Femme Award Strategists Steer Oscar Campaigns

Among the many women with major accomplishments this year, there is one group that is consistently impressive but unsung: awards strategists.

These are the people who work hard to get awards voters to see their films. (And yes, a studio can spend energy and money to draw attention to its films, but no, nobody can make industry members vote for a film they don’t love.) Strategists are a combination publicist, therapist, decision-maker and guerrilla fighter.

There were several alpha females who scored major points this year.

The Fox Searchlight team triumphed in more ways than one. They steered “12 Years a Slave” to nine Oscar noms and three wins, including the all-important best picture.

For six months, they maintained buzz on the film and successfully countered the claim that “12 Years” was “hard to watch.” The film earned a healthy $56 million at the domestic box office. Its North American impact paved the way for global success, with the film earning $131 million overseas (where it was handled by Lionsgate).

That success helped dispel the longstanding misperception that films about the black experience don’t do well overseas. So the Searchlight folks, under Nancy Utley and Steve Gilula, have helped open the overseas market to many new films — an achievement as important as those Oscars.

But the women (and men) of Searchlight weren’t the only winners at the Academy Awards. The Warner Bros. group, under Sue Kroll, helped nab seven trophies for “Gravity,” plus an original screenplay win for Spike Jonze and “Her.”

And the Focus Features gang worked hard with its inhouse team, under Adriene Bowles, scoring three Oscar wins (out of six noms) for “Dallas Buyers Club.”

Awards strategists hate the spotlight (“write about my movie, not about me!”). But in general, they fall into three categories.

1. Inhouse. A few distributors rely on inhouse staff to handle PR on their releases year-round — and oversee awards strategies. Aside from Searchlight, the list includes 20th Century Fox, Disney, Lionsgate and, this year, the Weinstein Co.

2. Independents who work as outside consultants to a studio. That list includes Michelle Robertson (who worked with WB) and Karen Fried (who worked with Focus).

3. PR firms. Many of the biz’s best-known companies have big staffs who work for a wide range of clients. But each one also has a core team of publicists who specialize in helping individuals or films during awards season. If you’ve heard of the company, they have an awards wing.

All of these strategists must balance the needs of studio execs, filmmakers, media members, personal publicists and, crucially, voters.

So when you’re talking about the hardest-working women in showbiz, this is a group For Your Consideration.

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