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How Publicists Work

Job Description of a Publicist
Publicists arrange appearances for their celebrity clients such as Natalie Portman on the red carpet at the Venice Film Festival.
Publicists arrange appearances for their celebrity clients such as Natalie Portman on the red carpet at the Venice Film Festival.
© Lorenzo Santini/FilmMagic/Getty Images

The main responsibility of a publicist is to get positive press coverage for his  client. To do this, the publicist needs to create and maintain good relationships with journalists by sending them original, insightful, timely story ideas that involve the client in some way.

There are several different ways to pitch story ideas to journalists. Press releases are an easy way to send the same story pitch to multiple members of the media. The standard press release is written like a news story, complete with an attention-catching headline, a lead paragraph that hooks in the reader and quotes from sources. In the age of the fax machine and e-mail, press releases are often lost in the overwhelming pile of junk that is sent to journalists on a daily basis.

A more effective way to get story ideas to a journalist is to cultivate a genuine, working relationship with reporters, editors and TV news producers. This means that publicists spend a considerable amount of time networking with members of the media. Much of their day is spent on the phone or firing off e-mails. Publicists work long hours and are expected to be available for the client day or night. After office hours, they attend parties and media get-togethers in the hope of getting face time with influential journalists.

The journalist/publicist relationship is a two-way street. What happens if the client does or says something incredibly stupid? Now it's the publicist who's receiving all of the phone calls and e-mails. If the publicist wants to maintain a good relationship with journalists, he will be most forthcoming to the people who have written positive stories about the client in the past.

Publicists handle all interview requests for a celebrity, politician, author or other public figure. To protect the client from any surprises, publicists will ask the journalist exactly what the story is about and what questions he plans to ask. In some cases, the publicist will ask to be present at the interview to make sure that the client doesn't comment on sensitive issues or make remarks that could look bad in the papers.

Publicists often organize press tours for actors, celebrities and authors. The publicist makes all the travel arrangements for the client, sets up locations, arranges for press passes and even accompanies the client on the road.

More than ever, publicists network with online bloggers and read and respond to comments on popular social networks. In addition to a standard press tour, they might arrange for a live, online Q&A session with a popular fansite or interviews with podcasts.

What skills does a publicist need? Read on to find out.