There will be a time when you need to hire a publicist to do your promotion for you. To get perspective on that timing — and other issues involved with hiring someone else to do your publicity — I’ve revisited a panel discussion I attended on that very subject, as well as adding in some input from those who’ve hired publicists, in their working actor journeys. The panel I covered, led by moderator Michael Levine — owner of Levine Communications Office and author of Guerrilla PR — consisted of four industry professionals who shared their wit and wisdom on the art of publicity, its importance to a performer’s career, and a few of the nitty-gritty details involved in PR in a wonderful discussion sponsored by the Talent Managers Association.
Maryann Ridini, president of Ridini Entertainment Corporation, said an actor should hire a publicist, “Several months before the film, the TV show, the record comes out. The campaign has to be put together and planned. There’s the writing of the press kit, collection of materials, schedule of releases. If they’re in a film, you want to have a six-month lead-time to put the media list together and tailor it to the target audience. So often, I have people come to me just one month prior to their project, which really limits us.”
Levine asked the panel of experts, “Should the public relations firm put out a proposal for no fee?” Kenneth R. Reynolds, president and CEO of Public Relations+, responded, “It depends on the circumstances. Once, I did a free proposal for a church and it was just an outline. They came back to me and asked me to firm it up, put in a few more details. I did. They came back again, asking for further elaboration and I’m thinking, ‘Y’know, church is very big business.’ But, I did it anyway, and they said, based on that third proposal, ‘Our secretary could do this.’ Well, of course. At that point, she could.”
Deborah Berger, partner and publicist at DBPR, added, “Corporate accounts seem to want proposals more than specific celebrities. With entertainers, we’re generally paid up front, rather than on commission. We have a lot to prove, by having already earned our money. We prove our relationships. That’s our forte.” Ridini commented, “It depends on what you put in the proposal. Many people don’t know how it works, so you have to educate them on how you do what you do. Have a good relationship with your publicist. Know how they’re going to work.”
“What are the fee structures?” Levine inquired. “From $1000 to $5000 per month,” Reynolds offered. Berger concurred. “Roughly the same range. The higher end is more corporate or more handholding, more travel. The lower end is more maintenance. Maybe they’re not in need of major publicity but they want to attend a premiere, they want to attend a party, they want to attend a fashion event. Keep in mind, this fee is plus expenses. Always.”
“Oh, yes, that’s important to note,” Reynolds agreed. “So often, the client thinks expenses are included. It’s like the contract is signed, but not read, because it’s in there. There’s the photographer payment, there’s the FedEx bill, there’s postage, there’s supplies, and they think I should assume those costs. No, I am paid for what I know. Be very clear. Put it in the contract. If you are paying me a fee, and then I pay the photographer out of my fee, and then I pay for reproductions, and I pay the writers to write your bio, and I pay for copies of the bio, where do I get paid for what I know?”
“The range depends on what we do for the client,” Ridini clarified. “If they want national press, international press, doing a book in certain cities, it varies. Blanket statements are difficult to make, but I’d say $2500 to $10,000 for corporations.”
Anne Henry, parent of working actors and actors’ advocate/co-founder of BizParentz.org relayed that actors can be expected to pay $1500 per month for publicists, and that fee is locked for a six-month minimum, at times. “Considering that after taxes, agents, managers, and basic expenses, you might have 15% left… well, it’s just hard for me to justify spending that. At least not until there’s a series or a major movie coming out — and then, you could utilize the publicist attached to the show or network for free. They will get you into events, usually with more success than a personal publicist,” Henry said.
Nelson Aspen — a correspondent for TV Guide Television and the number one morning show in the UK plus the top-rated show Sunrise in Australia — teaches Media Training at the Learning Annex, is my co-host for Hollywood Happy Hour, and offers private coaching in Multi-Media Essentials. “As a promoter, rather than a publicist,” he began, “there is money in my pocket to promote other people. Why I do media training is because there is this question of when publicity begins. Media training is money well spent. You spend money on your acting classes, your headshots, and you should also spend on knowing when and how to promote yourself. I do private coaching for $100 per hour. It is purely instructional.”
Most important is not hiring a publicist until there is something worth publicizing! Henry began, “I would think it would be a necessity if you were being hounded by the media a lot and needed to manage them, or you were traveling for a music tour (because you don’t know the media in each city), or you’d done a big movie where you need to do press junkets. If you have a significant booking, it can be important. A publicist can make sure your face is out there, that you get out there to premieres (not just your own), and that you get photographed in public (assuming you have something to publicize). This sort of tactic might help create buzz around your name and thus encourage producers to feel that you are hot property or that you are a name. Maybe.”
So, What Do Publicists Do?
According to Henry, they’ll, “seek and arrange charity appearances, attendance at red carpet events (not the ones you are performing in — other movies, awards events, etc.); develop a press packet that might include a couple of glossy photos, bio, listing of work done, interesting articles to be sent to potential media outlets; send press releases and use their connections to get blurbs printed; aggressively seek magazine articles and layouts; try to get interviews on TV interview shows (creating something interesting or just jumping on the trend of the day); train you on how to do interviews, how to be interesting; manage the media, make the judgment calls of what not to do, where not to be seen, what not to talk about. If you screw something up, publicists will make the public statement that fixes everything; usually accompany you to red carpet events or to press junkets to introduce you to the RIGHT media outlets and help you avoid getting stuck with a C-level newspaper; handle fan mail, websites, and message boards (but those are not job-makers — that is catering to the fans — who don’t hire you). It is important to note that some managers will do some of the above things,” she concluded.
Mistakes People Make in Dealing with Publicists
“There’s a lack of feeding information,” Reynolds explained. “They take it for granted that there is something going on in the entertainer’s life that could be used for publicity. It’s not an act of withholding, it’s just that they are not judging that it’s useful information to us.” “I find that managers don’t believe in publicity,” Berger added. “It’s another person in the mix, it’s another cost. That comes from a power and control factor. Actors have an agent, they have a manager, they have a business manager, they have an attorney, and you’re another person in the mix, advising them and working their public image.”
“Actors need to know that the time to hire a publicist is when you have a story to tell,” Reynolds summarized. Aspen elaborated, “Everybody has a story to tell. But make sure it’s venue-appropriate. I’m always looking for evergreen stories; stories that our show can re-run for the next three years. The spin is the important thing.” “If the series got on the air, even if it’s quickly canceled, at least it got on the air. A lead should have a publicist to take advantage of the time it’s out there,” Ridini noted. “The press kit alone could get them their next job,” Aspen agreed.
Berger explained the complexity of layered promotional efforts. “Many times, an actor’s desire to get publicity is overshadowed by network involvement. They want to wait to see how it’s going to do before investing in publicity.” Manager Kathy Boole of Studio Talent Group asked, “What is the negotiation process? Are we guaranteed that we’ll get our money’s worth?” Reynolds replied, “I cannot promise you’ll be in a certain publications. But I can promise I’ll do my best to make it happen. I’ll use every bit of knowledge and creativity at my disposal to make it happen.”
Levine continued the theme of Boole’s question, adding, “And if a publicist promises that you’ll be in a certain publication…?” Reynolds quickly responded, “Run.” “It’s not guaranteed,” Berger added. “You should look for a publicist with relationships,” Aspen suggested. “I am such a fan of nepotism. It works!”
Manager Art Mines asked, “Do you make concessions, in your fees, for charitable causes?” “In any business, we do charitable giving. We do campaigns pro bono for certain causes. We give a lot,” Reynolds insisted. “I was watching Oprah in my office the other day,” Aspen began, “and she gave money to Camp Heartland, this camp for kids with AIDS. I see a story there that’s waiting to happen, so I call the guy, and pitch a story, even before calling my editor to make sure it’ll happen. So, if you have a story, make it happen. And, yes, this one is for free.”
Manager Horacio Blackwood, owner of Blackwood Entertainment asked, “What are your tips on finding a good publicist?” Berger responded, “Referrals, definitely, from other managers.” Aspen added, “Referrals from talent.” Reynolds joined in, “Referrals from journalists.” Ridini completed the list: “Referrals from studios.”
How Actors Can Make a Publicist’s Job Easier
“Return calls in a timely manner,” Berger requested. “Our job is time-sensitive. We’re on a deadline and we can’t say, ‘I’m sorry, she’s with her shrink right now, so I can’t get you that headshot.’ Also, don’t forget your interviews. If I’ve scheduled an interview for you, show up for it!” “Take your publicist’s advice on how to deal with the media,” Ridini suggested. “You hired us for our expertise.”
“Make sure you sit down with your publicist and get an understanding of what the relationship is, what the publicist’s job is. Know that I am not a marketing director,” Reynolds added. Aspen explained that, “Actors, unless they’re very experienced, treat publicity like a luxury. It is not a luxury. It has the same import as all the other ingredients to your career. Publicity is not a perk.”
Manager Helen Cohen asked, “What about having the actor, the manager, the publicist, the agent, all in the same room, so that you’re assured you’re all headed for the same result?” Ridini began, “I generally operate where I meet with those team members, but we all have our area of expertise. Yes, there are shared goals, but we have to work from our own strengths, each of us on the team. You don’t want duplication of efforts. There may be an undercurrent in Hollywood of us not getting along, but we can work together.”
Berger added, “You CC everybody and their mother. You leave a paper trail. Show everyone what you’re trying to do. It can’t be a bad thing for me to CC the president of the network. He may throw away the memo, but it can’t hurt for him to see that my client is getting out there, doing press. CC webmasters of fansites too.”
Manager Lola Blank, owner of LHB Management asked, “Would you ever tell an actor that a publicist is no longer necessary?” “It’s a touchy area because you’re basically saying, ‘I don’t want your money.’ But, if there’s nothing going on in the client’s life, it comes to a point where you’ve exhausted everything you can,” Reynolds explained.
Manager David Moore of Alliance Models said, “I’ve never hired a publicist. Where does the money we use to pay you come from?” Reynolds said, “Ultimately, it comes from the talent.” “The money comes from the project,” Ridini clarified. “Whatever you — the actor — are working on, it pays you, and you pay us from that. You have to be realistic. If you’re not working, and you’re not bringing in money, you don’t need a publicist.” “That’s when I do maintenance,” Berger added. “I’ll half my retainer fee.” “You can hire us for consulting work,” Ridini said. “Actors could come in and pay $85 to $100 per hour to get my expertise.”
Manager Denise Ellis of G Talent asked, “Who writes the press release?” Berger said, “We all do.” Ridini agreed, “Any good publicist should be a good writer.” “It’s unbelievable to me,” Aspen began, “the number of press releases I see with typos and misspellings. It’s unreal to me!”
Manager and comedy coach Steve Kaplan said, “I work with people where the story is good but the money is not there yet. What can we do?” “They should choose consultation over a retainer,” Ridini advised. Moderator Levine began, “I wrote a book called Guerrilla PR, which is the most widely-used introduction for PR. It’s based on The Tiffany Theory, which is essentially that a little blue box means more to you than a plain box. In our society, we gift-wrap everything, even our toilet paper.”
Berger agreed. “Look at a publicist and the way they work at media and red carpets events. If they’re letting their stars show up in black or grey and with no jewelry, they’re saying they don’t want to be photographed. I’m thrilled when someone shows up with a blue box of an outfit.”
Manager Linda Reitman asked, “When an actor is doing indie films and you don’t really have a release date, can you do anything for them?” “We really need a release date so that we can move from that date to make sure to get the most coverage,” Ridini insisted.
Manager Doyle Taylor of Down Right Talented asked, “Do you feel you can resurrect a client’s career or image?” “If they have a project pending, yes,” Ridini said. “You need to have a vehicle or there is no news hook. There’s so many stories out there. Journalists want to be sure there’s a hook. So, it must be more than a human-interest story.”
Manager David Westberg asked, “Has the Internet complicated your job?” Aspen responded, “It’s awesome. The more the better! But you have to police it. Sometimes performers will go into chat rooms to generate some buzz.” “With the Internet, the laws don’t exist yet,” Berger affirmed. “There are bookers who will go online and pull bios that aren’t official. There’s a lack of control there.”
Cohen asked, “Do you participate in damage-control campaigns? Do you develop an A to Z strategy?” “Absolutely!” Berger exclaimed. “I’ll work from A to T then see what happens from T to Z. It’s part of the job, damage control, but you want to reserve some of the resources for future publicity.”
Manager Betty McCormick Aggas of Midwest Talent posed the question, “What’s an average day for you?” Berger began, “I check my cell phone, check my voicemail, check my email, check my faxes. I try to put out any fires and then I go to my list and work everything that’s pending. I have all of these Internet relationships and it’s made my life so much easier. I highly recommend subscribing to the Hollywood News Calendar, it’s worth the $100 per month, to make you aware of all the book signings, all the premieres, and you can receive it by email or fax, and you can get your clients out to these events, and they love it.” Aspen summarized his average day simply, stating, “It’s the best!”
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Originally published by Actors Access at http://more.showfax.com/columns/avoice/archives/000254.html. Please support the many wonderful resources provided by the Breakdown Services family. This posting is the author’s personal archive.