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Flack Attack 2008: The Voices they are a-changin'
"Without adequate publicity, all efforts fail."
The Best Publicists in New York
-- Joseph Pulitzer
By Paul Ben-Itzak
Copyright 2008 Paul Ben-Itzak
It should be easy: A good publicist is someone who writes an intriguing and authoritative press release, which then goes out on a timely basis to a wide array of media who respect the publicist, with the result that your company gets wide coverage. Unfortunately, in years past anyway, your field, dance insider, has been replete with practicing publicists who lack in one or more of these areas, to put it politely. Fortunately there are some veterans around who know dance and who know and are respected by dance and other media, as well as two relatively new entries in the field of independent publicists, who give me hope for the future -- and for your PR campaign.
Unfortunately, since I last updated this list there's been one major development which I believe will make it harder for dance companies performing in New York to get coverage in one of Gotham's major vehicles: The firing by the Village Voice (for economic reasons by a new corporate-minded owner) of its longtime dance editor, Elizabeth Zimmer. At most general interest publications, publicists and artists trying to get coverage are dealing not just with a publication with no full-time, on-staff dance critic, but no full-time dance editor. They often meet with indifference or at least ignorance. At the Voice, Zimmer was your conduit, your middle-man, miraculously finding ways to make a half page of official dance coverage expand into other nooks and crannies of the paper. That channel is now gone (although Zimmer continues to write about dance and other arts for a variety of outlets). With one less on-staff advocate, the publicist's job -- and the zeal and determination with which he or she invests it -- is even more important as he or she tries to find coverage in a dwindling universe of media.
Thus your choice is even more important.
Before we get to my list (which doesn't necessarily reflect the opinion of any one else here at the DI, or our advertisers), some general guidelines: Your publicist should know dance and dance media. A dance-illiterate PR won't be taken seriously by a dance-literate editor (yes, there are still some of us), and thus, neither will you. He or she should know your work or be ready to get to know it. They should believe in it, so that their press releases are believable. They should be able to write distinctive PRs -- that distinguish your work from the hundreds of others about which a grizzled editor or critic is receiving PRs. Take a look at previous examples to see if the same generic adjectives continue to be called into service. Your press rep. should have an exhaustive media list that is not confined to the obvious dance candidates, nor to one medium -- it should include Internet, radio, and television, not just print -- and a track record of placing stories.
Ask to see a list of past and current clients -- to learn if the publicist knows your genre of performance -- and ask for references from some of them.
Here, then, are some ideas for you, presented in no particular order; as usual, I've excluded publicists who work full-time in-house for one client for the simple reason that they probably won't be available to you.
Not so new kid on the block: Darren Molovinsky
has got to be the most accomplished 'new' talent in the independent PR field to come along in a long time. Working with the legendary Lauren Daniluk as associate PR director for the New Victory/New 42nd Street for five years, Molovinsky oversaw sales and PR campaigns for more than 100 shows by national and international companies (many making their national or local debuts), including Suzanne Farrell, Complexions, Dance Cuba and Introdans. He secured consistent coverage including by national, international, and local television programs. A double-threat -- Molovinsky makes killer Web banners -- he also helped redesign the New Victory's website and designed the program books for the NV as well as the Duke on 42nd Street, and even produced and directed the theater's season video. After a sojourn with the Karpel Group, Molovinsky is now on his ownsome, representing, among others, Peter Pucci. He's also got a winning personality, crucial for winning the hearts of grizzled busy editors. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
The Cool One: Spin Cycle's Ron Lasko continues to write the best press releases in the business. They're riveting, refreshingly free of dance cliches, light on useless superlatives and heavy on real, tactile, descriptive -- even aesthetic -- information that aids a besieged editor in figuring out what's distinct about Lasko's artists. Because his clients often include new artists (note to publicists or, rather, artists who do their own: 'emerging artists' is hereby banned from all PR) with little or no press clips, writing PR for them is not easy; the publicist has to actually work to get a handle on the artists -- interviewing them and sitting in on rehearsals, for example -- instead of merely lifting from an existing press file. Past clients include PS 122 in the good ol' Mark Russell days. Current clients include Fringe/NYC. Lasko is also immersed in the theater world, always an advantage because he can throw the net wider, not just ghettoize you to the dance media (and audience). He's someone who genuinely gets -- and cares about -- the big picture. You might miss this because he's so nice, but Lasko is also smart; if you try to explain your work to him in words, even if your name is William Forsythe, he might actually understand you. Genre strengths: Post-mod, post-post-mod, dance-theater and other hybrid work. Contact Lasko at Spin160@aol.com.
Nice Guys Finish First: Who says the part of the veteran publicist has to be played by Edmund O'Brien? As an editor, I can tell you that Kevin McAnarney is a pleasure to work with. More important to you, McAnarney also gets his press releases out way in advance. (Also should be a no-brainer, but....) Realizing that an editor's brain is like a sieve, he then sends out reminders closer to the event. McAnarney's press releases -- and his overall attitude in working with the press -- are marked by their ebullience. (To tell the truth, I'm not sure how he's been able to work for so many years with impatient and sometimes rude editors like me without evidently becoming jaded.) His clients have included American Ballet Theatre, Career Transition for Dancers, National Ballet of Cuba, Hamburg Ballet, and Tango Fire. Strengths: Ballet, hybrid ballet-Broadway, gala events, theater, and visiting international and national companies. E-mail McAnarney at KPMAssociates@aol.com.
The Dancer: One of the best ways to insure against dance cliches is to hire a publicist who's also a dancer. In "another life," as she likes to say, Audrey Ross danced for the Ballet Russe de Monte Carlo, Ruth Page's Chicago Opera Ballet, and others. In 2007 -- how time flies! -- Audrey Ross Publicity celebrated 25 years of serving clients like the Limon Dance Company, Feld, Nai-Ni Chen, New Chamber Ballet, Tap City, Stars of the 21st Century, New York International Ballet Competition, and dozens of others. Strengths: Modern, "ethnic," ballet, Broadway, dance-theater hybrid, and non-performance events such as competitions, awards ceremonies, and galas. Ross also has a killer website, where you can read more about upcoming performances by her clients. Contact her at AudreyRossPub@aol.com.
In the DNA: Like our other new entry, Michelle Brandon's being relatively new to the independent PR field does not mean she's a greenhorn; au contraire! In 14 years of non-profit publicity and marketing experience, her clients have included (deep breath), New York City Opera, Brooklyn Center for the Performing Arts, Parsons Dance, Playbill and others. She also served as director of marketing for Signature Theatre Company and Pearl Theatre Company. What I like best about Brandon so far is her consummate professionalism and major league approach, which can go as far as rectifying (by extra comps, for example) an error even if it wasn't hers. Try Brandon at email@example.com.
One final note: By my sober assessment of the overall state of the field of independent publicists, I don't want to give the impression that those who made this "Best" list got here only because there's so little competition. Au contraire! These five would be among the best in whatever PR genre they chose; we're just lucky that they've chosen dance.