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Conference helps PR mavens improve performance

The entertainment publicist’s lot is such a tricky one that the best practitioners have to demonstrate credibility, commitment and creativity on a daily basis — and even when they do so, things don’t always work out well.

That was one of the overarching themes at a daylong conference Saturday in Hollywood devoted to helping PR mavens improve their performance.

The Entertainment Publicists Professional Society, the TV Academy and UCLA Extension jointly sponsored the event.

Idea was to present keynoters and case studies that would highlight the challenges facing the sector, the success stories to emulate and the failures to avoid.

“Even with a brand as strong and clear and family-oriented as ours at the Hallmark Channel,” David Kenin told the 400 participants, “our PR efforts can sometimes backfire.”

Kenin, who is exec VP of the channel, pointed to a well-honed but ill-fated promotion for a movie that his company produced to capitalize on the Halloween holiday: “Monster Makers” was so bad that the ramped-up PR efforts to hype the movie focused more attention on the product than the channel would have preferred.

And, in an indication of just how precarious the PR budgets of corporations are, Kenin described a high-profile initiative his marketing team came up with to promote an original Western series that the channel aired a few years ago — the campaign included a cattle drive through New York’s Times Square — but despite all the ensuing publicity for the series and the channel, the company’s PR budget for the following year was cut.

Working relationship

On the other hand, Kenin said, having the inhouse PR department report directly to the programmers at Hallmark (rather than the corporate bosses) means that publicists are more in the know about what projects are upcoming and what elements in them may be pitchable to a given journalist.

Kenin’s remarks were part of a kickoff Q&A session with Daily Variety publisher Charles Koones, who told the assembled that breaking through the clutter and providing context for a story were two of the crucial earmarks of the successful PR maven.

In a breakout session later Saturday morning called “Hitting the High Notes,” panelists from Daily Variety, the L.A. Times and the Hollywood Reporter told attendees that providing an angle or a hook for a story was crucial to forming an effective relationship with reporters and editors.

Make execs available

Daily Variety associate editor Phil Gallo told the publicists that getting the music execs they represent to think beyond their own narrow interests and make themselves available for more general trend stories could be a valid way to get coverage. “It’s not enough to just call and say so-and-so has a new record coming out,” he suggested.

All the panelists agreed on a handful of PR no-no’s: Don’t call journalists on their cells to make a pitch; don’t yak to reporters on deadline; and never say “but your predecessor did it differently.” Rather, provide “forward intelligence” about what’s going on to reporters, and they’re likely to respond favorably to a pitch.

In yet another session, “Finding and Keeping a Job in Entertainment Publicity,” TTG Consultants prexy David Bowman walked participants through the do’s and don’ts of job-hunting.

Interview strategies

Among his tips: During a job interview, never tell a prospective boss what you were making at your previous job. Start the dialogue by saying, “We had a very generous but complicated financial package” and then steer the conversation back to the responsibilities and accountability of the job on offer.

At that point, Bowman told the participants, you can inquire as to the range of salary the company is offering and suggest that would be an appropriate figure at which to start the negotiation.

The day’s event included case studies on the PR efforts behind TV shows like “The Apprentice” as well as the feature films “Van Helsing” and “Pirates of the Caribbean.” Confab concluded with a keynoter by producer Bryan Cranston of “Malcolm in the Middle.”

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