The entertainment world lost another icon when Roger Mayer passed away on March 24. A long-time executive of Turner Broadcasting, Mayer was loved and respected by just about everyone he came into contact with during his double-digit years in the industry. I certainly loved him—he was my mentor and my hero. He literally saved my life! But that’s a story for another day.
Right now I’d like to focus on the life-changing lessons I learned from Roger about entertainment marketing and publicity during our time working together at TBS. I don’t mean the specifics of campaign creation or the importance of having a good Rolodex. I mean the personal qualities he exuded that made him so very good at his job—the ones we should all be emulating in our marketing and PR careers.
Passion: Roger Mayer had a genuine passion for the film industry. This passion came through in all his business dealings, which particularly endeared him to creative people: They knew they could trust their projects with him because he had a genuine enthusiasm for their work.
As the founder and chairman of the National Film Preservation Foundation, Mayer had a special passion for the restoration of films. The Foundation helped archivists save and restore hundreds of newsreels, documentaries, silent movies, avant-garde presentations and other “orphan” films. He also was a member of the National Film Preservation Board of the Library of Congress, and he even received the Jean Hersholt Humanitarian Award from the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences in 2005 for his film preservation work.
I know how easy it is to get caught up in the day-to-day grind, to find yourself complaining about all that seems to be going wrong with work. But I think it’s important to take a breath and rediscover the passion for the work that got you into this business in the first place. I only to need to think of Roger to bring it all back.
Honesty, Integrity, and Diplomacy: Roger was very honest and straightforward. He taught me to tell the truth in all situations—which isn’t always the easiest way to go when you’re a publicist in Hollywood. Yet people found the honesty a refreshing change of pace. I think that’s because Roger spoke truthfully but never maliciously. He considered the effect of his words on others, and chose them wisely. Would that we would all do the same!
Showmanship and Quotability: Whether it was the 50th Anniversary of “Gone with the Wind” (an obvious news story) or the latest episode of “Captain Planet and the Planeteers” (not as obvious), Mayer knew how to choose the most interesting making-of or behind-the-scenes anecdote and tell the story in an articulate, funny way that made it both newsworthy and quotable in speeches and interviews.
Grace Under Fire: When Turner made the decision to colorize some of the old MGM films—adding color to the black-and-white films through computer technology—no one anticipated the massive outcry from filmmakers that greeted that decision. At the time, it was a very controversial topic, and Mayer, who was a pioneer in the use of the process, was constantly bombarded with media interview requests. In some cases, the interviews became hotly contested debates between him and well-known directors like Woody Allen. Through it all, including in his testimony before Congress, Mayer kept his cool as he defended the decision as an artistic choice, and stressed his appreciation for the filmmakers’ original work—and people on both sides of the argument admired him for it.
Compassion: Mayer was a true humanitarian. Another reason he received the Jean Hersholt Award was because of his support for the Motion Picture and Television Relief Foundation (MPTF). (As a charitable organization, MPTF provides financial assistance and services to those who have worked in the film industry and are now in need of help or care.) Mayer served as chairman for MPTF for eight years but this is just the tip of the iceberg; his hands-on work went far deeper than just lending his name to a cause. He was also actively involved for years with the Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra’s “Silent Film Gala.” He supported many causes both in and out of Hollywood, and believed strongly in the importance of philanthropy. Everything I’ve learned about the importance of giving back, I’ve learned from him.
Kindness: Roger didn’t care if you were an Oscar-winning director or the janitor of the studio—he treated everyone equally and with complete kindness and respect.
Perspective: He didn’t sweat the small stuff. I would run into his office needing guidance about the latest crisis and he would always put things in perspective. The work is important but temporary; your physical and mental health are forever—that’s a critical lesson I learned from Roger Mayer.
Gallantry: Roger grew up in an era where men opened car doors for women and refrained from cussing in front of ladies. He always insisted on treating for meals. Two weeks before he passed away, I had the pleasure of meeting him for lunch, and he even insisted on paying for my parking fees! Now that’s a true gentleman.
I know how lucky I was to have the opportunity to work closely with Roger Mayer; I was even more fortunate to get to know him as a person. There will never be another like him. I think the greatest tribute I can pay to Roger is to do my best to carry on his passionate, gracious, compassionate example.