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What value do PR professionals provide at events like TIFF?

With Fan Expo having just concluded, and the Toronto International Film Festival in full swing, I’ve spent a good two and a half months chatting with PR professionals all around the world. Hundreds of emails, and dozens of phone calls. Its the necessary leg work needed to achieve content goals.

While not a seasonal thing, it is really at this time of year that you will hear the same old complaints about publicity professionals. Fans will complain that they don’t let the stars spend enough time with them, and the journalists will complain about the lack of opportunities and poor treatment.

I’ve been there, on both sides.

In these two months alone, I’ve been forwarded, put on hold, ignored, forgotten about, and told off. I’ve had people give me conflicting information, folks who don’t want to hear me out, and some who just don’t care. Worse off, there are conversations where I am just in limbo, with no definitive answer whatsoever.

I’ve got ample of reasons to be frustrated, and I can make this piece on that frustration.

I won’t.


Because they and their jobs are important.

I do, however, want to address the elephant in the room: there are some people, in every profession out there (including mine in marketing), that you question their ability to do their job. Without a doubt. However, there are bad apples in every tree, and lumping all of them into the same basket is just wrong. It’s unprofessional.

What people don’t understand is the core value that PR professionals bring to a festival like TIFF, and to understand that you have to reflect on things that people just don’t think about.


Personal Brands

Im about to get a tad teacher-like.

As a marketer, my job on an everyday basis is managing the brands I am connected to. Whether its a major brand, like The Arts Guild, or a sub-brand like Seven Stops. Each brand has value, a reputation, a sense of how it wants to be perceived, and its own individual purpose.

Every film, every artist, every member of the creative team is an individual brand. Some have an incredibly powerful one. For example, Jennifer Lawrence. Say her name out loud in a crowded group of fans and point in a direction, and you’ll see what happens. Some bring recognition, like The Weinstein Company.

TIFF is an aggregator of brands. People, companies and projects from all walks of life are at TIFF, and how they are perceived is very important.

It is up to PR professionals to maintain and manage those brands.

Some examples: Getting an upcoming artist on a major news channel, ensuring those artists with major brands are interviewed by the right people, getting a niche indie film on the radar of major writers.

Without them, management of individual brands is left to the artist. While most artists are very capable, from my own experience, it takes one incident to negatively impact ones image. For an industry run on your image, a negative situation is one thing you don’t want to see happen.

So next time you see a PR professional drag an artist from the fans to the media line, or cancelling your interview for the sake of another, they are doing their job. It may come off as a $%^&*$%^ move, and some bad apples may indeed do it for that sake, but in reality it is for a larger purpose.


PR Schedule = Excel on Hot Sauce

It’s very easy to get pissed when you don’t get something you want. I, in fact, got some bad news while writing this sentence. The reality is, my event planning days gave me insight into just how crazy the management of time can really be.

Imagine this:

You’ve been given a film to manage. Six on-screen talent will be attending the festival, in addition to the writer, director, and producer. A total of nine people. You’ve been given only a two hour time slot with the six talent, and a half day with the other creative staff. You have to break down the possible interviews, possibly in pairs or threes, into further defined time slots to maximize how many interviews can take place. 

Here are some other factors:

  • these interviews will be pending rep approvals, management approvals, film approvals.
  • some want to be interviewed on camera, others not.
  • some talent will be in town a day or two before, others land on the day of.
  • the studio wants it junket style, with their own equipment.
  • you have to share the publicity time with other PR professionals who are given other regions (United States vs. England vs. Asia markets).

The sad reality is, the above is not imaginary. Its real.

Scheduling talent, all the events and activities they have to attend, in the short period of time they are in town is truly a magic trick, one that can go side ways in the blink of an eye.

We on the outside simply see people being pushy, becoming strict on timings during interviews, insisting that artists get to where they need to get aggressively. The fact is, someone has to do it. Imagine if the artist had to do all of this themselves? Imagine if they were taking selfies with you but in the back of their head they were like “I only got 5 minutes, only got 5 minutessss”. That just isn’t cool.

This is a perfect case of division of duties. Publicists manage the schedules, while the artists promote the films, and spend time with those who support them and their work.


Limited Access

Once you are in the business long enough, you will soon become use to the concept of “limited access”. If a film – especially one that hasn’t been picked up – comes to a festival, you would think: they’ll promote the living daylights out of it, right?


This festival alone, we’ve received two dozen “limited time available” emails, and its easy to just be like “yeah, they are giving big media the opportunity only”. Sadly, sometimes “limited” doesn’t quite describe the situation.

That example from above, of having 9 people and all. Take that, and make it such that the publicists only have 1 hour with all of them. 1 hour, for 9 people, to conduct interviews with as many press as possible. It’s just…stupid.

There is an inherent disconnect between what should be happening at festivals and what people in charge think should happen. Sometimes they have no choice, sometimes they don’t think it through. But whatever the circumstance, the complaints and the abuse are taken by publicity professionals.

Their job is to manage, not define. If they had the power to define, they would do whatever in their power to get more time, and thus more press, and therefore more publicity for their client. Its a win-win situation that no sane professional would avoid.


Contemplating the Future

Before anyone says “oh you are just sucking up to PR folks for better gigs”, you can stop right there. People who know me will know that I don’t give a damn. Like every gig in the world, you have to work hard for your opportunities and not be given them on a platter.

This article has one purpose: to provide a better understanding of a profession – one that people study and train hard for. I work with some of the most hardworking people, and seeing them all lumped into the “snobs” pile every year is insulting.

There are things that PR professionals can improve on, including:

  • Acknowledging emails, even if its a “got it, touch base soon”. Takes out the limbo and stress, and the general sense of “did he/she get my email??!?”.
  • Don’t assume anything, especially about the person. Just ask. Journalists have a responsibility here too to communicate everything, clearly.
  • Understand the value prop from an opportunity, and not just “how many viewers you got?” Quality vs. quantity. I’m sure clients would appreciate that too.
  • Its always good to carve out a little time at red carpets for fans, it will provide value to your clients and their individual brands. These people buy the tickets, that support the films, that support the artists. 5-10 minutes can go a long way.

I will also acknowledge that the industry itself needs a little changing, especially on how PR professionals are used, and how much autonomy they have at festivals.

Flexibility provides opportunity for spontaneous change, to adapt to the circumstances. It provides an opportunity to try variations of the plan to achieve larger results.

Until that happens, I hope anyone reading this – be it a fan who’ll be at the carpets today or a journalist waiting for their next gig – will show PR professionals the courtesy and kindness they don’t often receive.