t “exposure” for your child.  It is exposure for the PRODUCT, who paid to lure you in.

2.  Because it teaches children poor life lessons.  These people are throwing products at them, not because they earned it, or because you made a mutually beneficial, thoughtful, business deal, but because they are valuing their “celebrity”.  It teaches children that fame is important.  This is a horrible lesson, especially when you consider that 99% of the children invited to gifting suites are not celebrities at all, so teaching them that people will give them more “stuff” if they are willing to sell their soul, is very dangerous. Teaching them that endorsing products and causes without thought and contracts is extremely dangerous.

Which brings us back to the term “manipulative marketing”. Gifting suites, for the most part, are attended by child actors who do not have the celebrity needed to help that product move forward.  The press that attend will not make money from selling the images of that level of actor.  That is why child actors are rarely, if ever, invited to the higher end suites.   Instead, what we are seeing, are events organized by D-list companies, who have essentially conned desperate small businesses into paying to give away their product, and unrecognizable child actors invited who are willing to sell themselves for a free pair of shoes.  These events, like pay-to-play fashion shows, are not real.  Everyone in the picture is trying to manipulate the real world into thinking they are successful.  Here is one publicist’s advice on why she doesn’t suggest her clients participate — they don’t work:  The Real Deal About Celebrity Gifting Suites.

Gifting suites appear to be on the way out, in favor of social media influencer contracts.  The Sundance Festival recently eliminated theirs, citing that it wasn’t “chic anymore”.

We will cover influencers in a different article, but for now, just recognize that their business model is different, and more purposeful.  Getting free stuff does not make you an influencer.  Many celebrities have established their lifestyle brand via social media presence or their own websites.  Think Gwyneth Paltrow and Goop, or Shay on her IG.   These curated sites make very careful use of an actor’s image and they match that to products that they can partner with (read: make a paying contract with).  Each partnership is worth lots of money, and involves much more than just getting free stuff.  They get paid either by interactions (click-throughs, likes, data) or by flat fee contracts that require the celebrity to do tasks (for example: 10 posts, 3 videos and blog entry).  This approach makes much more sense to both the actor and the company because it is purposeful and brand-specific.

rubics cube social mediaSocial Media Manipulation

We will cover social media for young performers in another article. Short version: there is no need for social media for a young performer. Legitimate Casting Directors will tell you so.  Managers will tell you so. The pendulum has now swung back from stunt casting “influencers” because it didn’t really work (consider box office bomb Valerian). Sure, you will still find low budget indie producers asking for social media numbers, but consider the perspective in this article: The Delusional Hunt for Social Media Followers. 

If you decide to establish a social media presence for your child actor, at the very least allow it to grow organically. Buying followers Devumi style is not fooling anyone. It is the ultimate in manipulative marketing and will make you look like a rabid stagemom.  Here are more practical reasons why buying followers is not a a good idea:  4 Reasons Why You Should Not Buy Followers. 

Empty red carpet

The Impact of Manufactured Publicity on a Child and Their Career

Of course it’s fun to go and get dressed up, get the attention, get a little press. Photos on a wire service, or even getting gift items is fun! No one would debate that, but what really are you accomplishing?

Will this have any effect on your child’s career or on their psyche?

Career-wise, think of this like any other business decision.  Consider whether your needs are in line with the producer of the event. Someone is footing the bill for red carpets and step and repeats and gifting suites – and you might think carefully if you are unintentionally abusing this system. If you are, this can leave a very negative impression.  It can backfire. People donate to gifting suites because they want a certain caliber of celebrity to be seen with their product; it is a business decision for them. It isn’t so they can make your child happy.

Even if you are maneuvering through everyone else’s expectations without ruffling any feathers, there are concerns about the effect this lifestyle has on a child. It is one thing to have to navigate it because the work requires or warrants it, but quite another for someone with very, very little career experience to be thrust into this experience. Remember, children aren’t just small adults, they are developing individuals who learn daily who they are, and how they fit into the world. Even in a totally legitimate situation, the attention from the public is cited as the area where true child stars suffered the most. They were inadvertently taught at a young age that something about them was very interesting and people would always give them things, and care about them. When they are older, not so cute, and no longer requested for events, this is a personal hurt. Having to combat that when the career calls for it is bad enough, but are you certain that you want to falsely create a need for red carpet appearances for someone in the very infant stages of their career. Have you thought thru what you are really teaching your child? Are you certain that your child is comfortable in that situation, when they have nothing great to say about their next project?

While the personal negative impact of over-aggressive marketing may not be known until your child is an adult and looks back on their experience, it is pretty clear that there isn’t a lot of positive impact. Lower IMDb numbers and/or red carpet appearances are not going to translate into job opportunities without the appropriate experience behind them. Much like other things that present themselves as opportunities for shortcuts and advantages, there is a very slim chance of seeing results, but very large risks.

In the end, it is up to each family to decide what is best for them, but like most things in this industry – you should know that how you approach your marketing is a choice. Are you letting vanity be your guiding principle, or are you remembering how important your parenting philosophy is?

A final note – no matter what interactions you have with the public, via the internet or in person, always utilize all of the knowledge available about how to keep your child safe from predators. Be they predators of money, social interaction, or worse – this is an area that has little room for error.