Monday, August 23, 2010

Why Forbes Publishes Its Annual Forbes Celebrity 100 List & The Lessons It Teaches PR

I don't think I need to explain why Sports Illustrated runs its annual swimsuit issue in Feb., when much of the country is buried in snow, when the Super Bowl is over, when basketball and hockey seasons seem endless, and when it's too soon (and too cold) to think about spring training.

But the reason for the annual Forbes Celebrity 100 may not be so obvious.

The annual Forbes Celebrity 100 is designed to be "a power ranking based on earnings and fame but also on social media rank such as Facebook friends and fans, Twitter followers, overall print and broadcast coverage, number of blog hits, and appearances on covers of 25 consumer magazines.

Sounds like a good set of metrics. But those metrics, other than earning power, make the list subjective rather than objective.

They're trying to quantify fame, much the way Q Score have done for celebrities for years.

Adding the element of "power ranking" makes it okay for Forbes to cover celebrities because Forbes gets to treat them as business people, not just as eye candy.

How else could Forbes justifying placing Sandra Bullock, Kobe Bryant, Robert Pattinson, Kristen Stewart and Taylor Swift on its cover?

Forbes can always put Oprah on its cover (as the current hit, "I Want to be a Billionaire," points out), but it would take a stretch to imagine Miley Cyrus, Beyonce, Anglina (do I have to provide her last name?) and others.

The value of its annual Forbes Celebrity 100 is to act like the always popular People Magazine for one issue during mid-summer -- the equivalent slow period for business as Feb. is for sports fans.

It's fun beach reading. It gives you the opportunity to debate whether Beyonce, who claimed the Number 2 spot and earned $87 million, should out rank James Cameron, Number 3 who earned $210. Or to try to figure out how boxer Floyd Mayweather (number 31 with $65 million) out-ranked producer Jerry Bruckheimer (number 47 with $100 million)?

The answer, of course, is besides the point.

For Forbes, the point is to generate interest and boost readership at a time when its readers may be on vacation, trying to unwind a bit. (They never truly unplug.)

The lesson for PR functions: look at your industry for any slow period, and think of developing a fun stunt that's accessible but relevant to generate attention when your competitors may have checked out. Swimsuits in Feb. have a tangential connection at best with sports just as teen celebrities have a tangential connection with business. And SI and Forbes have been doing a good job filling their respective magazines during slow periods.

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