I had the pleasure of interviewing Kimberly Giannelli. Whether donning a tutu, or marketing artists at ABT, NYCB, and Lincoln Center, Kimberly has just the right amount of Type A to make it happen! Coined as a “New York arts manager you need to know” by CBS Eye on New York, she has produced large-scale dance and opera events. Though mildly anti-social, she has developed resonant relationships with press and influencers in dance, theater, culture, political, fashion, society and fitness sectors. She links public relations, branding and social media efforts into a constant and furious funnel of staying power and accountability.
Kimberly holds a Bachelor’s in Psychology with concentration in Dance Psychology, actively teaches and choreographs for dancers of all ages, and founded The Ballerina Ball, an interactive and creative dance concept which introduces young dancers to the great stories of classical ballet and beyond. Kimberly continues to perform with New York based ballet company Ballets with a Twist, with which she has toured nationally for nearly a decade. Born and raised in Westchester, NY she spends her days spoiling her French Bulldog Penelope and is in the process of making her #instafamous. (You can follow her at @penelopethefrenchpup)
Thank you so much for your time. I know that you are a very busy person. Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?
I actually sort of stumbled upon my career in public relations. Upon graduating from college I worked at Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts while I was dancing professionally in and around Manhattan. There, I got a great overview of arts administration and collected skills in marketing, ticketing, customer service and general institutional day to day operations. Public Relations was not an area i was at all exposed to until I pooled together all of my resources both on stage and off, to produce my own evening of dance with a choreographer friend of mine.
My colleagues at Lincoln Center were my angels. They helped me navigate all of the components of production and it wasn’t until i was sitting on the set of CBS news talking about my event did i really realize the power of PR. It was all sort of a baptism by fire but an area I knew I wanted to learn more about. A company director whom I had danced for in previous years of their Nutcracker production actually connected me to In The Lights when he had heard they were hiring. CEO Amber Henrie and I met over taco’s and the rest is history!
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began at your company?
Because we are a PR firm that services clients in the arts — dance, theater, music etc, many people think the stories we work on telling are insular to those niche communities. Sure, a part of our job is to get reviewers to talk about our clients performances, but it’s so much more than that. We have clients who are real trailblazers in their communities and its finding the stories that connect them to the bigger picture that has been so eye opening for me. From a client who uses theater to break down racial barriers or calls on empathy to be the thing that connects police officers and civilians in our time of discourse, to a client who is paving the way for the next generation of transgender and gender fluid artists, we have been able to be a part of these really important conversations. We have been a part of the #metoo conversations, and met people who are specifically working to empower the underserved. Art is not trivial. Aristotle said that Art imitates life, and there is major truth to that. Art is the manifestation of who we are and so it makes sense that in dealing with art we deal with the world around us every day.
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?
I don’t know about funniest but I can tell you about one of my more embarrassing mistakes! Getting a pitch ready to be sent out takes a lot of time. You have to organize your lists, make sure your messaging is personalized to the contact you are pitching and make sure everything is linked properly. One wrong punctuation and your name merge won’t work and you will send 300 emails to FIRST NAME. Like in most firms, our press releases go through a few rounds of edits. The edits start here internally and then they go to the client for edits and input. Sometimes there are LOTS of changes made and you can imagine what a press release might look like if you don’t accept all the track changes before saving the final! Well, thanks to me, in the very beginning of my PR career, a rather large press list got just that! UGH! Luckily one of our contacts wrote me a very sympathetic note saying she has totally done that before but that is a rookie mistake I will NEVER make again! (Also, Amber, my boss, if you are reading this….sorry!)
How did you scale your business to profitability? How long did it take? Please share the steps you took.
I am the Vice President of In The Lights but I do sit in on many meetings with our CEO to work to maximize our profitability. I think the best way to scaling a business to profitability is centered around building a competent team. Our firm has invested in trainings so that we can offer our clients top notch services and have our finger on the pulse of the changing needs. We are working on getting our advanced google adwords certifications, and regularly attend workshops to better understand how to serve our clients. We have also started to treat our firm like a client. It’s like the total mom syndrome — she is always working so hard to take care of everyone else and doesn’t make time for herself. We’ve recently revamped our own branding. We’ve got a shiny new website, a re-imagined social strategy, and excited to identify press opportunities for our team and our bigger mission.
What are some of the most interesting or exciting projects you are working on now?
Because our clients are in various stages of their careers, my days are never the same. One day I am working on a book deal for a client, another I am waiting for The New York Times to post a client show review. I have recently worked with Netflix on a really powerful potential collaboration and their commitment to making the arts training accessible to all, and have worked on some cool sneaker and product launches too! Seeing a client on a magazine cover is always super exciting, (shout out to James Whiteside on the cover of Dance Magazine!) and watching our clients take the stages of some of the grandest theaters in the world makes everything worth it!
Based on your personal experience, what advice would you give to young people considering a career in PR?
You want to be a publicist? Small minded thinkers for hire! (yes, you heard that right!) Visionaries are big thinkers. As publicists, OF COURSE we make big plans, but we have to think small, and in PR, the proof is always in the planning.
Taking the grand scheme and turning it into smaller steps, publicists are comprehensive thinkers whose skill sets include the ability to break schemes and visions into increments, and whose experience has shown them the necessity to be rational and realistic and most importantly, STRATEGIC. Fantasy thinkers will soon get themselves into big trouble here, so practicality is the key word — trust me, I am a former fantasy thinker and it is a hard habit to break!
You are known as a master networker. Can you share some tips on great networking?
I have a tendency to connect dots for people whether they are my client or not. It helps to not only grow and nourish my own network, but keeps a lot of doors open with people and places. You never know how a connection today could lead to a business opportunity tomorrow!
Is there a particular book that you read, or podcast you listened to that really helped you in your career? Can you explain?
When I first started at In The Lights we read The Oz Principleby Roger Connors, Tom Smith and Craig Hickman. It is a great read about accountability from both the individual and organizational aspect. The ability to take accountability helps in being an optimal communicator, forging impactful relationships and keeping the peace when things might not go our way!
Because of the role you play, you are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be?
To be honest, I am part of big movements everyday. Because my job is to get stories told, I am telling the stories of so many who are working hard to change the world. I am standing up for arts in schools, I am standing up for people who are providing the youth with wonderful training opportunities, I am standing up for LGBTQ+ rights, I am standing up for social issues and helping to start important conversations,I am standing up for those who don’t know how to make their voices heard and I am helping to create an opportunity for people to be exposed to and changed by the arts.
What are your “5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me Before I Started” and why.
- You will find yourself answering emails and coordinating interviews at night, on the weekends and on vacation. Because the news doesn’t ever stop, neither will you. If you are looking for a 9–5 job that you can leave neatly at the end of the day, this may not be the right career for you!
- Watching the news and reading every publication you can possibly digest is totally part of the job description. How else do you expect to identify new media opportunities for your clients?!
- You will have to become a pro at spinning the same sentence 100 different ways and you still may not get any reply. That is part of the job — and a big part of it!
- You will hear the word no. A lot. A no is just the start of a conversation. Those are the people you need to continue to communicate with. A no is always better than radio silence, which is what you will get most of the time.
- I think people always think being a publicist is super glamorous — that we get to rub elbows with people in high places. Yes, we get to go to some really neat events but its still work and it will never be about you. You should be happy to stand in the shadows so your clients can shine!