Daily Skimm Weekend·

One of the TikTok Queens of Dissecting the Celebrity PR Machine

Ever wonder how certain celeb scandals fly under the radar? Or why some leaks seem pretty intentional? Shannon McNamara (aka, @fluentlyforward) can probably explain. On TikTok, the celebrity gossip sleuth educates more than 300,000 followers on the strategies and tactics employed by the celebrity PR machine. To learn more, we spoke with McNamara...

Q: What are a few telltale signs of celebrity spin?

[The word] “source.” Growing up, I always thought it was a loose-lipped hairdresser or pizza delivery guy, who saw something and ratted them out to TMZ. But the source, nine times out of 10, is usually the person themselves or [someone] on their team. [Also, look for] little phrases that kind of sneak through. One of [my favorites] is “very much in love.” Anytime a celeb couple [makes their debut], a source says, “They’re very much in love” … but you’d never use that language in a text to a friend. That’s always a sign that a source is actually a PR person trying to get a narrative out, rather than someone who is legitimately close to the celebrity.

Q: There’s also a reason many big stories come out on a Friday, right?

[Typically], journalists aren’t going to be scrambling on Saturday and Sunday, like they would Monday through Friday — so a lot of times, things will drop at the end of the day ... [Also] you’ll notice that often, news [about] infidelity, marriages, or divorces will get leaked around the same time. A lot of people saw that with Sofía Vergara’s and Ariana Grande’s divorces. Or, [with] the news about Will Smith and Jada [Pinkett Smith] being [secretly] separated for the past few years, [followed by] Meryl Streep saying she and her husband have been living separate lives. So a lot of times you’ll see a celebrity piggyback off a dramatic thing happening by putting out a similar story — which won’t get as much traction because everyone’s already paying attention to the one that came out first.

Q: Do celebs and their teams think people won’t see through those sorts of things?

[This came up] a lot with [how] Joe Jonas [handled his divorce]. People don’t give enough credit to the average person and think they can be fooled ... Something that celebs [still] need to catch up with is that everything is now online ... You have all these celebrities who aren’t used to the fact that everybody has a smartphone in their hand ... So when something like Armie Hammer’s BDSM scandal happened, people went onto his [Twitter] and saw that he’d [liked tweets] about BDSM ... Celebrities don’t yet understand how digitally savvy and investigative people can be ... and that in the last three or four years, people have become a lot more skeptical, generally … That ends up hurting them, because they put out a statement saying ‘I’d never say this’ or ‘I’d never do that,’ and immediately you have all these receipts. A lot of celebrities are still stuck in the early 2000s denial phase of PR, which you can’t get away with today.

Q: Speaking of tweets, how has social media changed the work of celebrity PR teams?

It’s had a huge impact. There’s [been so many] scandals because a celeb went on Instagram or TikTok Live and said something they shouldn’t — à la Vanessa Hudgens with COVID or the Doja Cat and Noah Schnapp situation ... [There’s] all these different avenues that can make celebrities more accessible and more viral, which can be really helpful. Or, it can kill their career in just one live stream. So there’s now a lot of PR agencies who specifically focus on [those sorts of things]. There’s even companies that’ll go through all of your past tweets and delete anything that’s more than like 180 days old. [In the last few days] there’s been a lot of Travis Kelce tweets resurfacing from 2010 and 2011. Whenever that happens, I always think, What are these celebrities doing? Why didn’t they just use that service to delete everything from before 2018? 

Q: It feels like public apologies and statements are not only more common, but they’re also one of the trickiest areas for celebs to navigate. Why is that?

This might be a controversial opinion, but I think that celebrities should be saying a little less. Most of these people are trained and skilled in acting, singing, or things like that. So they often get themselves into a lot of trouble when they try to be the everyman who can touch on everything. The authenticity of celebrities is something that makes them more palatable. For example, Gwyneth Paltrow is this extremely wealthy white woman who sells yoni eggs and [other wellness things] for $800 ... but she also [embraces that’s just who she is]. I think people respect that because at least it’s honest and authentic. 

Psst, this interview has been edited for length and clarity.

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