The PR Wars at 42West: Fights, Money and a Breakup

Cynthia Swartz, left, and Leslee Dart
Cynthia Swartz, left, and Leslee Dart

Forget all its A-list talent and Oscar campaigns: There’s even more drama behind the scenes at this top publicity firm as premier awards strategist Cynthia Swartz stages her exit away from Leslee Dart.

It was an embarrassing exodus that battered PMK/HBH's roster of top-tier talent and bled its bottom line. The firm's highest-profile players -- HBH founders Stephen Huvane, Robin Baum and Halls -- walked off with the likes of Daniel Craig, Tom Ford and Gwyneth Paltrow. By contrast, 42West, with its own roster of A-list stars and directors, looked stable and more powerful than ever.

In the meltdown's aftermath, Michael Nyman, the aggressive founder of BNC, and PMK's Cindi Berger were elevated to chairmen and co-CEOs of PMK*BNC, which insiders say expects to do up to $30 million in billings this year. Even in the wake of the exodus from PMK/HBH, PMK*BNC has become an even more formidable player, with about 170 staffers in New York and L.A. representing some 650 clients, including the biggest -- and most brand-affiliated -- names in entertainment: Simon Cowell and his show The X Factor; tours for Justin Bieber and Glee; and Mariah Carey, who has her own fragrance, M.

Nyman and Berger reject the rap that they are too big to take sufficient care of talent. "It's a pet peeve of mine that we keep getting called big and lumped into some idea of a corporate giant," says Berger, a tireless networker. "I'm glad that there's enough business for the boutiques and for everyone. But when you have the kind of scope and breadth and client roster that we have, which also includes multinational corporations, there's no comparison to be made between us and them. We can provide better service and a grander offering for our clients."

Amid the larger drama that has pitted personal publicists against more corporate-minded types, Oscar consultancy has emerged as something of a specialty of its own, with smaller firms like the Angellotti Company, which looks after Universal's live-action movies and animated films from Disney and Pixar on a year-round basis, and Michele Robertson's MRC, which focuses on Warners' awards contenders, stepping to the forefront.

It's in that territory that Swartz is now looking to stake out her own turf. Although she has yet to announce her full slate for the upcoming season, she's handling the release campaign for the Weinstein Co.'s W.E., the Madonna-directed study of the Wallis Simpson affair, scheduled to open Dec. 9, which has led some to speculate that she'll renew her ties to Weinstein.

But, counters one source in the Weinstein camp, "No. She's Rudin's girl now."

And if one of Rudin's upcoming movies breaks from the pack to make a run for the gold, Swartz will almost certainly be among those leading the charge. She's also taking on other assignments like Oscilloscope's We Need to Talk About Kevin, with hopes of guiding star Tilda Swinton to the winner's podium.

In acknowledging their separation, both the remaining principals at 42West and Swartz herself have suggested that they could yet partner on individual projects in the future. Certainly, awards-season politics have made stranger bedfellows than that in the past. But the more likely scenario is that a new Oscar-season rivalry has just been born.  

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