Entertainment industry publicists have found a profoundly altered landscape in recent years as social media emerges as the predominant method for reaching much of the audience.
That’s the overriding view of several recipients of the Les Mason Award, the top award presented to publicists by Intl. Cinematographers Guild, Local 600 — the union in which the ICG Publicists organization resides. The newest Les Mason winner will be announced at the 55th awards on March 2.
“The bottom line is still to create buzz and get attention for projects,” says last year’s Les Mason winner Rosalind Jarrett Sepulveda, who has been handling publicity for the SAG Awards for more than decade. She adds: “As technology evolves, our job is to evolve with it. There are so many different delivery platforms now.”
Jarrett Sepulveda recalls that in her early years with ABC during the 1980s, the telephone was the key form of communication. “Back then, we relied on faxes and Teletype because people did not have computers on their desks,” she says. “The computer was something that everyone shared.”
Jarrett Sepulveda says the seventh SAG Awards were the first to offer an online credentialing process. “That was pretty revolutionary back in 2001.”
Henri Bollinger, who won the Les Mason award in 1974, has similar memories — particularly of the dawn of social media and the emerging need to get information out not just with one announcement but around the clock.
“The entertainment industry was not the first to use social media,” he recalls. “Publicists held on to the traditional means of getting the word out, but that began to change once it was clear that social media was very effective.”
Bollinger says the need to change was underlined when a client asked that the information go out at the hour of 2 a.m. “I could not stay up that late so I wound up recruiting a student from my PR class at UCLA Extension,” he recalls. “So it got sent out at 2 a.m., and at 9 a.m. I got a call from the client, who was pleasantly surprised at getting all the responses that early in the day. And the studios then discovered the value of social media pretty quickly — so much so that they often launched it without announcing that they were doing it.”
Tim Menke says that the job of the publicist has changed massively since he won the Les Mason in 2006. “It’s taken a quantum leap because audiences have so many options to be entertained,” he says. “At its core, our job is to figure out who the audience is and how to reach them.”
Menke, who has mostly worked on publicity in the international markets for Fox movies, says he’s particularly pleased about the performance of Hugh Jackman’s musical “The Greatest Showman,” which had grossed more than $320 million worldwide as of mid-February.
“This was one of those movies where as soon as we saw it, we said, ‘We’ve really got something here, this won’t be real hard to figure out,’” he says. “Who doesn’t like Hugh Jackman?”
Menke credits the cast with being particularly diligent about promoting the film on their respective social networks. “Zendaya is a real master of getting the word out to her fans about what she’s doing,” he adds.
The studio also came up with the idea of holding sing-along screenings for fans. Menke says there were about 400 such screenings during the movie’s seventh weekend in the U.K.
Jarrett Sepulveda noted that some aspects of her duties have remained essentially unchanged from when she started during the 1980s. “What is really the same is that the job is still based on relationships and mutual respect,” she says.
Melissa Kates and Jennifer Allen, who won the Les Mason awards in 2015 and 2011, respectively, agree that the greatest change today is the arrival of digital and social media. The duo are partners at Viewpoint, a public relations firm with offices in Los Angeles and New York.
“The reach and influence of social media far supersedes the impact of the more traditional opportunities,” they say. “While magazine and newspaper features remain as respected outlets, the impression simply can’t compete with the scope of social. It is our job to engage across all media platforms to craft a desired and branded image that best suits the needs of our individual clients.”
They also stress, as do many others, that personal relationships with clients remain a constant and important factor in the success of their business.
“It is often necessary to take short cuts in an effort to remain relevant, efficient and effective but we will never undervalue the fact that we represent people, not products,” the duo stresses. “It is our number-one priority to nurture and maintain these relationships despite our ever-changing industry.”
ICG PUBLICISTS AWARD HONOREES
Lifetime Achievement Award
Forget the Energizer bunny. The legendary actress, comedy icon and producer is the true measure of longevity. At 96, with a career that has spanned more than 75 years, White is still working and in demand as one of the sharpest and funniest talents in Hollywood. Born in Illinois, she grew up in L.A. and began her career in radio, then moved into TV where she quickly became a pioneer as host and producer of her own daily talk show, “The Betty White Show,” on NBC in the ’50s. While she also appeared in many films over the years, it was in TV in which she became a national treasure, starring in such seminal shows as “The Mary Tyler Moore Show,” “The Carol Burnett Show,” “The Golden Girls” and more recently “Hot in Cleveland.” The seven-time Emmy Award winner has also authored eight books and won numerous other awards, including those for her lifelong work for animal welfare. Most recently, she won a People’s Choice Award for “Favorite TV Icon,” was named “America’s Most Appealing Celebrity” by Reuters and entered the Guinness World Records under the title “Longest TV Career for an Entertainer (Female).”
Motion Picture Showman of the Year
The busy, multi-talented actor, director and master of performance capture had another banner year with starring roles in two global blockbusters: “War for the Planet of the Apes” and “Star Wars: The Last Jedi.” He also made his directorial debut last year with “Breathe,” starring Andrew Garfield and Claire Foy, and directed the upcoming “Mowgli,” an adaptation of Rudyard Kipling’s “The Jungle Book,” starring Christian Bale, Cate Blanchett and Benedict Cumberbatch, with Serkis playing Baloo. To cap it off, he’s starring in “Black Panther.” The British star first made a name playing Gollum in Peter Jackson’s “The Lord of the Rings” trilogy, and reunited with Jackson to play the title role in the 2005 version of “King Kong” — the start of his simian simulations — and then portrayed Caesar, leader of the apes, in the “Planet of the Apes” trilogy, which has a combined global box-office totaling more than $1.6 billion. Serkis has appeared in almost 100 films and TV shows, and his work has accumulated nominations from the Golden Globes to Primetime Emmys to BAFTA.
Television Showman of the Year
The creator and exec producer of NBC hit “This Is Us” has a gift for turning dramedy into ratings gold – and awards. “This Is Us” was nominated for 10 Emmys and a Golden Globe for drama for its first two seasons. The series also recently won the SAG Award for performance by an ensemble in a drama series. Not bad for someone who began his career writing 60-second celebrity bios for TV Guide Channel and working on “The Howie Mandel Show.” His first feature film script was for Pixar’s “Cars,” and he also wrote the animation screenplays for the Disney features “Bolt” and “Tangled.” His live-action films include “Las Vegas,” starring Robert De Niro; “Crazy Stupid Love,” toplining Steve Carell and Ryan Gosling; and “The Guilt Trip,” starring Barbra Streisand and Seth Rogen. Fogelman also co-created and exec-produced Fox’s baseball drama “Pitch,” ABC period musical comedy series “Galavant,” and WB’s “Like Family.” He made his movie directorial debut with 2016’s “Danny Collins,” and directed the upcoming “Life Itself.”