Martin Waxman

Publicity: Confessions of a Publicist

By: Martin Waxman | September 23, 2013 | 

Publicity: Confessions of a Publicist

By Martin Waxman

I started my career in PR as an entertainment publicist.

That’s what it said on my business cards and I was so proud of that title.

I was no Sidney Falco, but Sweet Smell of Success has always been one of my favorite movies.

As a publicist, my job was getting things noticed by the mainstream media.

And because I was dealing with clients – producers, writers, publishers, and comedians – who didn’t have a lot of money to spend on marketing, they expected the awareness we’d generate would help sell tickets and get people to watch their shows.

And it worked (most of the time).

Not only did I have a two-inch thick packet of clippings each month, I had business results.

And I got those by being creative, knowing the kinds of stories each journalist needed for their audience, and enjoying connecting with reporters – which meant hours on the phone.

Except for the phone part, doesn’t that sound a lot like working in social media?

Bringing Publicity to Life

Here are a few examples of the kinds of things I did:

  • We staged a parade that stopped traffic on a busy rush hour street during the Toronto Film Festival and ended in an outdoor news conference for a documentary about aboriginal land issues and electrical power in Quebec. And we sold out our screenings and got more media than Cher who also happened to be in town for a premiere. (OK, we had a Kennedy involved and that didn’t hurt.)
  • A new monthly all-black comedy show got the cover of an arts weekly, the lead story in the city’s top newspaper’s entertainment section, half a dozen more articles, radio and TV interviews, and sold out three days before it debuted.
  • For a media tour with an author advocating ‘ethical’ suicide, I sent the release by special delivery mail (to make it stand out). And the calls for interviews came pouring in – two days after I mailed it ! Not exactly in real-time, but the coverage sparked book orders and helped the sales people sell it to smaller retailers.

Then I moved into corporate PR and learned about media relations. And I often thought of those words as a code meaning: Clients pay more but get less coverage that often doesn’t lead to results. OK, that’s an overstatement, but you get the idea.

The Act of Making Stories Public

These days, I think we should retire the practice of media relations – even the words harken back to a time gone by.

Instead we should return to our roots and call it publicity – that is, the act of making stories public. And doing so in an ethical and creative way that entertains and engages the many audiences we’re trying to reach.

Last month, I wrote about why community management is an ideal model for PR.

We’re no longer trying to reach just one fairly homogenous group of people with our stories and news. It’s a more complex and exciting landscape.

Great publicity provides the amplification we need in a hub and spoke content model, when your publishing (i.e. blog or newsroom) sits at the hub, and social and traditional channels act as the spokes, sparking the kind of engagement that will carry your story far and wide.

And now we really can again measure results and demonstrate our worth.

So when people ask me what I do these days, I say I work in publishing and publicity – which combines content, social media, and new PR.

I don’t have that on my card yet, but maybe one day soon I will.

About Martin Waxman

Martin Waxman is president of Martin Waxman Communications and conducts digital and social media training workshops. He’s a and LinkedIn Learning author, one of the hosts of the Inside PR podcast, and past-chair of PRSA Counselors Academy. Martin teaches social media at UToronto SCS and Seneca College and regularly speaks at conferences and events across North America. Find him on Twitter @martinwaxman.

  • susancellura

    Your statement, “Then I moved into corporate PR and learned about And I often thought of those words as a code meaning: Clients pay more but get less coverage that often doesn’t lead to results. OK, that’s an overstatement, but you get the idea.”, resonates with me. 
    As I read on, I agreed with your proposed title. I have always felt that marketing communications was the umbrella that housed PR, social media, advertising, etc., but lately I’ve been finding myself labeling the umbrella as Public Relations with marketing communications going under it. 
    I also enjoyed reading about your events – fun stuff!!

    • susancellura Thanks Susan. And yes, the events were fun and examples of what you could do with a bit of imagination and creativity and not a big budget. Another lesson I think we can apply to social media.

  • Michael Herman

    If “publicity” is all I do, I think I’d rather drive a truck!” Creating relationships, strategy, involvement and organizational and personal success is far more than story telling no matter which media you use!

  • I enjoyed the post.
    If I may ask a question, have you ever heard of anyone who, “work in publishing and publicity – which combines content, social media, and new PR” taking on a client (say an author) and working for a percentage of net revenue?
    In the world of indie publishing there are several sites that are well known for being able to “move the needle”. One of them, EreaderNewsToday, accepts advertisements and charges 25% of the net profits from the 24-hour promotion.
    I suspect it might not be something most publicists would consider, not because of a lack of belief in their abilities, but in the difficulty in tracking results. However, with an indie author, 99.5% of sales come in the form of Kindle sales.
    Do you think it would be possible to find someone who would be willing to entertain a discussion about how it might work?
    It seems to me that were a publicist to take on a client in such a manner, that would be newsworthy, too. 

    (Note: when I say “an author”, I mean me.)

    • ExtremelyAvg Thanks. That’s the million dollar (or maybe $500) question – depending on your fee structure, that is. The pay for play model is something the PR industry has resisted, in part because we’d do the work and couldn’t guarantee results.
      I think it’s worth considering, but maybe it should be a combination of fees and incentives. That way, people get paid for their work and there’s an upside for everyone.  
      And I may have had an idea who the author was :).

      • How much does a publicist typically charge, assuming they don’t have a stake in the outcome?

        • ExtremelyAvg That’s one of those ‘it depends’ answers depending on the person, the market, etc. Rates range from the hour or could be project-based. Hope that helps.

        • martinwaxman I appreciate the response, but that doesn’t really help me, as I’m completely ignorant to what the rates might be per hour. Are we talking $20.00 or $400.00?

        • ExtremelyAvg martinwaxman I’m not sure what’s charged today, but I can tell you my hourly rate 15 years ago for entertainment publicity was about $50. And the Canadian dollar was a lot lower then :).

  • scottbrowning

    Thanks for the look into your thoughts, I really appreciated the examples of the publicity techniques

    • scottbrowning Thanks. They’re from a while back…so creative, if traditional. But I think a lot of the principles still apply.

  • techprcarm

    I’m honestly surprised that no one disagreed with your statement “I think we should retire the practice of media relations – even the words harken back to a time gone by.”  Well, since I’m me, I’ll guess I’ll be the first 🙂
    What are you talking about Martin? Media relations is what we do – but social media, content curation/creation, are just additional tactics to accomplish media relations. We aren’t reinventing what we do, only leveraging different methods to accomplish the goal.
    Your point about going back to calling it “publicity” makes some sense, but I feel like the word carries a different connotation than its actual meaning.  Everyone is having this conversation these days, so I guess we’ll see where it shakes out.

    • techprcarm Thanks for your perspective. I guess I like publicity instead of media relations because that’s what many people think we do – and I feel it’s more transparent. Also, as we’re dealing with more communities than just media, I thought we could expand it by going back to the future. Agree that we’ll see where it shakes out. It’s an exciting time, that’s for sure.

  • 5vStefan
  • The word “publicity” takes me back to the PR Industry’s own Mad Men era, making me think of Ricky Ricardo’s publicist staging a near-drowning in a Hollywood swimming pool with Ricky as the hero, all to impress Hedda Hopper.
    I wish I had something more substantive to say, but I did enjoy this, Martin.

    • RobBiesenbach That’s a great way to describe it, Rob. And thanks for channeling I Love Lucy! You know, with all the brands pretending they’ve been hacked on social media, Ricky Ricardo’s stunt has a new resonance today. 
      I like creativity and jokes a lot – but there’s a line that needs to be drawn when you’re using humor to help build awareness.

  • martinwaxman

    LizReusswig engagetony Thanks! SpinSucks

  • Pingback: Publicity Confessions: Things I Learned from Trash TV by @martinwaxman Spin Sucks()

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