If you look up “ambivalent” in the dictionary, I’m pretty sure one definition would be: “See any journalist honored by a group of publicists.”
So it is with the Publicists Guild, whose annual honors include a press award for domestic journalists (as opposed to the international variety, not those running free in the wild) that I was presented in 1998.
No hard-nosed print scribe really covets the crown of being known as the publicist’s friend, preferring that there be an adversarial quality to the relationship. On the flip side, some people presumably vote based on respect for what you do, which is flattering, I suppose, even if said people are paid to be nice to you.
My own relationship with the guild was complicated by the fact that not only was I conflicted about being nominated, but then I kept attending and not winning. The streak went six years, until I was dubbed the Susan Lucci of the Publicists Guild, alluding to the “All My Children” star who waited nearly two decades to claim a Daytime Emmy.
Every year during that stretch, I dutifully found a clean tie and schlepped to the awards, wincing when reporters who were far friendlier to publicists than I have ever been were recognized.
Fortunately, one year the award was given to Claudia Eller, an entertainment business reporter at the Los Angeles Times, who proceeded to steal my speech, referencing the late Variety mug Will Tusher’s long-winded acceptance years earlier. The only good news was that having worked with Claudia at three separate venues (including Variety), I knew no one could consider her especially pliable in dealing with publicists.
Finally, the big day came when I heard my name called (in a brief speech, I attributed the results to “low voter turnout”), feeling a sense of relief. This is because the Publicists Award is apparently a life achievement kind of deal, meaning you normally don’t get nominated again once you’ve won. Having cleared that hurdle in my 30s, I vowed to put enough space between the event and my death to ensure my obituary wouldn’t begin, “Brian Lowry, whose career peaked when he was honored by the Publicists Guild…”
On a more magnanimous note, inasmuch as there’s an award for everything else, why shouldn’t publicists get in on the fun? Besides, theirs is a thankless job, torn between demanding journalists and self-obsessed bosses who don’t understand why we’re not more generous to them, even when their $140 million would-be blockbuster has a $6.3 million opening weekend.
Years ago, someone described the rift between journalists and publicists as the difference between being allowed to visit the mansion and living inside, only as a publicist, you have to sleep in the guest quarters. Regardless of the accommodations, for some it’s probably enough just to be invited.
So have a lovely lunch, and let’s hope they serve coffee before the Oscar ceremony officially begins. Sorry I can’t be there, but I speak for most of my colleagues recognized by the guild when I say, er, um, thanks … sort of.