So much has changed since I began working as a publicist over a decade ago. Publicity had a completely different landscape, terrain and playing field, pre-21st century. There was no real Internet to speak of and paper-tangible magazines were all the rage. The fax machine and messenger services were an hourly necessity in public relations, and I used a zip drive and a floppy disc for my client files. Life before emails and the Internet is a hard thing to imagine. I began my career in public relations a decade ago working as an assistant at one of the biggest and most prestigious PR companies in the world. Back then, the Internet was not yet integrated into our workspace. The only thing in public relations that has remained the same is the needs and desires of the client. Actors will always be actors: glamorous, beautiful, talented and in need of press… or in need of staying out of the press. Regardless of the individual scenario, a publicist’s job is never done. Even back when I was a mere publicist’s assistant, living and working on the brink of the advent of emails, the Internet and social media, public relations was a job restricted to the tireless.
When I started pitching clients to the media, before emails and the Internet were commonplace, I spent a lot of my time "fluffing and stuffing" clients’ press kits. This entailed putting a bio and a color photograph on one side of a double pocket folder, and a mound of xeroxed press that I acquired for that celebrity client on the other side of the folder, starting with the most impressive clipping/magazine article on top. I was a wiz in arts and crafts, cutting articles out of magazines, putting headmasts on the top of the articles and centering my client’s photo and article perfectly on the page with the help of my handy glue stick. These kits would get stuffed in a large envelope with a pitch letter and hand written label, then snail-mailed to hundreds of editors across the county. Our editorial list was crafted after hours of looking through Bacon’s (a large book full of press contacts, editors, etc.), and then manually typed into Word so we could do a mail merge and send out pitch letters explaining who a client was, what he/she did, and why he or she was so fabulous. Five or six hundred dollars in postage later, a press kit landed on an editor’s desk, a relationship was formed and an interview was set up after you spent half the afternoon faxing the necessary information to the actor and his/her entourage. This fax was proof that you were doing your job.
Of course, this modus operandi has now become extinct. There is no paper, no xeroxing, no traditional “hard” press kits, no headshots (just jpegs) and no postage because we don't mail anything. As publicists, we make lists from a searchable database that is updated hourly and takes a degree in engineering to learn how to use. But once you master this powerful tool, you are what I call, “Super Publicist,” and can get press for a glass of water. Today, a publicist will email and bug the hell out of editors and reporters with pitch letters. Instead of the threat of the press kit going in the trash, you worry about getting the dreaded “delete.” This is why building relationships in a world where they are harder than ever to create, is so monumentally important in public relations.
Getting an editor or a reporter to read your pitch letter on your client is an art form in and of itself. It is a masterful skill that takes brains, savvy and passion for the PR client. No one has time for a half-assed job. A public relations pitch letter that doesn't immediately grab the attention of the reader and make them want to read further is simply a waste of time and content. At least with an old-fashioned press kit, if the pitch letter didn’t grab the editor or reporter, a great head shot and some cool press clippings inside the folder could speak wonders and capture the attention of even the most jaded editor at the biggest publication.
In today’s world everything moves at the speed of light. Before the Internet, if a public relations client was arrested for drunk driving or went out and got hitched, you had at least twelve to twenty-four hours before it would become breaking news and make its way into a newspaper or onto a television show. That time delay gave me, the publicist, a minute to catch my breath and think: to strategize and come up with a plan to help the client in or out of any given public relations crisis, break the news gently, or come up with a PR "spin."
Needless to say, those days are long gone. Sometimes, I read about what my celebrity client is doing even before the client has had a chance to call me his/herself. For example, a few weeks ago a very high profile television actor client of mine was rear-ended in Hollywood by a truck and there was substantial damage done to both cars. Before she could even call me to tell me what happened or that she was ok, I had already seen the photo of the fender bender on the Internet, and my phone was ringing with the press asking for comments. The days of trying to protect your client from news about themselves are far and few between; there are no secrets anymore. As a celebrity or public figure, you can run but you just can’t hide.
I always tell people that if Facebook, Twitter, and cell phones were around when Princess Diana was alive, she would still be alive today in my opinion. The advent of social media in all of its combined forms, have made the public figure so accessible to the everyday person. There is no need for a photographer to really chase a celebrity down the street with his camera these days, because everyone has a camera and everyone can snap away. The bounty hunt for that forbidden photo of a celebrity has come to an end. Just snap and Tweet, and there you go.
When public relations clients ask about Twitter, including what they should tweet, how they should embark on that journey if they are starting, or how to take a fresh approach, I quote a great social media expert friend of mine, Josh Ochs. Josh Ochs has a great philosophy about social media and public relations: "Keep it light, bright and polite.” Light = short (less than 100 characters), bright = sharable (something that shines on its own merit and is worth re-tweeting) and polite = clean (make sure you're proud of that tweet if it should end up on TMZ tomorrow). I also think that Twitter is an amazing public relations tool to use for charity, and I encourage creative thinking. For example, my client, Eva Longoria, asked, "Can one tweet change the world?" when she embarked on the first celebrity charity auction on Twitter with TwitChange. Instead of auctioning off items or a date, TwitChange auctioned off the chance for the top bidders to be followed by their favorite celebrity on Twitter, re-tweeted by that celebrity or mentioned by the celebrity in a "special tweet." All proceeds went to a charity called AHomeInHaiti.org, which helps provide housing for orphans in Haiti. In ten days the auction raised more than $540,000.00 from more than 13,000 bids via TwitChange.
On a more superficial note, there is nothing better than squashing a completely false tabloid story via Twitter. I cannot tell you how many times I have gotten calls about a client being engaged, pregnant, married, etc., when they aren’t. As the publicist, you set the record straight about the story and sometimes it works, but sometimes it doesn’t. When setting the record straight doesn’t work, the false story runs anyway, and at the very bottom of the page you see a tiny sentence that reads, "rep denies." We’ve all seen those stories in US Weekly and in the other celebrity weeklies. That's when I love to call my client and say, "Hey, time to tweet away and get rid of this story before it becomes a viral headache. Please tweet that you just ate a lot of pizza last night and that was not a baby bump, just a full stomach!” Tweeting to set the record straight and squash a false rumor is very effective. It never ceases to amaze me that the press actually reads celebrity tweets on a regular basis.
From a public relations standpoint with clients, and personally speaking, people will often ask me what they should do when someone tweets something negative about them or posts something on Facebook about them that is less than favorable. I often recommend that they do several big online interviews to counteract any negative online publicity. The bigger the online outlet, the higher it will rank on Google search, and will push any negative comments down to the bottom of the results page.
Because of Twitter and Facebook, a publicist can really work hand-in-hand with their celebrity client to create any image that they want to project for that actor or celebrity. Twitter and Facebook are quite a dynamic combination of social media tools. When used properly, they can steer your ship in any direction you choose, though it does take time, dedication and team work. There are also sites like Hootsuite and Whosay that help to validate and link celebrity social media accounts, so fans know the person tweeting or posting to that account is actually the celebrity and not an imposter. Hootsuite also allows the celebrity to plan and schedule tweets, whether it is about their show/movie, a charity, or life. These websites help celebrities to constantly connect to their fans. When new press articles come out on a public relations client, it’s great to tweet the article and post it on Facebook.
Then there are the blogs, and I am a big believer in supporting blogs of many sizes, shapes and colors. I have seen very small blogs turn into huge successes overnight so I encourage my public relations clients to do all kinds of online press. It is a great way to have control over what is being said about them online, and a great platform for flattering photos, to boot. In addition, if there is any negative online press on a client that is old or just bothersome, by doing interviews with bloggers you can bury the bad stuff and let the cream rise to the top. Also, as a publicist I always remember that behind every blog is a person doing a job that they probably love, and again, public relations is all about relationships. A happy blogger makes for a happy client.
People often ask what the biggest challenge of my job as a celebrity publicist is and there isn't one quick answer. Just staying on top of my game in all aspects of the public relations business is my ultimate challenge. Being a great boss to my team of publicists (or at least trying every day to be a better one), knowing what new TV shows are coming on the air, what’s being cancelled, who just got cast in the hot new summer movies, what agents just left one talent agency to move to another, what managers just formed their new partnership, why your client prefers Mobli vs Tumblr, what magazine just went under, who just left Seventeen Magazine to go work at Teen Vogue, maintaining great relationships with the media… the list goes on and on.
Some days just waking up is a challenge! But I love what I do each day, and every day is different in the public relations industry. My team of publicists and my clients are constantly evolving and thriving. I am surrounded by creative, intelligent and funny people all day long. No, you won’t find me on Twitter, but you will find me hard at work with my team. Thanks to the Internet, social media, cell phone cameras and the like, not only is a publicist’s job never done, publicity now never sleeps.
Public relations tactics can be applicable to people from all walks of life. These same rules apply to everyone in terms of image, regardless of your industry or your profession. It is important to portray yourself to others in a positive light, especially with your online and social media accounts. You never know who may be following you or reading your posts (under a faux name); it could be a potential employer, potential client or a colleague. A good rule of thumb for everyone to follow: don’t post something online that you wouldn’t want your child (or your grandmother) to read.
Liza Anderson is the founder of Anderson Group Public Relations. Anderson Group Public Relations is a public relations and brand management firm with expertise in television, film, music, corporate, athletic, medical, non-profit, consumer, fashion, personal, beverage, lifestyle, and hospitality publicity. Currently assisting a diverse roster of clients worldwide, Anderson Group PR is a bi-coastal public relations agency with headquarters in Los Angeles, CA.