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Publicist Rockstars: “Your Reputation Is Everything” with Matthew Berritt

Matthew Berritt is a Vice President at EVINS and directs the agency’s Lifestyle practice. Matthew is an exceptional marketing and communications professional with nearly 15 years of expertise and experience in the luxury sector, celebrity relations and crisis communications. As Director of EVINS’ Lifestyle practice, Matthew manages a portfolio of accounts that have included Lokai, […]

Matthew Berritt is a Vice President at EVINS and directs the agency’s Lifestyle practice. Matthew is an exceptional marketing and communications professional with nearly 15 years of expertise and experience in the luxury sector, celebrity relations and crisis communications.

As Director of EVINS’ Lifestyle practice, Matthew manages a portfolio of accounts that have included Lokai, Eleven James, Departures Magazine, Le Bon Marché, Leica and Vuarnet, amongst others. Matthew was formerly Director of Brand Opportunities & Operations at Talent Resources and Executive Director of Social Life Magazine, producing programming and extensive media impressions for such brands as Miu, Piaget, Lacoste, CoverGirl, Alice & Olivia, Jill Stuart, Conair, and AXE.

Previously, Matthew was a Senior Account Manager at Sitrick & Company and Purple Strategies, where he executed crisis communications for both Halliburton and BP. Matthew has also activated consumer brands via creative programming at Sundance Film Festival, The Hamptons, Malibu, New York Fashion Week, Art Basel and The Super Bowl. Matthew’s work at EVINS has earned the agency an AVA Gold Award, a Telly Bronze Award and two Hermes Awards — gold and platinum.

Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?

I always knew exactly what I wanted to be when I grew up: an actor. I was trained accordingly, spending every summer until college in prestigious acting programs around the world and even selecting my New England boarding school based on the merits of its renowned theater program. Ultimately, I attended The George Washington University as a Presidential Scholar in Acting, where I majored in Theater and minored in Marketing Communications (because why not?). By the spring of my freshman year, I realized I also had a knack for this PR thing, which meant I may have just identified an alternate career path to acting. Perhaps a more pragmatic one at that. I switched focuses, but to say that acting has helped me in my career is a profound understatement. Lessons learned from acting have proven valuable in just about every walk of life.

Try an improv or acting class. Even a standup workshop or a crash course in “Auditioning for TV”. It will pay dividends.

Can you share the most personally fulfilling experience you’ve had since you began at your company?

This one’s about Cam Newton, The Make-A-Wish Foundation and my client at the time, Lokai (a lifestyle brand famous for their bracelets that remind us to seek a balance between life’s highs and lows). The year was 2016, and Lokai was set to launch a limited-edition bracelet benefitting Make-A-Wish. Enter Carolina Panthers star quarterback and Lokai superfan, Cam Newton. The Panthers had just lost Super Bowl 50 to the Denver Broncos, and there was a lot of discussion about Cam Newton’s poor attitude at a postgame press conference. However, my team and I were focused on launching the new bracelet and helping Lokai grant a wish for one very special kid. We were about to remind everyone what type of person Cam really is off the field.

11-year-old Noah was born with Klippel-Trenaunay Syndrome, a rare congenital vascular disorder. But after being surprised at school and learning he would travel to Charlotte to meet his hero, none of that would matter on a day where he and his friends would be given free rein of the Panthers’ Bank of America Stadium and an afternoon of bowling with Cam, followed by a Hornets game.

Noah was nervous to meet his idol, but those nerves quickly subsided as Cam began chanting Noah’s name as he bowled. It was a moment that neither Noah nor any of us on the sidelines will ever forget.

The launch program generated over 375 million media impressions, and sales from the bracelet helped The Make-A-Wish Foundation grant 60 wishes to children with life-threatening medical conditions.

As Noah so eloquently put it, “Whenever I’m down, I can think of my time with Cam, and how special of a moment that was for me.”

Can you share a story about one of the funniest mistakes you ever made and what you learned from it?

As you may or may not know, approximately half the paparazzi shots you see on any given day are meticulously staged by PR pros.

Equal parts art and science, the anatomy of an “organic” celebrity photo op is complex, and this one was no exception. This particular doozy involves an extremely famous NBA player (Player X), a popular brand of cold medicine (let’s call it “Cold-Brand”) and a very snarky gossip site (UVM: 10M+).

Our client, Cold-Brand, requested some tabloid ink — and fast. Easy enough.

At the time, the firm I was with also represented one of the world’s most recognizable basketball players, and Cold-Brand was a fan. They asked us to tap him right away for a paparazzi-style photo opp. Unfortunately, the player was visiting his parents in the Midwest during the week we needed the shots. Unable to get boots on the ground in time to make the print deadline we were targeting, the client asked that we entrust Player X with getting the pics. So, Player X walked out of his hometown drugstore brandishing a box of Cold-Brand as his friend played paparazzo. Although we didn’t love the images, we didn’t have time to reshoot, so we serviced them out.

One of the headlines read, “Is Player X Getting Paid To Be Sick?”

We should have been there to manage the photos, and we shouldn’t have allowed the client’s desire for a quick hit to impact our judgment. That day, I learned the importance of not saying “yes” to every, single client request. Clients don’t always know what they don’t know, and it’s more important to do something right than to wing it. We have a fiduciary responsibility to act in the client’s best interest, and that does not always mean agreeing with them about how things should be done. Just agree that you will get it done and that you’ll do it right. You are the pro, and you have been hired for your wisdom and knowledge as much as your results.

What is one of the most interesting or exciting projects you are working on now?

For the past several years, I have had the privilege of co-producing a public service campaign designed to educate the public about the risks associated with ride-hail apps. To support this program by the National Limousine Association’s Ride Responsibly initiative, we enlisted the help of Pamela Anderson. Although she’s a tremendously recognizable icon, few know that Pamela is also a passionate and lifelong activist for several causes close to her heart. When we reached out to her, I learned that Pam was already well-versed on the industry’s subpar background checks and even had her own uncomfortable experience in a ride-hail vehicle.

In the fall of 2017, at the dawn of the #MeToo movement, we produced “The Signs”, a cautionary tale highlighting the alarming number of #MeToo tweets tied to ride-hailing. This project debuted on the cover of The New York Times’ Media section, above the fold. Working on Ride Responsibly, alongside the NLA and Pamela, continues to be one of the highlights of my career. Not only has each video gone viral, we have been able to effect meaningful change and influence legislation that has helped to level the playing field in the ground transportation industry.

A few months ago, our passenger-safety-focused initiative expanded with the launch of “The Closer”, a PSA whose purpose is to expose the deceptive practices that rideshare companies employ to lure in drivers.

In case you haven’t seen it, Pamela plays The Closer, and Rideshare Corp’s office is the actual Bat Cave set. It’s alright to have fun at work, especially when the cause is this honorable.

Based on your personal experience, what advice would you give to young people considering a career in PR?

· Pick a vertical you LOVE! Being a PR expert requires constant research and learning, in addition to your regular workload, so a work/life balance is difficult to achieve. It will be much easier to spend your “free time” researching trends if you practice media relations for an industry that truly interests you.

· You don’t work for the media, and they certainly don’t work for you. In every situation, one of you will be in a position of power. The ability to recognize who’s got the upper hand at any given moment will get you far. HINT: It’s usually the media. But if the press indeed calls you, don’t be afraid to set some parameters.

· Don’t expect the industry or the public-at-large to praise you for all your brilliant results. Your client gets the glory. At EVINS, we always say great PR leaves no fingerprints.

You are known as a master networker. Can you share some tips on great networking?

Figure out how to help someone right away. Be sincere and follow through. If you help enough people get what they want, eventually you will have access to pretty much anything you want. Also, keep in mind that people will remember almost none of what you say and only some of what you do, but they will always remember how you made them feel. From the instant you meet someone, you have about five seconds to determine what version of you they need to feel great about themselves. From there, they will want to help you.

Is there a particular book that you read, or podcast you listened to that really helped you in your career? Can you explain?

I learned a great deal from “Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln”. In fact, I believe I am an all-around better person for having read that extraordinary perspective on this political genius. I’ve read so many books on self-help and business practice, but it always comes back to Dale Carnegie’s “How to Win Friends and Influence People”. There is truly no book I recommend more often. Everyone can benefit from talking more in terms of other people’s interests and remembering that a person’s name is the sweetest sound they could ever hear. At the absolute minimum, this book will mentally stimulate you and provide a fresh perspective. At best — and most likely — it will increase your earning power.

I first read “How To Win Friends And Influence People” at 15-years-old. Then again at 20 and at 25. At age 15, the book taught me to smile more frequently, while at 20, my conversation skills evolved as I grew proficient in mirroring and pacing. At 25, it all came together. I felt empowered, leaning in and facing the world. Carnegie absolutely gave my career a head start.

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?

Actually, I am already involved in what I want to do to usher in change. ONE WARM COAT. One Warm Coat Day is a first-of-its-kind, omnichannel campaign that officially kicks off the donation season for One Warm Coat by sharing interesting, exciting and thought-provoking content from businesses, public personalities, influencers and people around the world — all with the goal of raising awareness and funds to give warmth to those in need this season. On this past November 15th (which also happens to be World Philanthropy Day), our goal was to get everyone aware, engaged and talking through a campaign that reached millions. I am proud to say nearly 70,000 people have already been warmed through donations and matching funds.

What are your “5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me Before I Started” and why?

1. Give Before You Take

The best way to develop strong business relationships is to proactively think of ways to help others. Instead of constantly asking members of the press for this or that, try asking how you can help them. You’ll be amazed at how much you help yourself and your clients by consistently identifying ways to help your target journalists first. A good publicist is valued by their client, while a great publicist is valued equally by the press.

2. Think Like A Business Owner

Learn early on that (a) publicity is a business, (b) your clients are your customers, and © your name is all you’ve got. Treat your customers, contacts, and competitors as you’d like to be treated and the rest will follow. The communications industry is growing increasingly competitive. Life is too short, and memories are too long; you cannot afford to be disliked.

3. Use Your Skills as A Millennial to Add Value

Being on the upper end of millennials, I am particularly well-equipped to address this. I’m simultaneously young enough and old enough to be generally accepted on both sides. Step back and compare yourself to a principal at your agency, and you will probably realize you’re not that far from being a great marketer and communicator. Don’t settle for the sidelines when you can add value now. Demonstrate how you might improve your agency’s social media presence or help to manage its online reputation. This will impress your boss a lot more than your next press release.

4. Your Reputation Is Everything

It takes years to build a stellar reputation and only moments to destroy one. I have seen it time and time again, so I always try to remember that my reputation is my currency. Protect yours like you would protect your child.

5. Ask Questions

Do not be afraid to ask questions, whether about the media or the practice of public relations itself. Many young publicists entering the profession think that admitting to not knowing something shows weakness. The truth is that senior media relations pros do not expect newly-minted publicists to know much of anything, and every boss would much rather have you ask a potentially silly question than redo hours of work.

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