“As a young woman in a male dominated meeting you say to yourself, “I deserve to be here, this is who I am. It’s important to get out in front of things.”
As a part of the guest speaker workshop series, PRSSA recently hosted Elizabeth Fildes, the Account Director and the Creative Producer for 21C Media Group. The agency is an independent public relations, marketing, and consulting firm that specializes in classical music and the performing arts. Its clientele consists of solo artists, ensembles and performing art institutions, as well as record labels, media organizations and Fortune 500 companies. This is the third semester that Elizabeth has come as a guest speaker for PRSSA. Fildes herself personally represents the world’s leading operatic soprano Anna Nebrebko and Broadway superstar Audra McDonald.
“I really have a passion for the one-on-one PR relationships and knowing a client,” She states. “I want to know what makes them tick. I work with companies and institutions and it’s a cool experience. But, it’s not as personal as being someone’s personal publicist.”
Elizabeth also addressed the difference between the role of a publicist and the role of a Public Relations specialist.
“A publicist is someone’s right hand press representation. I work directly for them managing their press and media profile throughout the world. When you work with an individual artist you want to communicate whatever they’re perceived as. Publicists deal with a one-on-one relationship whereas organizational PR is more planned and has a broader stakeholder dimension.”
Being a publicist means making it personal. “If I feel out of touch with a client, I want to feel in touch with a client to see what I can do to be helpful in their life. And that’s an important exchange. It’s a good opportunity to feel ownership in the relationship. I think celebrity clients are so used to being told what to do. Publicists must be intuitive and ask themselves ‘Is this what they want to do? How can we come at this from a different way?’ Communication is really important whether it’s a team or one person.”
Fildes states that being a publicist means she needs to be a forger of relationships and values between herself and her client, and the personal, one-on-one connection is the best way to achieve that balance.
Fildes remembers the times when she faced distress with a client.
“I would say it happens a few times a year. The one analogy I said last year, “What’s the fastest way to put out a fire? Most people throw water, but I would say remove oxygen. If you can turn off the oxygen and go around it you can figure out how to get around the fire in a 360 way. Your gut reaction is the water option, at least in a crisis.”
Fildes also discussed how language can become a barrier at ties and what a client says can get lost in translation, especially when working with international press.
“Working with international press is different from US press. There are certain things you can’t and can ask of a journalist. One thing I found hard about being a publicist is that you must root for your client. It’s not something I agree with, but you must be able to effectively help them. We’re not saving lives, at best we’re helping tell and amplifying people’s stories. But, I always ask myself whether I handled something correctly, etc.”
Fildes also discussed the kinds of job skills to perfect within the PR world, especially as a young female.
“Women should have a strong handshake and should always correctly spell someone’s name. Recognize that you work in a multicultural environment, have a presence and understand that you have a right to be there. If you anticipate something wrong in the communications with a client, it’s better to reach out and be proactive.”
Fildes believes that her musical background has helped her be more familiar and comfortable with the line of PR work she does.
“I’ve always wanted to work in the arts. I had the opportunity to intern at the Metropolitan Opera. I interned with another program as an artist liaison. Having a musical background has helped me understand what the performers do and expect from me.”
Fildes’ final pieces of advice is knowing the difference between right and wrong and making yourself happy.
“Two pieces of advice is knowing the difference between right and wrong. It’s kind of a gut instinct. And, now how to make yourself happy. It’s not saying what can others do for me or what can I buy myself; rather, it’s saying what are things I can do to create happiness in my world.”
Fildes’ advice can certainly cultivate and prepare aspiring female PR majors for the future.