Happy New Year, everyone! If it’s the beginning of January, it must be time to make my New Year’s business resolutions. This year, I wanted some expert advice in creating a list that would make my agency and my work more meaningful and effective for my clients.
It didn’t take me long to come up with the perfect person to give me that advice: veteran entertainment journalist Susan King, who recently left the Los Angeles Times after 26 years to pursue a career in freelance writing. Susan and I worked together on many stories during my 12-year stint at Turner Broadcasting (she covered classic Hollywood, which often included articles about TNT and TCM), and later, when I started my own agency.
Susan is knowledgeable and passionate about the entertainment industry, and has interviewed hundreds of actors, directors, producers, and other filmmakers in her career. This means she has worked with just about every studio publicist and publicity agency in town, and has a running list of good and bad PR habits. So I asked her to give me her top five media relations dos and don’ts, which I’ve vowed to take into account in creating my own new year’s resolutions.
Susan’s PR Pet Peeves
1. “Dead or Rude?” “I saw someone post this phrase on Facebook, and it’s the perfect encapsulation of publicists who won’t return your calls or e-mails. Perhaps I just need a quick answer for a story or maybe I’m requesting an interview. Instead of emailing to say, ‘My client isn’t interested’ or ‘We only do cover stories,’ a publicist simply won’t bother to get back to me at all. Of course, I hear the same complaints from many publicists about journalists and editors!”
2.Know Your Journalist. “You need to know whom you are pitching to. I think interns and young publicists are often given lists of people to pitch, and have no idea that the reporter doesn’t write on the subject. At the Times, I once got a pitch for a story on medical equipment.”
3. No Stalking! “A publicist pitched an actor who was in a movie that was to be released in about five months. My editors said they would have to wait to see the movie before they made the decision. But that didn’t stop the publicist, who called me every couple of weeks to see if I had an answer. The calls became more frequent closer to the opening, and I even began having nightmares. My editor finally saw the film and hands-down wasn’t interested. Though the publicist was not happy with that decision, I certainly was!”
4. Pitch and Deliver. “A few times in my career, a studio publicist has called pitching an actor or actress for a film without checking with the person’s personal publicist to see if the performer was even interested in doing it. And sometimes they weren’t. Don’t pitch whom you can’t deliver.“
5.Don’t Kill the Messenger. “Publicists sometimes get angry when they see a story in print. Not that they don’t like the piece, but they take umbrage with the layout, the headline or the caption. I have to tell them that is the decision of the editors and designers, not the writers.”
Susan’s PR Gems
1. Clear Speakers. “I generally have great relationships with publicists—some are good friends—and those I do have a strong connection with have something in common: They are clear and concise,” Susan explained. “They tell you the who, what, when and why on the client they are pitching.”
2. Wordsmiths. “I have found that stellar publicists are often the strongest writers. I have received some amazing pitch letters filled with an abundance of useful information. A lot of thought has gone into these letters, which makes it easier for me to pitch the story to an editor.”
3. Fixer-Uppers. “A publicist worth his or her weight in gold can put out fires if something goes awry. Sometimes the subject doesn’t show up to an interview or doesn’t call, and a great publicist tracks the person down and quickly reschedules the interview.”
4. Spacemakers. “A great publicist will trust their clients. Some publicists insist on sitting in on interviews, whether it be in a conference room or a restaurant. I don’t mind that practice if the publicist doesn’t do the interview for the client. But generally interviews go more smoothly if the publicist sits at another table or goes back to their office.”
5. Passion Players. “My favorite publicists get real joy from what they do. They didn’t get into the business for the glitz and glamour, but because they have a passion for cinema, theater and television.”