“For the first two years, Harry [Clein] and I worked from the basement of his house, and we had one assistant and basically no overhead — and we made the same money in those early years as we did when we had 20 employees and two offices 10 years later,” says Bruce Feldman, a veteran film publicist who, with his late partner Harry Clein, ran one of the top Hollywood PR firms of the eighties, Clein + Feldman. “What I concluded then, and still believe to be true, is that there are two ways to succeed in the movie PR business: One is to stay extremely small and fly under the radar, and the other is to get very big and become part of a larger organization. It’s the people who are in that middle area who are fucked when times are tough.”
That, indeed, seems to be the case amid the first simultaneous strike of writers and actors in more than 60 years. With actors forbidden from doing interviews, attending festivals or really anything else to promote new projects, many have opted to go on “hiatus” from their publicists (who they pay a monthly retainer that can range from $4000 to $20,000, rather than a percentage of their earnings, like agents, managers and lawyers earn). As a result, midsize PR agencies are feeling particularly squeezed, according to the owners of several that spoke to The Hollywood Reporter. One reported that revenue at their firm is already down a devastating 80 percent from what it was before the strikes, and several say they are dreading the end of the month, when clients must notify them if they are going “off” for the next month.
The consensus among proprietors of midsize firms seems to be that they can only survive without laying off employees until September or October. Says one boutique firm owner, “I am just barely covering my overhead, and that’s while not paying myself, because I do not want to lay off one person. In the meantime, we are desperately trying to sign new sorts of clients to bring in some business: music, books, even a coffin company.”
Publicists know how to court media attention better than anyone, but many are personally press-averse. That made it all the more noteworthy when Jordyn Palos, founder/CEO of Persona PR — who represents the likes of Quinta Brunson and Justin Hartley, and whose company has 12 full-time staff between offices on both coasts — weighed in about the collateral damage of the strike on her public Instagram. “Not many publicists will talk about this yet, especially not publicly,” she wrote. “We survived the Covid shutdown… kept my doors open, kept people employed in LA and NYC, paid the health insurance bills and made those 401k contributions. I paid them before I paid myself, I worked 15+ hour days every day, night and weekends, to survive and keep this train moving. Now we are being told we essentially cannot do our jobs. I am all for the strikes, I support the WGA and SAG, I LOVE my clients, and I want them to be fairly paid… However, please don’t forget the slew of people outside of SAG that will not be able to work in full force until these strikes are over… maybe if enough people make noise here, we can limit the damage of these shutdowns and come to agreements sooner rather than later.”
According to one source at a larger firm, it’s not just the small and mid-range firms that are at risk. “Even the big guys are feeling it,” says a publicist for one of the larger firms. “This is COVID again. It’s super-triggering.”
THR has learned that Hollywood’s PR firms have been invited to a Zoom meeting on Tuesday morning with Pamela Greenwalt, SAG-AFTRA’s chief communications/marketing, for a briefing and Q&A regarding the strike. Given the direness of the predicament featuring the PR community, perhaps some sort of accommodation will come out of it.
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