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A Day in the Life of a Publicist

A publicist gets press coverage for his client. The publicist is often the middleman between the high-profile personality and members of the media. He usually wants his client to receive positive acclaim, but many publicists surveyed noted the old adage that “the only bad publicity is no publicity.” Politicians and captains of industry require a little more specific spin on their press-they want to be seen as forward-looking and confident-but other professions are less picky, as in the case of the rock star who reveals the sordid details of his seamy nightlife to cultivate a rough image. Publicists also perform damage control, attempting to counteract any undesirable press coverage the client receives. This position as “last line of defense” is what distinguishes the adequate publicist from the extraordinary one. Good publicists can turn scandal into opportunity and create valuable name-recognition for their clients. Publicists don’t only work for the famous. Sometimes they work for a little-known person or industry and create reasons for them to receive press coverage. In a case where a company desiring publicity is hampered by its esoteric nature or technical jargon, the publicist must translate its positions into easily understandable language. A major part of the publicist’s day is spent writing press releases and creating press packets, which have photos and information about the publicized person or company. Publicists spend a lot of time on the phone. They put in long hours, and most receive little financial reward in return. They operate under hectic conditions and must adhere to strict deadlines which coincide with publicity events, such as the release of a movie or the publishing of a book. They have to ensure that they get the appropriate information to the media in time for the event they are generating publicity for, such as a record release or automotive sale. They must always be available for comment (even when that comment is “no comment”) and remain friends with the media, no matter how demanding the desires of both clients and the reporters on whom they depend. But at the end of the day, they go to the hottest parties in town, the ones for their clients.

Paying Your Dues

The most appropriate bachelor’s degree for a publicist to hold is in communications, but business degrees are also looked upon favorably by employers. In college, aspiring publicists should study public relations, public speaking, and writing. Candidates should also have some experience with copyediting. Depending on the publicist’s desired area, other elective courses may include labor relations, economics, and politics. Most publicists recommend interning at a firm before plunging into this job-a low-responsibility position allows them to see the pace of the profession firsthand. Besides, it helps to make as many contacts as possible in this “it’s-who-you-know” field. Some publicists have graduate degrees, although they are not required by any employer. All publicists start at the same entry-level positions and work their way up. Experience is the key to obtaining a good job, especially in the entertainment industry, which is the hardest to break into. The music industry is most likely to acknowledge and reward fresh insight given by new employees.

Present and Future

In the 1800s, to obtain more business, newspapers started the dubious practice of writing positive articles about their advertisers. This practice was halted by legislation soon after it began, but it paved the way for the public relations field. The publicist’s field is an offshoot of the public relations arena. Ivy Ledbetter Lee was the first American to work in this capacity. He saw negative press surrounding different blue collar fields and trained the workers to respond to the media so that they would be seen in a more favorable light. Then, the government began hiring people to perform these activities on its behalf and the label publicist was conceived. Today, publicists work for anyone desiring coverage in the press, from politicians and companies to actors and lawyers. The future shows average growth for this profession thanks to the ubiquity and influence of the media.

Quality of Life

PRESENT AND FUTURE

Most publicists are initially attracted to this field because of its perceived glamour. They soon find out they have to roll up their sleeves and work hard. They usually stick it out, relying on the well-networked publicists around them for contacts and advice.

FIVE YEARS OUT

By this time, many publicists can relax a bit. They have made enough contacts that they don’t have to struggle to be heard. Although they are still working long hours, they can begin to enjoy the glamour factor.

TEN YEARS OUT

Many publicists are enjoying the influence they have over the media. Some of the best ones are looking to start their own firms or to become television gossip hosts on the small cable channels.