What’s it like to do PR in Hollywood? Exactly how similar is it to Entourage? Do you ever have to battle TMZ and the tabloids? Molly has been doing PR in Hollywood for more than a decade! This is her story.
Tell us a bit about yourself!
I am originally from North Carolina—my whole family is still there—but I have lived in Los Angeles for eighteen years. In addition to my PR business, I also have a travel/lifestyle blog playfully called “This Yuppie Life,” where I am always in search of gorgeous, boutique hotels to showcase.
For those of us who don’t know, what – exactly – is public relations?
Public Relations seems to be an ambiguous term to the general public. The old joke is that PR is “the care and feeding of reporters,” which isn’t too far from the truth! As a publicist, my job is to persuade an audience to take interest in my client and recognize their accomplishments.
We shape the public’s image of an individual or company through really good story telling. Whether it’s through traditional media outlets, social media, or speaking engagements, we help our client communicate with the public through our trusted sources.
Who is a ‘typical’ client for you?
While I have no ‘typical’ client, most of my clients are either actors and television personalities, or those who fall into the lifestyle space. The one quality all of my clients have in common is talent.
Some captivate you on screen, while others design beautiful interiors, or create the most delectable guilt-free meals. As a boutique firm, we are incredibly hands-on, and think of our clients as family, so I truly believe in the message of every client on my roster.
Let’s say one of your clients has a book that’s coming out. How would you help them promote it?
I am actually in the midst of a book campaign for my client, Pamela Salzman, who recently released her debut cookbook. She is fantastic on camera, so the bulk of our press efforts have been focused on securing television segments on both a local and national level, where she is able to cook a recipe from the book.
Through experience with past book launches in the health space, I have learned that national segments really drive book sales. Blogs are also huge for books because those who regularly read a specific blog are likely willing to buy what the blogger is promoting. The recipe for success in this case (no pun intended) is niche research.
Securing long lead press for a book can be incredibly challenging unless you have the support and enthusiasm from your publisher and are able to send copies way in advance to the magazine editors. Even my clients who had two NY Times Best-Sellers under their belts could not get copies far enough in advance for us to secure press in the monthly magazines timed to the release of their newest book. Take note though, national segments are also incredibly competitive.
We also help our clients coordinate book signings, which creates a fantastic opportunity for them to have face-to-face time with their fans. Even though the publisher has an in-house publicist, I cannot stress enough how crucial it is for authors to have their own personal publicist who will hit the pavement day in and day out. The publisher will not do that.
Do press releases work anymore? What’s working in 2017?
Press releases are effective in very specific circumstances, but they certainly do not work as they used to years ago. I personally find them rather antiquated unless you are announcing something really major—like a new product or event. Even then we mostly do them for SEO purposes.
I write very few each year, but when I do it’s for corporate clients, never individuals. Yes, a press release is still the best way to provide clear information to a reporter, but it is not the most effective way to garner quality press anymore. I prefer to use my wide net of contacts and pitch individually to each editor/writer/reporter.
What are some of the PR catastrophes you’ve had to help people or businesses recover from?
A good publicist never reveals her crises 😉 I am lucky in that I have not dealt with a career-ending catastrophe, and more times than not, my time is spent convincing my client they should not respond or acknowledge such drama. Don’t fuel the fire!
That said, I have had clients captured on video showing a less than polished side of their personalities, and in one instance we did end up using TMZ to our advantage. We had a great relationship with them, and they liked my client a lot, so we did an interview about it, which made the incident seem less serious.
Are there any companies/entertainers you WOULDN’T take on as clients because of their ethics or past behavior?
Absolutely! I am not interested in working with any clients who have built fame from being dramatic, or who already have a reputation of bad behavior. There are many people who specialize in crisis management and revamping images, but that type of work does not interest me. I’m not one to welcome drama into my life. I’m more interested in building brands with a compelling story.
Who’s a dream client?
A dream client is anyone who has a project or business that has already garnered public interest and one the press is excited to talk about! I have worked with an Emmy-nominated actress since I started my business. In fact, she was the first client my former partner and I signed. I always say that I wish I could duplicate her 10 times because she really is a dream.
She is so talented, cares mostly about the work, is critically-acclaimed, and in her down time would much rather be with her family than at a Hollywood party. Because I was there before she got her breakout role, I’ve really gotten to be part of her journey, and what a privilege! On a personal level, I would find it so exciting to work on a highly-coveted luxury, boutique hotel—like the Firmdale Hotel group. My biggest interests include travel, interior design and eating (ha!), so I especially love working with clients in those spaces.
How do you think working in PR in Hollywood is different than working in PR elsewhere in the U.S.?
There is no place in the world quite like Hollywood, and no other industry quite like entertainment, so I would definitely say PR is different here in La La Land. The competition is steep, and you work with a multitude of personalities on a daily basis. Here in Hollywood we spend a great deal of time managing our client’s personal image (hair, makeup, styling).
Landing your client on an award show’s best-dressed list is much more than zipping them up in couture. If you are working with an A-list actor, you tend to hold the power over the media, not vice versa, which is definitely a breath of fresh air!
What character traits makes someone well-suited to this work?
Being successful in PR requires a lot of energy, and any publicist will tell you this is not a 9-6 job–we are literally available to our clients 24/7. You must be a strong communicator, personable, resourceful, organized, flexible, have exceptional multitasking skills, and pay meticulous attention to detail. The joke is that all publicists have control issues!!
What are the best parts of your job? The most challenging?
Without a doubt the most challenging aspect of my job is finding that work/life balance. It is so difficult to manage my time between meeting client demands, encouraging and motivating my team, and even finding time to hire extra help when it’s needed. As a business owner, you are pulled in 100 different directions and you really have to decide what’s important and set strong boundaries.
The best part of my job is that I get access to things that people only dream of—like flying first class to London for a blockbuster movie premiere and sitting in the V.I.P. section with Brad Pitt. It’s not a bad gig!
What have you learned from your work that ANYONE could apply to their daily lives?
There are nuggets of advice I tell every new employee I hire:
- ALWAYS have an opinion. Even if it’s not the right one, it’s always better to contribute to the conversation.
- “I don’t know” is not an answer. There is no such thing as a dead end, and it’s always better to report back with the answer being “no” rather than being inconclusive. Resourcefulness gets you far!
- Think of yourself as the problem solver, not the problem maker. My first employer in entertainment told me that, and it’s really stuck with me!
Thanks so much for sharing your story, Molly! Do you guys have any questions for her?
P.S. How to get featured in the media without resorting to slimy, spammy tactics
I had no idea that there are even situations where the PR has power over the media. Super interesting interview, thank you for the insight into Hollywood!
Charmaine Ng | Architecture & Lifestyle Blog
What advice do you have for visual artists who want their work to be known, but have zero interest in being known as a person and/or persona?
Great advice at the end to “always have an opinion.” I’ll have to work that into my everyday life a little more.
“Here in Hollywood we spend a great deal of time managing our client’s personal image (hair, makeup, styling).” — This kind of thing is fascinating to me. I love watching actors’ red carpet transformations through the years and seeing how they change the public’s and industry’s perception of them through styling. When a celeb dresses in a more edgy, sophisticated, bold, or provocative way than usual I enjoy analyzing what they are trying to do and what career shifts they’re angling for.
“Always have an opinion”? One can have an opinion on everything, but it won’t always be well-informed. I think the person is wise who knows when he/she should leave opinions to those with experience.