Monday, October 15, 2012

Passion for the Arts, and the art of PR, with Teri Stevens

I met with Teri Stevens, Publicist and Online Media Coordinator for the Royal Manitoba Theatre Centre, over lunch at the Free Press café.  Teri has been with MTC for a year and 5 months now, and previously worked with Arts& Cultural Industries Manitoba  and Sarasvati Productions.  She entered the Creative Communications program at Red River after completing a B.A. at the University of Manitoba, and initially thought she might go into journalism, but fell in love with PR instead.

Teri did a practicum with the Government of Manitoba, where she learned, among many other things, that she would rather write about theatre than wheat.   Teri reaffirmed for me the importance of following your passion, and also being realistic about what that will bring.   She said, “When you follow you passion into the arts, it’s not going to make you rich, right?  So you have to be there for another reason.”  Enjoying and loving her job is more important than salary, and this came through clearly in her stories and the advice that she kindly shared with me.  I’m sure that if her passion was wheat, and not theatre, she would be an excellent wheat publicist too (although wheat does make it into the arts every now and then).

But I digress.  I did know enough, when I was asked to interview a PR professional, that wheat is also not a passion of mine.  I know that I want to build my PR skills so that I can contribute to work being done in the social/cultural sphere of life, in community development and in the arts, where (unfortunately), many organizations are doing great work with too small of a budget to include PR, or the majority of their focus is directed towards direct service or programming.  So I stared at my computer screen and thought, “what local non-profit is established and large enough to have a PR or marketing department?”  I had an “aha” moment when I thought of MTC, and a second “aha” moment when I looked Teri up on LinkedIn.  I thought, “It looks like she is in a place that I’d like to be.  Also, I think this could be fun!”  And it was.

Fun – or enjoyment, at least – can be found in seemingly tedious work when it aligns with your interests.  In order to write a blurb (a short one-paragraph description of a play), Teri needs to read the entire screenplay.  After reading it, her challenge is to find that one thing that will interest the MTC audiences, and inspire them to come to the theatre.  She also reads through a huge stack of paper to collect the news clippings, reads over and edits pieces written by her colleagues, reads other PR blogs, reads PR Daily…let’s just say she reads a lot.  She writes and compiles pieces for MTC’s program, writes press releases, and writes actor’s bios.

Teri also needs to keep current with work happening internally in other departments of MTC , in order to update the website, and keep current with external organizations whose regulations affect how MTC does their promotion.  For example, the actor’s union has certain rules about publicity: If a photo has 3 or more actors in it, they don’t need to be named independently, but if there are 3 or less, their names need to be listed in full.  If her promo image features 3 actors with long names , well, that could be an entire tweet, with no room left for any other description.  It’s plain to see that to be an effective publicist, you need to be able to balance a micro and a macro view of the area you’re working in, and be acutely aware of every other group you are interconnected with.

Of course, this interconnection also keeps the work interesting, as well as fulfilling.  Teri said that she gets a lot of pride and satisfaction from seeing the effects and the results of her work, in seeing a successful pitch, and in surviving the busiest part of the season.  She started with MTC just 10 days before she had to put on a large media conference for the Fringe Festival, which is always an incredibly busy time for MTC staff.  However, Teri found that through past experience with ACI and her schooling, she was ready for the challenge.  She spends a lot of her time working with the media, keeping her media list updated, and also meets regularly with old classmates and instructors to share experiences and stay current.

Near the end of our conversation, I asked Teri for 3 tips for someone starting out in PR, and I’ll share them with you here: 
  1.  Never stop learning.
  2. Seek things out.  Go to networking events (CPRS, IABC), where you can meet people and pick up new skills.
  3. Maintaining work-life balance is important.  You could do PR 24 hours a day, but you’d burn out, you wouldn’t be very happy, and you wouldn’t be very good at your job either.  Sometimes you need to accept that you can’t do it all.
Thanks, Teri, for sharing your time and experience with me.  This conversation truly helped to illuminate the road ahead.  I’m excited to delve further into the multifaceted and exciting world of PR in the arts and nonprofit sectors, with a few tips and tricks in my traveler’s bag, and the knowledge that though it will surely be trying at times, there is joy and fulfillment in following your passion.

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