How 'X Factor's' Simon Cowell's Right-Hand Woman Handles the Mogul's Empire and Ego
Ann-Marie Thomson, Syco Entertainment's media maven, launched "The X Factor" all while handling 500 front-page stories a year, teary contestants, cranky reporters and one mogul-sized ego. How does she do it?
Not a day goes by when X Factor or Simon Cowell doesn't grace the front page of a British newspaper. On average, 500 such tabloid stories run in a year, covering everything from Cowell's love life to the latest contestant controversy.
The gatekeeper tasked with commenting, denying and, yes, ducking the nearly 100 queries lobbed her way daily is relocated Brit Ann-Marie Thomson, 33, Syco's global head of media, who has spent the better part of a decade in the business of Cowell, which includes a record label (Syco Records) and the international TV franchises Got Talent and X Factor, boasting 44 and 29 localized versions, respectively. She got the gig following an apprenticeship with veteran British rep Max Clifford, whom she credits with giving her "the confidence to deal with high-profile stories" and the nerve to handle them.
"If Ann-Marie calls you at 10:30 at night, it isn't good news," laughs Cowell.
He hired Thomson because "she understands the relationship that I like to have with the media -- a close one. A lot of publicists treat the media like enemies, which is ridiculous because the media makes you. She respects press."
Ultimately, says Thomson, who shares PR duties with team members from Fox, PMK and FremantleMedia, "We treat press like a partner in the show. We're all in the entertainment business, so what benefits us benefits you."
As for the "sticky moments" Cowell winces at, like promising 20 million viewers and falling 8 million short, Thomson insists spin is rarely part of their strategy, but her expert reaction when asked about it says otherwise. "That's what he wanted to aim for. Whether it's now or next year or whenever, he's going to aim high, like with everything we do. Then we'll work hard or die trying."
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