Wednesday, September 6, 2023

PR firm caught paying critics in order to manipulate Rotten Tomatoes scores

Lane Brown for Vulture:

But just because the “Tomatometer” says a title is “rotten” — scoring below 60 percent — it doesn’t need to stay that way. [The PR firm] went to work. While most film-PR companies aim to get the attention of critics from top publications, [the PR firm] takes a more bottom-up approach, recruiting obscure, often self-published critics who are nevertheless part of the pool tracked by Rotten Tomatoes. In another break from standard practice, several critics say, [the PR firm] pays them $50 or more for each review. (These payments are not typically disclosed, and Rotten Tomatoes says it prohibits “reviewing based on a financial incentive.”)

In October of that year, an employee of the company emailed a prospective reviewer about [one client's movie]: “It’s a ... film and the feeling is that it’s been treated a bit harshly by some critics (I’m sure sky-high expectations were the culprit) so the teams involved feel like it would benefit from more input from different critics.”

“More input from different critics” is not very subtle code, and the prospective critic wrote back to ask what would happen if he hated the film. [The PR firm] employee replied that of course journalists are free to write whatever they like but that “super nice ones (and there are more critics like this than I expected)” often agreed not to publish bad reviews on their usual websites but to instead quarantine them on “a smaller blog that RT never sees. I think it’s a very cool thing to do.”


Rotten Tomatoes’ new membership rules might have enabled the publicity company’s M.O. by providing a wider supply of critics receptive to its pitch, which seems to have become more explicit over time. (“I would like to know if you don’t post negative reviews on Rotten Tomatoes,” a [PR firm] employee wrote to one critic in August 2022.)

[The PR firm]’s main business appears to be small films released to VOD with little other promotion; it often helps them meet the five-review threshold required to receive a Tomatometer score.