Published on February 21, 2023, at 9:50 a.m.
by Emilia Ciezadlo and Olivia Esquivel.
Nepotism in Hollywood, or any type of business, is nothing new. We often see celebrities get roles, opportunities and even awards due to their lineage. Being born into a family with established careers in a desired field comes with many perks — a large pool of connections being one of them. Networking is a key skill that is pushed in the professional world and is the reason platforms like LinkedIn even exist. However, a new term has emerged to describe this specific type of entertainment royalty — and it has catalyzed a discourse that has included everything from public relations tactics to workplace ethics.
After being discussed primarily on social media, the term “nepo baby” reached national headlines in a viral article in Vulture. For better or worse, the popular article affected many celebrity brands. For PR professionals with famous clients, the situation demonstrated the importance of media relations in the public relations field.
The rhetoric of the nepo baby
Google Trends, reported that searches for “nepo baby” shot up from almost zero to over 500,000 in the week following the release of the Vulture article. The search volume is up 13,133% from the past year.
According to Dr. Liam Mayes of Tulane University, this new obsession with the term can be attributed less to the label itself and more to the emotions that it stirs with readers. In short, it reminds them of the inequalities that exist between themselves and celebrities. Therefore, the use of the term has the potential to have a significant impact on the way the public views someone labeled as such. Public relations practitioners need to be mindful of the conversation surrounding nepotism and their clients.
It is deemed unusual for publications to adopt language that is mainly used on social media. Seeing the use of “nepo baby” spread is significant to how audiences view the person attached to that descriptor. The term compounds the negative connotations of nepotism, as it suggests that celebrities are undeserving of their successes.
Dr. Mayes categorizes the label into “good nepo babies” and “bad nepo babies.” A “good nepo baby” typically has commendable talent that stretches beyond their familial connections. The deciding factor for his classification, however, is how they choose to respond to their “nepo baby” label. When it comes to making statements on the subject, he said that “it’s actually quite a low bar.” He further noted, “All you … have to do to acknowledge the privilege [is] to say ‘I’m aware of this, that I benefited in all these kinds of ways.’ And then you are kind of off the hook.”
Nepo baby responses and backlash
Since the nepo baby discussion has been trending, not all celebrities have taken Dr. Mayes’ advice. There have been interviews, tweets and even lengthy statements made about the topic that have all either been scrutinized or accepted by the public. Some nepo babies have acknowledged the validity of the label, while others reject or defend their new titles.
Celebrities don’t often recognize their privilege, but in a recent interview with Elle, Kaia Gerber admitted that nepotism is “prevalent.” Jamie Lee Curtis has been one of the most outspoken nepo babies on the subject, saying the label is “designed to try to diminish and denigrate and hurt.”
Dr. Mayes weighed in on these types of responses, saying that Curtis’ response was simply “tone deaf.” Her statement received primarily negative reactions.
Hailey Bieber decided to make a statement about the term by using fashion. She recently strolled around Los Angeles wearing a shirt that read “nepo baby.” The bold choice received mixed results on social media. Some thought it was iconic, whereas others criticized both the shirt and her career. Renee Enna Coha, former editor for the Chicago Tribune, said that Bieber “is probably just having fun,” and that “a sense of humor is always very important.” Either way, Bieber ignited another conversation on the topic.
PR and the media: an essential relationship
When representing a client, especially a famous one, maintaining a positive relationship with the media is not optional. Coha has firsthand experience with media relations, spending 20 years as a lifestyle editor for the Chicago Tribune. She believes that it’s the responsibility of the PR professional to instruct celebrities on how to interact with the media. Celebrities need this careful training before media interaction because writers’ “loyalty is to the publication [they are] working for.” Because of this loyalty, writers often decide the fate of a story based on interaction with the celebrity.
Celebrities rely on PR professionals to ensure they put their best foot forward when interacting with the media. Coha warns that if there is not enough media preparation, a celebrity’s interaction with the media can become a crisis to manage. PR professionals have critical importance in every media interaction, including those that take place behind the scenes.
Professionals can only do so much for their nepo baby-branded client. It is up to the celebrity to ensure that their actions correlate with the image they portray. As Coha emphasized, what an individual “does or doesn’t do is more impactful on their brand than anything anyone can write about them.”