Working as a publicist means you’re someone who’s continuously at work behind the scenes to generate as much publicity for your client as you can get ’em. As much good publicity, that is. While we generally think of publicists as only pertaining to the music or entertainment industry, the profession touches many, many fields.
Publicists can work for your local indie band, to blockbuster film actors, to popular public figures, and everything in-between. When publicists manage press coverage for a company or institution, then they likely fall under the “media relations” umbrella of job titles.
At the heart of these jobs is the desire to generate publicity, hype, and excitement for a client. And, doing that often entails a lot of emails. Between handling a client’s request, scheduling interviews, meetings, and coordinating an overall media rollout plan, there’s countless hours spent pitching and cultivating relationships with journalists and media outlets.
If you’ve ever thought about pursuing a career as a publicist, you’re in luck. We’ve rounded up the best advice from publicists and public relations specialists in a variety of industries. Here’s what they had to say.
“What is your best bit of advice for becoming a great publicist?”
“Lead with empathy. I didn’t go to college for PR (or at all), but I’ve always looked at projects through the lens of what I would want to watch or buy as your everyday consumer. What would motivate me, as a civilian, to activate around a campaign and share with my community of friends? Once I land on this answer, I work backwards into the idea(s) that will yield the desired outcome. Basically, don’t overthink it. Just create what you would actually enjoy. Then go.”
“Being a publicist is one of the best jobs, but also one of the most demanding because you’re always ‘on.’ The industry is ever-changing and to be successful, you have to have an adaptable personality, be ready to tackle whatever is thrown your way, and be on top of all the new trends, while also creating the next trend.
I always say PR is 1 percent glamorous and 99 percent not. Yes, we get to plan the coolest events and take part in some awesome launches and brand campaigns, but the thing you have to remember, is that as a publicist you’re also the background—running around making sure everything is perfectly executed. It takes a certain personality to thrive off of the hustle that is the PR world. No matter what or who you represent, you have to be dedicated, determined, organized and find creative ways to somehow check everything off of your never-ending to-do list.”
“My best advice for becoming a great publicist is to get to know the editors that you are pitching. Don’t be afraid to pick up the phone and call them or ask them out to lunch—they will give you more candid and useful feedback that way, and more importantly, that’s how you start to build a relationship. Follow editors on social media to see what their interests are and if there’s any way your clients can add real, personalized value to their lives.
Also, reach out to congratulate them on special life events, not just when you are pitching a client! Sending a mass email pitch is equivalent to sending a message in a bottle these days, but if the editor knows you and trusts that you consistently bring valuable content to them, that’s where the real success lies.”
—Sarah Meyer, senior account executive at Sarah Hall Productions
“When I started working as a publicist I recognized my team had their own solid connections so instead of pitching to the same outlets and editors, I would create my own list of editors, not on our media list, and introduce myself. There are so many talented writers out there and it’s so powerful to expand your web of connections between your team.
Also by using my existing network, whether a friend or family member, I’ve been able to get an intro to some editor gems in the industry. Lastly, don’t be afraid to cold email, avoid super lengthy pitches, and show you’ve done your research.”
“My best bit of advice for becoming a great publicist is dare to be creative. As new platforms continue to emerge and traditional channels of broadcast, print, and online evolve and take new shape, it’s important to keep an open mind, experiment with different ways in which to engage your clients with the media, and negotiate those angles with what is going on in the real world.”
“There is a human behind every email. PR gets a bad rap, because it tends to be—at its worse—impersonal and shallow. Publicists are, unfortunately, trained to build lists, send blast emails, and focus on quantity over quality. My #1 biggest tip, and most rewarding practice, is remembering that every time you send an email, it goes to another human (just like you) who probably woke up super early, is having a long day at work, has to go to an event tonight, and just wants a little bit of happiness in their day. Take that opportunity to treat every email as a chance to make someone’s day better, and things will fall into place from there.”
—Gabrielle Pedriani, director at RVD Communications
“Network and introduce yourself to everyone. Make the time to get to know assistants, managers, agents, photographers, stylists, etc. If there’s downtime on set of a photoshoot or in between interviews, I like to go around and introduce myself (first AND last name, plus company), making sure I get contact info or follow them on social media.
I also try to schedule lunches/drinks once a week (should my schedule permit) so I can establish new relationships. You never know when you’re going to need to utilize them, and vice versa!”
“Listen to those in senior roles, who have been in the industry a long time and have seen it all. Learn from their wins and their loses. Listen to those in junior roles, because they have a fresh perspective and have their finger on the pulse. They might notice something you miss. Listen to the journalists and editors that you meet, because they can tell you what they’re looking for.
“Be intentional. Things move fast in publicity, so it’s easy to get lost in the scramble or lose sight of your ultimate goals. Moments of reflection are key. Why are you doing this? What does publicity mean to you? How to transform the work into something meaningful and sustainable?
These questions are big, but taking time away from the noise helps me to reorient and check-in with myself and my actions. If you’re constantly doing doing doing, there’s less time to consider what’s making an impact and what’s not (and if it’s not working, why that is and what needs to change).”
—Allison Conner, speakers bureau manager at Jack Jones Literary Arts
“Forget the spray and pray approach—securing great coverage is almost always the result of investing in a great media relationship. Get to know reporters as people (not ‘targets’). Take them to coffee and spend the time to do careful forensics on what interests them, what they cover (and would never cover), who their audience is, and what kind of news they cover.
Ensure that all of your outreach is personalized–reference their recent work, especially if it’s relevant to what you’re pitching; explain why you thought of them for your story idea; and make sure your (brief) pitch sounds like a human being, not a jumble of incoherent “cutting-edge” or “next-gen” jargon. Don’t waste anyone’s time with a pitch you know won’t land (but your client asked you to send). You’ll only diminish your personal capital and ensure that future emails won’t get opened.”
“Read. Read as much as you can, and in different mediums and in unexpected places. I’ve been inspired by books like All The Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr, Let My People Go Surfing by Yvon Chouinard, Common Sense by Thomas Paine, a book passed down to me from my great-great-great-great grandfather.
My creative juices have been electrified by reading long-form features penned by Bonnie Tsui in GQ, California Sunday Magazine, and The New York Times, and I’ve been motivated reading stories revolving around health and wellness from Suzanne Hall and her team at The Chalkboard Mag.”
—Alyssa Kluge, senior account executive, AZIONE
“Being a publicist in 2018 is a bit different then being a publicist 10 years ago. It is more about building client exposure online, versus appearing in print magazines. An important tip to becoming a great publicist is to become tech savvy! Educate and submerge yourself with the latest and greatest in the domain of social media.
Know what moves the needle in terms of brand exposure while getting to know upcoming influencers, the latest apps and software to make your client stand out. In the end, social media aides in legitimizing your client, which is a VERY important tool when it comes to solidifying media placements. So remember… it’s all about the online chatter!”
“Truly understand and immerse yourself in your clients’ stories and industries. As a publicist, never see yourself as a ‘third party vendor’ but rather a true extension of your client’s internal team (you just happen to work offsite at a communications firm). Knowing a client’s message, expertise and goals inside and out will allow you to achieve the end result their team want: bolstered credibility and visibility, not only within the media, but to their clients and future prospects, which will ultimately support their business.
Also, be nimble and have fun–every single day will be different (setting up media interviews one day and maybe leading a crisis communication effort the next) but that is what makes PR so interesting!”
—Karyn Piechule, vice president at Gregory FCA
“The core of publicity lies in communication, which involves talking, pitching media, advocating for clients, and sharing ideas, but the other half of communication—listening—is sometimes overlooked. A great publicist listens to mentors who offer advice, tunes into news and social chatter daily, remembers the topics that interest a media contact, learns from their colleagues, and keeps their ear to the ground for opportunities to be creative and proactive.
Listening helps publicists anticipate the needs of others and gives a publicist the tools to more effectively craft a message that connects with the media, clients, colleagues, and consumers. Practice active listening and you will grow genuine relationships, which not only makes a great publicist, but also makes being a publicist fulfilling.”