I have had a flurry of emails from folk interested in debating some of the issues I wrote about yesterday. One of the key points I was asked to expand upon was the subject of the mortally wounded publicist.
I don’t know where to start, but when researching my book in Los Angeles, I met a number of publicists who were keen to open up and chat about the topic in a much more frank way than any Brits have.
Bitter PR’s are never pleasant people to encounter. The issue which over-powers the old and current generation of publicists or media strategists is the level of respect afforded to the craft. The job can be fun and rewarding but it can also be the most frustrating and soul crushing occupation known to man, woman and performing Hooper Monkey.
After a time slaving at the lathe, manoeuvring around the media obstacle course, the effort exerted can diminish the joyous exuberance of the first flush of success when generating media momentum. I am often quoted as saying that the PR world is like a hairdressing convention in Hades. Peroxide ghouls tell a client that given the chance they would cut, colour and style their hair in a superior way. It’s a place that, for some inexplicable reason, your most precious client is tempted to explore. It’s not a real place of course, but it still manages to self assemble at the most inappropriate times and places.
You see my lovely blog reader, I believe in the existence of Beelzebub. The horned beast creates this certain hell where he endeavours to fuck success for the pure misery of it. Adam must have been a budding PR man because when he was tempted by Eve he blighted PR success with his original sin.
No matter how good your relationship is with the client that pays your Waitrose food bill and keeps you in a style you would like to become accustomed to, sooner or later they will fly your nest. The love for the client might be as deep as a Mariana Trench, and even if you are the wizard that has made him or her a star or a household name, it will come to pass that one day you are no longer on the Christmas card list. If you can’t deal with this reality then please don’t go into PR. It will tear at your very soul and Beelzebub will feast on the painful misery.
Sons of Barnum spends some time analysing this sense of betrayal. I first realised that it was a topic publicists wanted to talk about when I was researching the book in America. I met the Hollywood PR man Michael Levine who opened up about its corrosive effect. Michael had graciously given me an hour of his time, and in the downtown hotel lobby we talked about his career and the key components a publicist needs to succeed at the highest level.
Michael was born in NYC, and as long ago as he could remember had been interested in politics and entertainment, not PR. Levine came to the conclusion that “Washington was Hollywood for ugly people, so I wandered to LA.” From that moment he was a made man.
He told me, “My story is one of self education. I was self motivated. It wasn’t easy and it wasn’t fair. I had a lot of fear. It wasn’t easy at the beginning and the game is never fair but with enough burning maniacal rage, it becomes winnable.”
I asked him if any of his clients had broken his heart. He looked at me as if I were a fake therapist, but was kind enough not to laugh in my face. “Sure” he replied, and then the interview really started to gather speed. So here is an extract of that conversation.
MB How do you deal with it?
ML. Not easily. It’s heartbreaking. I have had an extraordinary amount of luck in identifying people in their early careers. I helped find Demi Moore, Michael Fox, Cameron Diaz, Sandra Bullock, Lisa Kudrow, But yes it’s disappointing when a client decides to leave. Narcissism is a hard thing to deal with. In PR you are confronted with a daily course in Narcissism.
MB. Have you ever heard of Jim Moran? He had an expression…. wherever ego I go.
ML Wish I had said that.
MB You see in terms of working with entertainment clients, it’s 24/7 isn’t it? Was it always the same for you? Did you always dedicate that time to the business?
ML. Yes I did. I wanted it that bad. In life you have to ask yourself a question. It defines life. It’s the same question personally as professionally, what do you most want and what are you willing to give up to get it. I gave up a lot. I worked 90 hours a week for 20 something years.
MB. Do you have a family?
ML. No I’m divorced. My personal life suffered. On the other hand when you love your work is it really work? But I did give up a lot. I wanted a career in this industry and pursued it with a burning maniacal rage as if my life depended on it.
MB. So really it’s a lifestyle, to a certain extent?
ML. It is a lifestyle: not to a certain extent. It’s a lifestyle. If you want to represent the biggest stars in the world you have to be available all the time. I represent probably the most diverse group of celebrities, as a publicist, than anyone else alive. I know what I’m talking about.
So happy blog reader, remember the game is tough and to remain sane, ALL publicists have to learn how to balance out the life, the losses and the daily grind. Oh shit, maybe there is never a balance. Perhaps the deal with the devil is that if you are having the time of your life pinching yourself and asking is this really work, one day you wake up and the real stuff has passed you by. Certainly that’s what the modern game is all about; the old stuntsters seemed to have a better balance and generated an aura that made them more powerful. But above all they managed to spot the exit before it was too late.