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Oprah Bio Won't Impact 'Teflon' Brand, Experts Say

However, Kitty Kelley's Book Still Has Potential to Move Volumes Despite Alleged Media Blackout

By Published on . 2

NEW YORK (AdAge.com) -- Even though Kitty Kelley has a snowball's chance in hell of seeing her latest unauthorized biography, "Oprah," make it into Oprah Winfrey's book club, publicity and PR experts don't believe Ms. Kelley will have any problems moving a significant volume of books. Those same experts are also laying similar odds that the book will have any impact on the juggernaut brand known as Oprah.

Ms. Kelley, who has penned numerous unauthorized biographies on the likes of Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis, Elizabeth Taylor, Frank Sinatra, Nancy Reagan and the British royal family, has been telling anyone who will listen that the media, under Ms. Winfrey's direction, is blackballing her book. She has said that everyone from Barbara Walters and Charlie Rose to Larry King and David Letterman have told her she can't come on their show to promote her book.

Bruce MacKenzie, senior VP-entertainment marketing at Publicis Groupe's MS&L Worldwide, said the supposed blackout of Ms. Kelley and her book will not hinder sales of the book but that it does speak to the good will Ms. Winfrey has established between herself and her media brethren. He noted that with all of the interest in the personal lives of celebs, from Tiger Woods to Sandra Bullock, there is a hunger among consumers for this behind-the-curtain look into their lives, especially if those in the public eye are the least bit controversial.

No one will 'cross her'
"The book is going to sell what it's going to sell regardless," Mr. MacKenzie said. "She will get enough publicity, so whether or not she appears on 'The View' or 'The Late Show with David Letterman' it will not impact the sales either way. But the fact that people won't interview her is a testament that people in entertainment circles and power respect Oprah and don't want to contribute to any tarnish of her reputation. That's a testament to who she is as a person and how people think of her, not just in her fan base but her professional peers as well."

One industry executive said that if Ms. Winfrey did actually want people to shun Ms. Kelley and her book, she carries enough clout that she "wouldn't even have to make those calls because no one is going to cross her."

Nick Ragone, an author and partner-associate director of Omnicom Group's Ketchum in New York, said that regardless of the book's many claims, the Oprah brand will not be impacted in any way.

"It will have zero impact," Mr. Ragone said. "Her brand is Teflon, ubiquitous and so strong that a book like this is not even going to dent it. It's basically irrelevant as far as her brand goes. The media is not going to give this story a second life. It's been shut out already. [Ms. Winfrey] has been such a positive force for the book industry I find it hard to imagine that anyone will give Kelley a platform to talk about this. This is going to be a non-story in about two days. It's going to come and go with nary a whisper."

'Forgotten' story in no time
The book contains numerous claims about Ms. Winfrey's past, including that she "made up" the story about her poor upbringing and specifics about lesbian affairs and drug use in her younger years. In the book Ms. Kelley also claims to know who the identity of Ms. Winfrey's biological father.

"Consumers expect celebrities to have a little bit of drama in their background," said Jim Joseph, president of Lippe Taylor. "Oprah is such a powerful brand that this little drama will likely blow over and long forgotten about in no time."

Stephanie Smirnov, president of Interpublic Group of Cos.' DeVries Public Relations, points to the lack of damage Ms. Kelley's previous subjects have endured as a result of her books as evidence that Ms. Winfrey will more than likely come out unscathed.

"If you look back at the previous subjects of her biographies they are icons who are elevated to a saintly status," she said. "None of them have been irreparably damaged by these books. There might have been a moment of the kind of bad publicity that accompanies a book like this, but at the end of the day their reputations are utterly intact and the same thing will be true with Oprah."

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