Every time I have the opportunity to go home to visit my parents, I’m usually greeted with new stories of friends my parents are making in my neighborhood. More often than not, these stories usually end with my mom or dad explaining how they try to communicate with new acquaintances exactly what my passion is.
“Yeah, so I told them that you’re studying PR and are interested in working with film, but NOT trailers. Right? I said that right?”
“So then I said that you were interested in branding and being a movie advertiser.”
“Anyways, when they asked me what you want to do, I just told them that when you meet them you can explain it because I know I’ll say something wrong.”
This kind of thing.
Well, to set the record straight and create an approved-by-me spiel that can be shared to anyone curious, this is what I want to be when I “grow up”:
I wish to be a publicist or public relations specialist for an entertainment studio or agency within the film/TV industry.
So, what is PR, really?
To break this down, let’s talk about what a PR professional does. No, I’m not a spin doctor. I do not wish to lie for a living–it’s not my nature–nor do I plan on being a propaganda enabler. This is a common misconception.
Public relations, as so well-defined by one of my professors Marshéle Carter, is the “maintaining of mutually beneficial relationships between an organization and the public in which it serves and depends.”
Essentially, it’s keeping a balance. It’s keeping people informed. It’s the middleman who relays information about a client or organization to the public, and then in return analyzes the result of that communication back to the client or organization they serve. It is both proactive and reactive. It’s about planning how an organization can move from point A to point B in the public eye. It’s about managing expectations for a client and the public. It’s about image and optics. It’s about delivering messages that resonate. It’s about representing and embodying a brand–hopefully, authentically. It’s about telling stories. It’s…a lot of things.
Public relations can impact how a client chooses to evolve operationally and be the essence of why anyone knows of or cares about a client. It flirts with the world of advertising by helping to develop/define a brand and deciding on messaging, but they are not the same thing. While advertising sells, PR lays the foundation and paths in which to create those sales. Advertising is bought, but PR is earned. This is connected mostly to a PR professional’s connection to the press. The press is the disseminator of information and PR professionals have information they want to share. If a PR professional has good ties to people in the press, the better they can share the story they want to tell about their client or organization.
PR in the media can be portrayed as paid-manipulators and malicious spokespersons–people who enjoy preying on the minds of the vulnerable or using their power as communicators to achieve a certain end that may not objectively tell the entire story.
This is not my way of condoning those behaviors, but I will say a PR professional’s obligation is their client. It is a journalist’s job to be objective and see the bigger picture of stories. This is why the two can be at odds but by no means a reason to inherently mistrust one another. If shady things are going on, that’s a different story, but otherwise, these two worlds work together to inform the masses and create that happy triangle of client, press, and audiences. These are the considerations under the profession, generally.
How PR looks in *show business*
Now let’s apply this model to the entertainment industry–specifically to the world of motion pictures, TV, and now streaming.
How a PR professional goes about telling their client’s story can take many different forms depending on the organization and the client. For entertainment, there are different roles a communicator can have in the pre and post-creative process. I’ve broken down two main buckets here:
Talent-related communications can range from anything to assistant to lead publicist for an individual client. In film and TV, this doesn’t have to be limited to working with just actors. “Talent” can encompass all creative elements in the industry. Directors, producers, writers, even composers all have publicists and teams that help them present themselves to the public.
To clarify, this job is not like Estelle from Friends. It’s not the agent. You are not getting them gigs, but with impressive effort and results, talent management can make those jobs come to talent. This is done mostly through agencies that host a swath of services to manage talent like Rogers & Cowan PMK, Sunshine Sachs, and Slate PR to name a few.
This job is great for those who have strong personal relationships with the press. Booking a TV appearance, a magazine cover, or organizing partnerships with other brands or non-profit work are good examples of what talent management can entail. Sometimes it’s keeping track of someone’s phone/purse while they walk a red carpet, and sometimes it means getting to help craft acceptance speeches. Regardless, PR professionals to talent get to experience a lot of the fun things tied to Hollywood, but usually requires an ungodly amount of hours to plan and execute much of what we see produced in the media.
I got to experience a little bit of what this world is like while interning at the Kennedy Center last summer. Working as Natasha Bedingfield’s liaison between her team and the Kennedy Center for a special performance surrounding the 50th anniversary of the moon landing, I found this job incredibly stress-inducing but so much fun I thought there’s no way people get paid to do it.
Working as a handler backstage, I was able to assist with her wardrobe, make sure her meals were correct, and help her be aware of her timing so that way she didn’t miss any important cues during rehearsal or for the live performance. The feeling of being a small part in making that night a success was unparalleled to a lot of my experiences I’ve had so far as a PR-wannabe. And yes, Natasha is just as nice as you think she would be.
This role can require many facets which makes it the most exciting to me. Either working internally at a studio–like Warner Bros, Disney, A24, Lionsgate, etc.–or through agencies that are hired by studios–like 42 West, ID PR, and a plethora of smaller boutique firms–communicators in this role focus on promoting projects themselves.
This means following a film or show from start to finish. Thinking in “big picture” terms, much of this job requires having a strategy and planning for a campaign that presents a creative work to the public.
This usually begins with coordinating with the press that a project is in the works and highlighting elements that make the project newsworthy. This could be anything from who is involved on the creative side to who is starring in the project or what bits of the story that can be shared before its release.
This pre-stage grows with the release of a teaser or trailer, maybe a press conference with the cast and crew, and any other opportunity that can help generate buzz about a movie or show before its release. Depending on the project, a film enters this pre-release stage where it already knows it will be in theaters to reach mass audiences or it will circulate through various festivals so it can be “sold” to a distributor. Events like Sundance and Tribeca are THE events that get indies out of the shadows and into the spotlight. Through a communications lens, it’s the networking that takes place at festivals that can influence movie moguls to make projects come to life and push them into mainstream media.
Once a movie or show is released, it’s all about collecting the response to that project and responding to it accordingly. This requires developing special messaging to various audiences that can propel increased viewership or managing the expectations of a studio if the reception of a project does not go as planned.
If that reception is extremely positive, and those press relationships are strong, this is how a good project can become award-nominated.
Award season is hell for anyone in this business, but for a PR professional, this means organizing events, creating appearances, and creating a comprehensive plan that highlights the most admirable parts of a project to encourage positive press and catch voters’ attention. Whether you realize it or not, a lot of the time the reason a project is able to get the awards it does is because of the PR that took place behind the scenes.
Of course, the merit of a movie or show can speak for itself but when these projects are competing for one spot, it is the storytelling of these creative works that can create attachments in the hearts of minds of those who can give these paramount merits. It’s all about showing up, giving your pitch, and making it memorable. Rising to the occasion to “develop and maintain mutually beneficial relationships.”
So there you have it, Tom and Meg. This is how I want to earn my living and I hope it makes a little more sense compared to the last time I tried to explain. Am I wanting to be Olivia Pope? No, not really. But I’ll take the jaw-dropping coats and red wine, for sure.
I crave so much to be a storyteller of storytellers. Just writing this piece gets me all jazzed. Film and TV is an exciting but tough place to be. I’m aware of dues I’ll need to pay and I may need to schedule over a thousand meetings and take a mountain of lunch orders before I’m walking into the Oscars any time soon, but I’ll be patient.
Great entertainment isn’t going anywhere. I know of the profession to prove it.