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Hollywood Sinking Its Teeth Into LinkedIn

When someone’s profile starts adding little blurbs of independent praise, it means that person’s job hunting.

People are rushing to write such nice things about my friend Jeff, a senior marketing executive at a television company. That he was a capable manager, consummate professional, good listener. Full of integrity and a pleasure to work with.

Did Jeff die?

Nope. He just lost his job. Or is about to.

On his LinkedIn profile, Jeff’s been racking up recommendations about his wonderfulness — employment eulogies. It’s secret code: When someone’s profile starts adding little blurbs of independent praise, it means that person’s job hunting, voluntarily or otherwise.

Jeff’s got eight recommendations in the last two weeks. Another friend stored up 12, little verbal acorns, right before his studio contract wasn’t renewed.

For those unfamiliar with it, LinkedIn is a social network built on professional connections past and present. And it’s huge within the entertainment industry.

We’re schmoozy by nature: LinkedIn cautions to connect only with those you know well and trust, but industry folks hook up with people we sort of recall working with on that pilot a decade ago, who we think weren’t psycho.

LinkedIn has tremendous value as a PR tool for everyday work. For instance, it offers me a massive database of freelancers and small businesses I probably wouldn’t otherwise discover easily, connected through my connections. It lets you broadcast your employment availability.

What’s hilarious is that all 15 top executives of a prominent media company have “career opportunities” checked in their profiles’ “Interested in … ” section. I’ve often wondered if the company’s president knows.   

  

Most of all, LinkedIn’s the go-to platform for self-promotion among people in career transition. For those in the industry, you’d expect these PR campaigns to be clever.

Some are, sounding just like the people who penned them. But most read like JDate in corp-speak.

The best and brightest in entertainment — people responsible for some of the most innovative campaigns, most creative ad slogans, most perceptive PR soundbites — come off like interchangeable robots when it comes to their own publicity.

And ironically, journalist friends on the entertainment beat who once regularly mocked the stilted language in corporate press releases and executive interviews have now confiscated the same words to describe themselves.

In turn, the recommendations that are solicited read like a PR version of those refrigerator word magnet sentences. Chock-full of superlatives, au courant workplace buzzwords (everyone’s “engaged” these days) and recollections about the relationship being one of the best-ever working experiences. The messages in my high school yearbook weren’t that effusive.

And it’s praise that’s usually required to be reciprocated. You can ping-pong through LinkedIn to see comments people have filed about each other, usually posted the same day.

Full disclosure: There is one recommendation under my real name on LinkedIn. I was lobbied for it by a colleague who’s now in the midst of an ugly EEO suit against our former employer. The fact that mine is one of a dozen certainly says a lot about his charges.

Lawsuits aside, you have to wonder if these generic compliments have any impact on those using LinkedIn to research candidates.

These recommendations aren’t creative, although the people about whom they’re written are. They offer little substance, provide no context.  I’d love a recommendation from the tough studio president I adored, only if he’s willing to acknowledge that he’d scared off the four PR department heads preceding me.

As you’ve probably guessed, I’ve declined to have recommendations on my LinkedIn profile. It might cost me consideration for a job someday, but I don’t know if I’m a good fit anyplace that would seriously factor these among my qualifications.

What would attract people to me and what’s LinkedIn etiquette don’t quite mesh. Unless I can post something like this:

Frankie was the best, sanest PR executive I’ve ever had with the biggest set of cojones on our management team. She wasn’t afraid to challenge ridiculous demands and while that made her some enemies over the years, the truth is no one secretly gives a rat’s ass about any of those particular people anyway, no matter how we might act toward them. She reads the newspaper beyond the weekend box office.

Frankie pulled off convincing our craziest star to do a New York junket without his contractual $50,000 entourage, positioning our action drama stinker as a masterpiece and persuading the trades that our top programming executive was erudite, although he’s so dumb he thought that was an insult. She’s the person you’d trust with your e-mail password and want as your sidekick on business trips to Vegas.

But don’t ever approach her until she’d had a third cup of coffee.

–XXXXXXXXXXXX, one of the most difficult bosses in Hollywood

Flackback will explore the art and artifice of entertainment PR.  The author has 25 years' corporate experience and has finessed everything from a celebrity's drunken surprise marriage to his best friend's 16-year-old daughter to a 20-minute advance warning that her company's president was being fired. And she sees little difference between these scenarios.  She's chosen candor over a byline.