Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Britney Spears: From Pop Star to Pop Wreck...and Back Again?

INTRODUCTION

Britney Spears has had a very controversial and highly publicized personal, familial and professional battle for the past 2 years. After hitting absolute rock bottom in every facet of her life, in January 2008, the people behind Spears knew that something had to be done. Before the year was up that “something” had been done and Spears seems to be back on track with herself, her family and her career as she is set to release a new album before the year is up.

RESEARCH/ TIMELINE OF EVENTS

Britney Spears is an American pop musician and performer who has also done work as an actress and author. She was born in December 1981 and raised in the small town of Kentwood, La. Spears showed an interest in performing at a young age. When she was only 8 years old she auditioned for The New Mickey Mouse Club. Although she was turned away because of her age, three years later she was hired and remained employed there until 1994.

Spears took time off to attend high school until Jive records signed her as a solo artist in 1997. She first came into the spotlight at the end of 1998 releasing her hit record, Baby One More Time, which sold over 25 million copies worldwide. Spears went on to put out three more records, Oops!...I Did It Again, Britney and In The Zone as well as a greatest hits album, Greatest Hits: My Perogative. During this time, she also had many endorsements including Pepsi and a line of Elizabeth Arden perfumes. Spears was expected to make her comeback at the 2007 MTV video music awards, but her performance received extensive criticism. This was the only promotion Spears did for her sixth and most recent album, Blackout, which was released on Oct. 30, 2007.

Not only known for her music, Spears’ personal life is often in the spotlight as well. In January 2004, she married childhood friend Jason Alexander in Las Vegas, only to have the marriage annulled after 55 hours. That same year in July, Spears announced her engagement to Kevin Federline, a backup dancer whom she had known for three months. The couple stayed married until Nov. 7, 2006 and in that time had two children, Sean Preston Federline and Jayden James Federline.

In 2007, Spears’ personal life seemed to be spiraling out of control. Her family and management team forced her into rehab in February, but she checked herself out two days later. The following night, Spears infamously shaved her head and then re-entered rehab. She remained in rehab until March 2007. However, her series of controversial behavior have continued since then.

She cut off ties from her family and has had a constant flow of management teams, lawyers and personal assistants in and out of her life. She has attacked paparazzi on several occasions and has been involved in a number of traffic violations including a hit and run and driving without a license. She is also consistently photographed partying and staying out late. Due to this erratic behavior, Spears began to be seen as an unfit parent and a legal battle over the custody of her children arose. In September 2007, the outcome of Spears’ custody battle was announced. She has been ordered to undergo random drug and alcohol testing and to attend parental counseling. Spears and Federline initially had joint custody of their two children, but on Oct. 1, 2007 Federline got full custody of the children.

In early 2008 it proved that things must really get worse before they can get better. On Jan. 3 Spears locked herself and one of her sons in the bathroom of her Studio City home and refused to come out. After a while she finally opened the door and she was taken out of her home on a stretcher. Following this incident Federline was given full custody of their children and Spears was not granted any visitation. On Jan. 28 Spears parents arrive ready to take control and 3 days later, Jan. 31, she was checked into a UCLA psychiatric center for what was supposed to be a 72 hour stay. Instead Spears did not leave until Feb. 6. During her stay Spears father, Jaime, was placed as the conservator of her finances until the end of 2008. For 2 months Spears was kept relatively out of the spotlight. In early May, Spears’ visitation rights with her sons, which had been granted after her father took over her finances, were greatly expanded. In July, those rights were set in place to include 3 visits each week including overnight stays. In the following months news about Spears’ personal life took the back seat to the news regarding her teenage sister’s pregnancy. However, in April it was confirmed that Spears had reconnected with longtime manager Larry Rudolph, whom she had fired in 2007. With much progress being made, Spears was set to appear at the 2008 MTV Video Music Awards. With a disastrous “come-back” at the 2007 VMAs all eyes were on Spears.

Sept. 7, 2008: Spears opens the VMAs to a standing ovation. Spears looked very put together and spoke with eloquence. She went onto win 3 awards that night thanking her fans every time and not once mentioning her past. Later in September, Spears announced that her new album, Circus, will be out on Dec.2, her 27 birthday. She also released her new single, Womanizer, to great reviews. On Oct.10, 2008, Spears released the video for Womanizer on ABCs 20/20. Also released, was Spears intention to debut, on MTV, a documentary on Nov. 30 entitled, "Britney: For The Record."


PLANNING? EXECUTION?

Britney Spears could have, at one point, been considered a corporation. However, from early 2007 until now she has not had the teams or plans to be considered a corporation. Before Spears fired her management and was left by her PR person, it was known that Spears had to be put back on the right track in the public eye. The plans for her “comeback” would have been relatively simple and had been done before which can be seen in the cases of Robert Downey Jr. and Whitney Houston.

Robert Downey Jr.: Downey started his acting career at the early age of 5, appearing in his father’s films throughout the 70s. His career took off in the 80s and early 90s as he appeared in many Brat Pack films and won an Academy award for Chaplin in 1992. However it was during this time that Downey developed a severe drug habit, one that would come into the spot light in 1996. After his first arrest there was a constant string of other arrests and infractions, due to his drug addiction, that would lead to a year in prison and nearly no acting jobs for 3 years. In 2000 Downey was hired to join the cast of Ally McBeal, and was highly acclaimed in his acting, but that would not last long. In 2001, Downey was arrested again and forced to leave the show. It would be 3 years before Downey would get a significant movie. In the mid 2000s Downey appeared clean and made a major comeback appearing in several films, to be topped off with Iron Man.

Whitney Houston: At the peak of her popularity in 1992 Houston had a Hit record and movie out. It was in this same year that she married Bobby Brown. Brown had been in various legal troubles and already had three children by different women. Despite the skeptics, Houston had a child in 1993. In 2000 Houston and Brown were caught with drugs in their luggage at an airport. From that point on drug allegations continued for Houston, her album sales dropped and her erratic behavior was more noticeable Throughout the marriage Brown had many run-ins with the law, as well as charges for drug possession. In 2004 Houston went in to rehabilitation for unknown substances or problem and then went back in 2005, and completed the program. After divorcing Brown in 2006, Houston has withdrawn from many public appearances and has recorded a new album to be released in the coming months.

The interesting thing about Spears’ case is that most of her courses of action were not influenced by a PR professional. The initial push for Spears to go into rehab to get her life in order was from on-again-off-again manager Larry Rudolf, a move for which he was fired. It was once her family got involved that Spears life took a turn for the better. She was forced into rehab and forced to give up control of her finances. Her father now had control over how she spent her money, which therefore meant he had control over what she did and where she went. After many months of this control, Spears seemed to be going in the right direction. It was during this time that Spears began her new album and started getting healthier. As with Houston, Spears dropped out of the spotlight drastically. She was no longer seen partying till all hours of the morning and was rarely seen not well dressed. It took over a year and for many drastic things to happen for her life to finally be under control.

A PR PROSPECTIVE

After an attempt to connect Spears old PR manager went unanswered, I contacted Lou Iacovelli from Altelier Creative Services, a PR firm, to find out what he would have done in regards to the Britney Spears case. I met Iacovelli during my summer internship at Gottex Models this summer. He is a style consultant who also handles what models wear the Gottex bathing suits. I asked him initially if there was anything he would have done differently and he said “Everything…except what ever is being done right now.” Further explanation revealed that as a PR professional he would have never left his client when she was so deep in trouble, however given the specific circumstances he thinks it was justified: “I understand why her people would have left her, but I hope that they did everything in their power before they took that step.” From a PR professional’s perspective, this is one of the worst clients you could have: one that has made no attempt to neither follow the guidelines provided for them nor show concern about their image. Iacovelli also said that it is hard to gain the trust that is needed for a client to place, essentially, their life in your hands. It is unclear if Spears retained Pr help in light of her “new” management or not. “In the past couple months, I think, that things with her were handled as best they could be…if it were my client I would probably have had her get better extensions.” A jab at Spears hair was his way of saying that she could still use people in her life that monitor what she wears and how she looks. Although it may be demeaning to dress a 26 year old mother of 2, it is “vital that her appearances be flawless” because it is these appearances that she is judged upon.

MEDIA

The media has been nothing but brutal honest and sever in their coverage of Spears and her turmoil. But it can be said that without the media the people who eventually made all of the right decisions would have never know how bad the situation had become. She has had many opportunities to explain her actions to many different reporters and/or talk show hosts: Rosie O’Donnell, Ellen, Diane Sawyer and Matt Lauer. However, not all of these interviews did great things for her image, especially not the catastrophe of an interview with Matt Lauer in 2006. Having no professional hair, make-up or wardrobe, Spears smacked her gum through an interview that discredited anything she had to say because of how she looked. The media has had nothing positive, aside from her reading a prompter at the 2008 VMAs, to show or disprove what gossip writers/photographers give them.

Spears official website has been “Under Construction” since, at least, November 2007. This is the perfect outlet for her PR people to get the facts from so they can have accurate reports. Her Myspace page is strictly a place for fans to hear her latest tunes, write comments of support or scrutiny, look at pictures and to read blogs about upcoming, already publicized events. It may seem trivial, but these media outlets are the main way for Spears to reach her fans and set the record straight. When searched in Google, the second site listed is her official website and yet there is nothing there for a fan to see. A well designed website could do a lot for her image in that it is a perfect place to highlight all of the good things she has going on in her life and to promote her new album. It will be interesting to see how she handles her first sit-down interview in close to 3 years. In the clips that have been leaked it looks as though Spears is in a much better state than she was in 2006 with Matt Lauer.

On a positive note, it does not seem that Spears’ mother’s tell-all book has affected Spears or her fans’ opinion of her. Even thought the book divulges very personal information regarding Spears’ sexuality, relationships and family relations. The book was the first test to her “comeback,” if she could weather this everything else would come easier. For instance, the night before the video for Womanizer aired the song was the top-selling song on i-Tunes. This could be a great sign of things to come especially regarding the relationship between Spear and the media.

EVALUATION

A lot can be learned from this case, especially for someone like me who wants to go into the entertainment aspect of PR. I think that this is one of the toughest cases that and PR person could come across. Spears was relentless in living her own life and doing her own thing. She fired her PR people, her PR people left her and she went sans PR people. However, the past 6 to 7 months have been, in my opinion, have been picture-perfect from a PR standpoint. It is still unclear whether or not she has had professional help with her publicity or not, however what is being done is right out of a public relations text book. The public sees that her life is being controlled: her father taking over as conservator; they see that she is concentrating on getting her children back: she has been granted more visits with her toddler sons; they see that she is taking her career seriously: photos of her rehearsing her dances, a new video and a new album pending. These things, coupled with a decreased presence in the media of her daily occurrences, are helping Spears get her career and life back to normal. Whether it was her family, her management or her PR manager, the correct steps are being taken in restoring this once pop wreck back to her pop star status.

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