Press people are busy people. They often don’t respond but it may not be because they are flat out ignoring you. They sometimes get hundreds of pitches a day. It doesn’t hurt to send a follow-up email, it may just catch their eye! Or, as Wendy says, don’t be afraid to go old school and pick up the phone.
As a part of my series about the things you need to know to excel in the modern PR industry, I had the pleasure of interviewing Suzie Cornell. She began her entertainment career at United Talent Agency in Beverly Hills. She moved from a motion picture talent agent’s desk into the world of entertainment publicity at DreamWorks, S.K.G. in New York City. During this time, Suzie worked on P.R. campaigns to launch several top-grossing films such as Almost Famous, Catch Me If You Can and Shrek. Suzie moved back to Los Angeles for 13 years where she worked both in-house and with PR agencies on an array of clients. From publicist for “The World Poker Tour” to Academy Awards campaigns to festival-winning films at SXSW, Tribeca and more, her breadth of clients expands far and wide. Suzie recently relocated back East and has consulted with many clients through the years, including film studios, PR agencies, consumer products, personal clients and more. Media placements have run the gamut from “The Ellen Show”, “The View”, “Today Show,” Entertainment Weekly, USA Today, Wall Street Journal, Variety, etc. She has also booked celebrity talent for large scale conferences and managed events. Wendy Zipes Hunter is a public relations specialist and talent wrangler with nearly three decades in the entertainment and lifestyle industry. Zipes Hunter spent 15 years in the marketing and public relations departments of big brand entertainment companies including NBC, MGM, and Disney, and was one of the founding members of DreamWorks’ New York PR office. After serving as an entertainment editor at LIFE and Redbook magazines, she transitioned into a four-year stint at industry-leading celebrity booking agency, Central Talent Booking. In that role, and later when she launched her own company Celebrity Concepts and Marketing, she books celebrity cover stories and shorter features for a wide range of magazines including “O” the Oprah Magazine, Good Housekeeping, and CNET, to custom publications with vast online audiences, such as WebMD. She was tapped by Emmy-nominated filmmakers Michelle Boyaner and Barbara Green to serve as producer and chief marketing officer on the independent documentary It’s Not A Burden: 32 Love Stories of Adult Children Caring for their Aging Parents. In 2018 she was producer and chief marketing officer for the first annual Actions for Change, a food and music festival to end gun violence, and will be returning to that role again this year. Most recently, Zipes Hunter produced a photo and video exhibition in New York City, Voices of Parkland, by Jeff Vespa, featuring survivors of the Parkland shooting, where she curated a panel discussion that was moderated by The Brady Campaign to raise awareness about gun violence. She also stepped in to help her community in the wake of the 2018 Valentine’s Day mass shooting in Parkland, FL. Zipes Hunter worked closely with gun control student leader Emma Gonzalez while mentoring her fellow student activists as they navigated major press interviews (60 Minutes, Time, Anderson Cooper 360, CNN’s “Town Hall”) and prepared for the March for Our Lives in Washington, D.C.
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?
We both started in entertainment PR as it was an industry we were both drawn to at the start of our careers. Suzie always wanted to leave the E. Coast and move to Los Angeles, where she could dive into the film business. While in college, she did lots of research as to how she could combine her business degree with working in Hollywood. After reading lots of books, she decided to work in a talent agency that would expose her to both. Right after college she packed her bags, flew out to LA knowing not a soul, and set up interviews, in which she quickly landed at UTA. After moving to a talent agent’s desk from the mailroom and working there a year, she assessed her career goals with her boss and they collectively decided PR was where she should be. Two months later, she got a job at DreamWorks in NYC and the rest is history.
Wendy had dreams of being a news anchor, the next Barbara Walters or Jane Pauley but while studying radio and tv production in college, she realized it was what went on behind the scenes that excited her more. Moving home to New York after graduation, she landed a position in NBC’s coveted Page program where she spent time working in the media relations department and getting her first taste of working with the New York press. After a short stint doing public relations for household products, she had her first career “A-Ha” moment at a party when she met a personal publicist and learned that you could do public relations for actors and entertainment projects (not just vacuums and insecticide). That connection became a lifelong friend and led to her first film studio position at MGM. She later moved to Disney and became one of the founding members of the DreamWorks New York office. When LIFE magazine came knocking to offer her the opportunity to become their entertainment editor she pivoted and changed careers, still working in entertainment and still able to call on many of the contacts and relationships she had cultivated.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began at your company?
Having literally just opened Prana PR, we definitely have stories to share about launching a new business. We both have worked for ourselves as individuals for over 10 years so we definitely had to work out some partnering kinks. Wendy had a great idea of working with a business coach where we sat down and discussed our work habits, etc. in order to make sure we are on the same page. While Suzie was a bit hesitant, she did it through Wendy’s encouragement as she felt it was a good thing for them to do. We both felt that it was worth the time and effort as it helped us discuss our work habits and put us on a path towards a successful partnership.
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?
One of the funniest mistakes we made was arguing over the work. We are both type-A personalities, as most publicists are, so we both want to do everything. We learned that we both have different strengths and should focus on different aspects of the company. While we do check each other’s work, we try to balance it by having one of us take the lead on a project, which helps us manage our time.
What are some of the most interesting or exciting projects you are working on now?
We are working with Loud Media Entertainment, a brand new content company in LA. We are excited to help them build brand recognition and make the tech and entertainment industries aware of the cool stuff they are creating. Survivornet.com is also a client, whose UVM’s reach 2M/month and are the number one online resource for cancer information. We are grateful to be working with companies that do innovative and meaningful work, which allows us to help them on their path to grow and succeed, including the Rory Staunton Foundation. In addition, we are handling PR campaigns for several independent films.
What are your “5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me Before I Started” and why?
- It’s who you know: Staring out in entertainment, it was all about connections. Wendy got her first job in the film industry through her friend Debbie Nathin who currently works at 42West and before that was a film studio executive and personal publicist. Suzie got her first PR job at DW through her bosses’ friend who was a TV producer in NY. Suzie also met her husband as he was her press contact. You just never know!
- Be persistent (but not a stalker): Press people are busy people. They often don’t respond but it may not be because they are flat out ignoring you. They sometimes get hundreds of pitches a day. It doesn’t hurt to send a follow-up email, it may just catch their eye! Or, as Wendy says, don’t be afraid to go old school and pick up the phone.
- Don’t hesitate: Don’t be scared to take chances. PR is a growing and changing industry and you can’t get caught up in old school ways and not move forward with the new climate. Learn social media, explore new outlets, always grow and don’t hesitate or look back.
- Put yourself out there: Make a point of going to networking events or setting up informational meetings with people. If you’re going to be in PR, you have to let people get to know you, trust you and feel confident in your ability to produce results. Establishing yourself as an expert in your field is important and no one will know that unless you put it out there and have the chops to back it up!
- Be confident in your abilities: People are attracted to people who exude confidence. It’s important to remind yourself that you really are really good at what you do. Positive self-talk goes a long way! We’ve learned that confidence plus setting realistic expectations right off the bat is a winning combination, for us and our clients.
You are known as a master networker. Can you share some tips on great networking?
One thing we both love to do is connect people. One important way to be good at this is to listen. Pay attention when people are talking to you and ask meaningful questions. Through this, you hear and learn what someone is about, what they are looking for, etc. You can then use this knowledge to help them make connections with people who can, in turn, help them. It’s not hard but it does take patience. Another tip is to stay in touch with people, let them know what you’re up to and ask them about their current projects. Never burn any bridges, your reputation is your calling card.
Lead generation is one of the most important aspects of any business. Can you share some of the strategies you use to generate good, qualified leads?
Leads are definitely helpful in the PR business. Not only are they helpful for booking interviews and stories, but also for getting clients. We have been generating leads for our business based on our quality of work. We aim to perform at the highest level — by crafting individual pitches and taking time to work directly with our clients to make sure their needs are being met. It is through this hard work that we have received leads for new clients and in conjunction with the question above, it is also our network that has provided us with client leads as they know our work as well.
Is there a particular book that you read, or podcast you listened to that really helped you in your career? Can you explain?
NPR’s podcast “How I Built This with Guy Raz” always gets Wendy fired up. She finds it completely inspiring to learn about the different businesses that were sparked by someone’s seemingly simple idea. We keep coming back around to the importance of networking and connecting, that is definitely an overarching theme to almost every episode on the show and one that is at the forefront of our own careers as well. Brene Brown’s “Dare to Lead” offers solid, common-sense advice on how to communicate more effectively and how to create a positive culture, not just in your workplace, but also in your home and everyday relationships.
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? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂
We are both true believers in a peaceful world. We hope future generations can see the good in people and beyond the exterior. Teaching meditation and yoga to kids and making it part of their curriculum, beginning in pre-school, would bring the most amount of good for the most amount of people. If every human were taught these self-care, coping mechanisms early in life there would be a lot less stress and anxiety, and a lot more tolerance and compassion for ourselves and towards others.
This was really meaningful! Thank you so much for your time.