Many parents wonder when to hire a publicist or if they should hire one at all. If you already have an agent and manager, adding a publicist might seem like a logical next step, but it is a costly one. Before you spend that money, it’s wise to make sure you really understand what a publicist can do for you.
What Does a Publicist Do?
Publicists are industry professionals who are paid to create an image. You hire them for the knowledge and connections they have. They will usually start by making a plan for how to promote your child appropriately within the time frame you set up. Most publicists suggest making a plan 6-9 months in advance of a movie release or other media-worthy event.
Depending on the type of project you have, their services might include creating a press packet (a professional packet either in print form or electronic form that includes photos, bio, listing of past work, other interesting articles and story ideas), coordinating with a studio publicist, setting up radio, newspaper, and magazine interviews, social media, etc. They will seek and arrange charity appearances and red carpet events (not for the project you are in—other movies, awards events, etc) hoping to get you photographed by wire services (Wire Image, Getty, etc). They will write press releases and use their connections and relationships to entice media to cover your story, aggressively seek magazine layouts, and try to get interviews on TV interview shows (by creating an interesting angle or by jumping on the trend of the day). They may assist in applications for various awards.
Publicists create the news. They are responsible for many of the “scandals” you read about in the entertainment magazines, the rumors and the sudden “up and coming star” status of people you’ve never heard of. They create compelling stories.
They may also do training with your child how to work with the media. How to be interesting in soundbites is not as easy as it looks! They can help them walk the red carpet, tell them how to pose, even advise them on wardrobe (and/or help you hire a stylist).
More importantly, they can play defense for you: help make judgment calls of what NOT to do, what NOT to say, and where NOT to be seen. They can help you manage when you have too much publicity—paparazzi, C-list interviews on the red carpet, and low-level internet blogger interviews. Their advice can be invaluable for keeping your child out of trouble.
If you make a public mistake, your publicist will be the one to make a statement for you and try to smooth things over with some well-planned spin.
Some publicists will also handle your fan mail, maintain your website, create a “street team” or fan websites, etc.
High level publicists may physically accompany you to press junkets, walk red carpets with your child (guiding them to the “right” outlets), and obtain international and national press (vs. industry or local outlets).
Some of these functions may also be done by managers, and for this reason, it is important to consult with your manager (if you have one) before hiring a publicist. They need to work together as a team.
Managing an actors official fan pages, getting IG and Twitter accounts “verified” and making daily posts could be handled by a publicist, but is often sub-contracted to lower level service providers while the publicist supervises. Social media can be a dangerous landscape for a child actor though — we know more than one child actor who was fired from a film or series regular role because of their social media postings. See our article about Social Media here.
Price for Publicists
The price publicists charge depends largely on the level of the client and what services they will be offered. Everything is negotiable of course. Publicists can paid with a flat fee for a project, or by retainer on a monthly basis.
The firms we spoke with gave a range of $1500 to $4000 per month, averaging about $3000 per month. Some firms had a 3 month minimum, while some required a 6 month minimum. One firm had a “movie release package” that included 100 days of PR for a set price of $3500. Most publicists charge a monthly fee PLUS EXPENSES. Be careful—expenses can add up!
However, there were a few kid-centric publicists who were willing to charge discounted fees for children for individual services. These firms recognize that children may have very limited budgets and just desire attendance at red carpet and charity events. They offer to get you “out there” to be photographed for a smaller fee, usually $600-$1000 for a 3 month period, or even a per-event fee. That works for those who need very little PR.
A few publicity firms said that they charge a one time fee for consultation, rather than a retainer, in cases where a client might not know if they are ready for a publicist yet.
Remember: This is your child’s money. After your child pays expenses, an agent (10%), manager (15%), union (2%), taxes (30%), etc. there isn’t much left. Are you SURE you can afford to pay a publicist? Bottom line: you are probably looking at $20,000 for six months of services. If paying by retainer, $5000 a month is considered low budget.
When Should You Hire a Publicist?
The easy answer is: when you have something to publicize and when it is cost effective. Sometimes that is not so easy to determine. Things to consider before adding this expense:
The publicist must have a story to tell. And it must be big enough. To determine this, you need to get a sense of your “place” in the industry. If you are a lead in a studio feature film (not a Movie of the Week), or if your television series has just been picked up (not a pilot, which may not make it) it may be time to consider a publicist, if the studio is not assisting you. A one-liner in a film? Probably not yet. Recurring in a television show? Maybe.
If you don’t have a story that is a high enough level to interest national media, you can end up spending thousands in monthly fees and expecting a publicist to do something that is just not possible. Not to mention, you can end up looking like a desperate-for-attention stagemom, which is not attractive.
It’s all about being the news. That means you need to strike when you have a relevant story to tell.
Another good time to hire a publicist? When you find that you and your representation team are having a tough time managing what is coming to you organically. If you find yourself flooded in offers, and paparazzi are starting to follow you everywhere, it may be time to hire a publicist to control the media, so that your child can continue to have a normal life.
When NOT to Hire a Publicist
If you are in a feature film, TV series, or Broadway show, it is crucial for you to talk with the publicist handling the show. Very likely you will find that you don’t need to hire a personal publicist at all!
Studios like Disney and Nickelodeon go one step further and provide media training and “talent development” for their young series regulars. You might have the support you need without spending any money of your own!
Also, many of the studios prefer to control the publicity on their project. Hiring your own personal publicist might be a waste of money if the studio is going to squash their efforts at every turn. Talk to the powers that be about what is available to you and what is allowed…ask questions before striking out on your own.
Timing to Hire a Publicist for Child Actors
Before you hire a publicist, consider the lead time required by media outlets. There is a reason most firms require a minimum commitment. Magazines can be in production two or three months before you see them on the newsstand. Talk shows can be taped weeks before they air, and planned weeks before that. Publicists must have time to do their jobs. If you wait until a month before a movie release, you will have severely limited what they can do.
Timing is important to consider, since it will affect the total cost of the publicist. Make sure you can afford to stick with the publicist for the duration of your project.
DIY Publicity for Child Actors
Yes, it is possible! You can get a large amount of publicity working on your child’s behalf. Just remember to be appropriate and professional, and steer clear of stagemom stereotypes.
Some ideas for DIY (Do It Yourself) publicity:
- Before you begin, make sure you have permission to use logos, confidential script information, etc. MANY times, actors have a confidentiality agreement (aka NDA, Non-Disclosure Agreement) in their contracts. MANY times, studios wish to control the image that is out there. Make sure you know what you can and cannot do.
- Be really clear about your story angle. Just because Grandma cares, doesn’t mean the world will. Your story must be unique and newsworthy.
- Screen all outgoing materials for Too Much Information. Read our Child Safety Guidelines. Safety first!
- Make your own EPK (Electronic Press Kit). You can use headshots, create a professional bio, create CDs on your computer, and put it all on a beautiful, but easy, website. Write a simple press release with an interesting “hook”. Look online for examples.
- Make a list of local news outlets, hometown outlets, venues that cover child actors, teen magazines, etc. and send your press packet to them.
- Talk to the publicist in charge of your show/film. For most kids, this will be enough. The show already pays them, and they WANT new angles. Let them know that you are willing to do publicity events (sometimes they have a hard time getting big stars to do them, so they are happy to entertain options). Let them know if you have an interesting story angle they could pitch.
- Consider the application for mainstream awards. Film Festivals almost always have “best actor” and even “best child actor” awards. If you have a film screening, ask your director/producer if they would submit your child. SAG Awards submissions are also open to eligible members. Submissions generally open in July, and the fee is only $100 for an individual submission. The SAG Awards submission criteria is here.
- Think local. You might not be able to attract Variety or Entertainment Weekly, but your home town paper will almost always do a “human interest” story for you, and local theatres may consider adding an “event” to their opening weekend of a film (ask the studio publicist for one-sheet movie posters you can sign).
- Contact charities that you believe in (hopefully you already work with them), and offer to help at an event, or host a screening party. You are a creating a news worthy event.
- Ask your manager if they will handle any of the services you desire. Many (if not most) managers will accompany you on red carpets, handle your fan mail, etc. Perhaps you already have a “publicist” on your payroll.
- Take a class in publicity at Learning Annex or other short term venues.
- Pay for a one time consultation from a media trainer, publicist, or high level acting coach. You can pay an hourly fee for a “coaching” session for your child. Similar to audition coaching, kids can be coached in interview techniques.
- Do a postcard mailing, via snail mail or a Twitter or IG campaign.Learn how here.
- Consider a stylist. They generally charge a fee per hour plus the cost of the clothes you buy. If you are a big enough star (doesn’t happen often with kids), they may be able to talk to designers they know and get them to “dress you” for an upcoming event.
- Subscribe to the Hollywood News Calendar (LA based, $100/mo) or Entertainment News Calendar (NYC based, $125/mo). These are newsletters that list all the premieres, charity events, and photo ops. It is the tool publicists use to “pitch” their clients as presenters, celebrity appearances, or just red carpet celebrities. Paparazzi use HNC to know where to show up for photos.
- Stay away from IMDb discussion areas, and other places where TMI and imposters run rampant. That’s not professional publicity, won’t do your career any good, and will likely end up being harmful.
- Be careful of publicists who promise too much. Publicists cannot guarantee a particular publication, attendance at a particular event, or an award nomination. Run away!
- Be wary of kid-centric awards shows. The shows existing today do not draw mainstream media and have significant safety risks associated with them. This series of articles in the LA Times explains.
- Publicists cannot make something out of nothing, so if you don’t have something big to talk about, it probably isn’t time (yet) to hire a publicist.
- When interviewing a publicist, ask to see some of their written materials and finished products they have done for others (ie. press releases, websites, etc). Good publicists need to be good communicators. They need to write well, present themselves in a professional manner and be polite-while-aggressive. If you see these things lacking, move on. They will be representing you, so make sure they present an image you will be proud of.
- Be wary of publicists who don’t have high profile clients and don’t seem to have high level connections. Anyone can call themselves a “publicist”. Use google and do background checks. Since this profession is unregulated, it is ripe for predators. We’ve been privy to several men who posed as Hollywood publicists and used the opportunity to befriend young boys, eventually molesting them (and getting convicted!).
- Seek a publicist that deals with children regularly. The needs of a child actor are different than those of an adult, and a publicist needs to be aware of the special dangers in our world!
Goals for Hiring Publicists
You, as a parent, need to decide what you want to get out of a publicist’s services and what is realistic considering your child’s place in the industry.
Really consider if you even want to create publicity that isn’t already happening organically. Once the genie is out of the bottle, it is very difficult to get it back.
At BizParentz, we see a large amount of fallout from those who pushed the envelope too soon. The benefits did not outweigh the risks. The loss of privacy, the false sense of “fame”, and attraction of fanatics and pedophiles are all reasons to be cautious. All publicity is NOT good publicity for kids!
The best defense against bad outcomes is to have your goals firmly in mind:
- If you just think red carpets are fun and want your child to have that experience, great. Just recognize that it is a vanity situation and is unlikely to produce more employment. Nobody got a job because their picture was on Wireimage. For most kids, it can also be done without the monthly expense of a full time publicist.
- If you are trying to create ‘buzz’ within industry circles, in hopes of getting job offers, the media plan might be very different. Your audience is more within the industry, so, as an example, fan sites are not likely to be very effective, since fans don’t actually hire you.
- If you are planning the release of an album and sales need to be generated with the public, a totally different publicity plan is necessary. That plan would likely include fan clubs, street teams, radio interviews, youtube, and similar tactics.
How Do You Find a Good Publicist?
Referrals are best. Ask other successful actors, your manager, your agent. Ask the publicist from the studio or show you work with.
Pick up the publications you would like to be in: Teen People? Tiger Beat? What level of kids are in there, and who are their publicists? You can usually find this information by cross-referencing with IMDb Pro.
Do the firms you are considering have clients in places you would like to be? Publicists have relationships, like all other entertainment representatives. They specialize (there are publicists who handle soap stars, those who handle reality tv stars, etc). Like all representatives you need to find one who is a good fit for you, can provide the services you need, and who believes in your child.
Book: Self Management for Actors Fourth Edition by Bonnie Gillespie has chapters on Publicists and on Working the Red Carpet. Gillespie also has a free quarterly “SFMA Tune up” and periodic group phone calls where they discuss how the industry has changed since the publication of the book.
Book: Guerilla PR Wired by Michael Levine
Bonnie Gillespie: Actors Hiring Publicists; When, Why, and Then What?
Interview with Celebrity Publiclist Joy Donnell (3/30/10)
What It is Actually Like to Walk a Celebrity Down a Red Carpet (Elle Magazine)
4 Reasons “Publicist” is a Dirty Word in PR (Ragan’s PR Daily)