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Crisis PR firm tells Golden Globes group there’s only one way to save the show

A sign on an archway in front of a hanging glitter ball reads "Golden Globe Awards"
Decor on the red carpet at the 75th Golden Globes at the Beverly Hilton Hotel on Jan. 7, 2018.
(Jay L. Clendenin / Los Angeles Times)

As the Hollywood Foreign Press Assn.’s vote on its proposed new bylaws nears, the outcome remains in play. Underscoring the uncertainty, the group’s crisis PR consultant sent a memo to members last week, prodding them to “consider what will happen if you do not pass the bylaws.”

“Some of you may wish for an alternate future but the reality is totally different,” wrote James Lee, the founder and CEO of the Lee Strategy Group, according to the memo obtained by The Times. “As journalists, you understand what the headline will be if you do not pass these bylaws.”

The new bylaws would codify reforms of core issues including governance and membership, as well as policies on Golden Globes voting, the conduct and ethics of members and a host of membership perks — including the prohibition of gifts from studios and others. The reformed bylaws — which require a two-thirds majority vote to pass — are intended to address the controversies that have long dogged the association and played a role in NBC announcing that it would not broadcast the awards next year.

Reminding members that, “The Hollywood community has already accepted passage of the bylaws as a condition of returning to business as usual,” Lee’s note outlines potential scenarios should members not approve them. Among them, Lee wrote that the organization would continue to be cut off from “celebrity interviews or other talent for the foreseeable future” and there will be no broadcast of the Golden Globes, or celebrities interested in participating in the ceremony.

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Further, “Your opponents will seize on this as proof you are not committed to reforms and push even harder to not only continue the boycott but broaden it.”


Lee confirmed the memo in an interview with The Times.

“As a consultant, it’s my job to provide the best opinion to the members as to what their available options are in regards to the passage of the bylaws. I felt it was important prior to the vote to give them my assessment,” he said. “It’s totally up to them to decide the future of the organization. I trust that we’ve given them the best information possible.”

The group behind the Golden Globes is set to vote on a series of promised new reforms, but infighting and inertia have ruled the process, imperiling the HFPA’s ability to enact systemic change.

In the wake of a Times investigation that brought to light allegations of financial and ethical lapses and pointed out that none of the HFPA’s then-87 members was Black, the group pledged “transformational change.” In March, a contingent of powerful entertainment publicists implemented a boycott, withholding clients from participating in HFPA activities. In May, NBC pulled the plug on the 2022 Golden Globes broadcast after Netflix cut ties with the organization “until more meaningful changes are made.” Amazon, WarnerMedia and Neon, the indie studio behind “Parasite,” followed the streamer.

In recent weeks, the HFPA board has implemented a series of measures: It established a hotline for reporting incidents anonymously and hired two outside law firms to investigate them. The board also retained a new diversity consultant; the first had quit after five weeks on the job. The association also approved a new code of conduct.

The association is expected to cast ballots by Aug. 5. However, the process has been beset by infighting and resistance. In June two members resigned in protest over what they called the group’s “toxic” culture and “status quo” reform efforts.

Within the group, some of the proposed bylaws have become points of contention. For example, two members have threatened legal action if a provision to create an emeritus status for nonworking and lifetime members is included in the final vote.

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Such members would no longer be eligible for HFPA-sponsored travel such as junkets and festivals and they would not be able to vote for Globes awards and other group activities.

In his memo, Lee told the group that while “no one loves all of these bylaw changes, and everyone has a different reason to dislike them. Change can be confusing and startling, especially when change appears to be forced upon you.”

However, he also said that members could address those points writing, “We suggest you take advantage of the quicker amendment process in the new bylaws to resolve this issue after the bylaws are approved.”

The owner of Golden Globes producer Dick Clark Productions has presented a reform plan for the embattled Hollywood Foreign Press Assn.

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Further, Lee cautioned the members that the organization would likely be subjected to continued backlash if the bylaws were not approved.

“Some of your grantees have already told HFPA if the bylaws are not passed they will return their grants. Your grants will be viewed as tainted, and your philanthropy will stall,” the memo states. “There will be no new members to recruit to promote diversity since no journalist will want to join an organization being boycotted.”

However, by voting yes, Lee wrote that the association, “can finally go on the offensive in the media,” regain access to celebrities and restart the canceled Globes ceremony in 2022.

According to the memo, Lee has compiled research and economic data “that supports our argument for studios to come back to the HFPA and to engage in the Golden Globes award process.” Noting that some unnamed studios and streamers have “expressed a desire to get back to work with the HFPA,” the memo also makes an apparent reference to a recent study from VUONG Global claiming “the economic impact of a [Golden Globe win] averages $16.5 million, with bigger movies gaining a whopping $33.5 million in revenue.”

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The proposed talking points to defend the HFPA membership include highlighting “the plight of international journalism, the ongoing bias against foreigners in the U.S. and the blatant discrimination each of you suffered during this crisis.

“We want to go out and fight for you now, but we cannot do that until the bylaws are passed. That is literally the last thing holding us back,” Lee wrote, adding, “I have a deep respect for the HFPA and, as an immigrant myself, I am acutely sensitive to the wrongs that have been done to you.”

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