Top Hollywood publicists who have been boycotting the Hollywood Foreign Press Association met with the group last Wednesday and Thursday in an attempt for the embattled group to win over the publicity executives with reform efforts that could restore the Golden Globes, TheWrap has learned.
Some 75 publicists met with HFPA president Helen Hoehne along with board members and Chief Diversity Officer Neil Phillips, according to several attendees. Hoehne presented a PowerPoint via the Zoom call to detail the group’s reform efforts since an outcry in 2021 over a lack of diversity, corruption and self-dealing led to publicists’ boycotting the group’s events and NBC canceling broadcast plans for the 2022 ceremony.
“It was a waste of an hour,” one leading publicity executive who attended told TheWrap. “They are trying. But they’re nowhere close to really paying attention and focusing on true change. It’s still the same people. They can’t get out of their own way.”
Another leading publicity executive agreed. “The old guard is still in the majority. That needs to change. They’ve only added 20 members in the last eight months,” this executive said, exasperated.
“I’m wasting so much time on this with them. In that respect, I’m kind of done.”
Among the powerful publicity executives who attended were Amanda Lundberg of 42West, Cindi Berger of Rogers & Cowan PMK, Kelly Bush Novak of ID, Nicole Perna of Imprint PR, strategist Cassandra Butcher, Meredith O’Sullivan of the Lede Company and Marcel Pariseau of True Public Relations.
Collectively, these publicists represent the elite of Hollywood talent, including Tom Cruise, Scarlett Johansson, Nicole Kidman, Serena Williams, Ben Stiller and many, many others.
Hoehne and Phillips were joined by independent board member Sharlette Hambrick and crisis PR experts James Lee and Matthew Hiltzik on the calls.
HFPA interim CEO Todd Boehly was meant to be there, but attendees were told he was traveling and unavailable on both days, which one publicity executive described as “disrespectful.”
Asked about the meeting, an HFPA spokesman said: “We cannot provide comment on the story as we respect the confidentiality of our conversations with our partners and the publicists as we move through our reform process.”
Boehly plans to attend the Cannes Film Festival with at least 25 association members, an opportunity to lobby them to vote for his takeover plan, according to an individual with direct knowledge.
A spokesman for the HFPA denied this was true but declined to give further details.
The Foreign Press Association stands at a precipice, as NBC has still not said whether it intends to air the 2023 Golden Globes ceremony. The telecast, whose $60 million licensing fee represents the bulk of the HFPA’s income, was canceled this year in the wake of the criticism.
A knowledgeable insider told TheWrap that there has been no decision on airing the 2023 ceremony as the network continues waiting for advocacy groups and the HFPA make some concrete efforts toward change. There is also no new intel as to whether NBC would seek to renegotiate the eight-year deal it signed in 2019 with the HFPA and Boehly’s production company MRC, the insider said.
Meanwhile, the intrigue has thickened as interim CEO Boehly, a hedge fund billionaire with vast holdings elsewhere, is now seeking to buy the group’s assets for his own Eldridge Industries, turning the group from a non-profit to a for-profit. That has sparked a raging debate within the HFPA as to whether that amounts to a corporate takeover or a savvy business move, with members divided. Legal experts say the move raises many red flags, but insiders tell TheWrap a vote is imminent. An HFPA spokesman declined to comment.
Nearly 200 Hollywood publicists have been withholding their clients from HFPA press conferences and other events since March 2021, pressing the group to demonstrate significant diversity and reform. Hollywood studios such as Netflix have similarly withdrawn their support, awaiting results of reform efforts.
Among the improvements offered to the publicists this week, insiders said, the HFPA stated that press conferences will no longer be required (and indeed claimed they have never been) for actors, movies and shows to be eligible for awards. Actors would also no longer have to pose for photos with every single HFPA member at organization events, as has been an HFPA ritual for decades. And two tabloids, The Sun and The Star, would no longer be permitted as media outlets, attendees said.
Complicating these matters is Boehly’s move to buy the group’s assets and end its not-for-profit status would have him owning a massive share of the company’s IP. This would result in HFPA members retaining a much smaller percentage of ownership. Critics, including those behind a rival proposal to reform the HFPA led by former Motion Picture Academy head Cheryl Boone Isaacs, call Boehly’s project a stunning conflict of interest.
So did one of the PR executives who attended this week’s meetings: “It’s a bad conflict of interest. Owning Dick Clark Productions (now called MRC). Owning the Beverly Hilton. It’s just icky. It just feels corrupt,” the executive said.
There is no timetable for the HFPA to consider Boehly’s proposal or any other reform plan, though one HFPA insider indicates a board meeting on the matter is not likely until September. Other have noted that no valuation on a takeover has been offered and that only 21 new members have been accepted, far short of the 300 that publicists had demanded as necessary to demonstrate reform.