INTERVIEW: PR specialist Deborah Mellman talks strike’s impact on clients

Mellman
(Deborah Mellman)

The Writers Guild of America (WGA) strike, now in its fifth month, has taken a toll on the industry. Estimated costs to California are circling somewhere between $3 and $5 billion. Sister publication, Reel Chicago, has estimated it has cost Illinois $500,000. But it’s not just writers and actors who are being affected. Below the line workers such as gaffers, grips, and craft service are not working either.

Another group affected, but rarely spoken about, is the public relations sector. With their clients not walking red carpets or promoting new films or TV series, what are they to do? Reel 360 News sat with Deborah Mellman of DM Public Relations. She is an LA-based PR veteran with 30 years of experience in public relations, marketing and client development.

Specializing in up-and-coming talent, Mellman’s roster includes feature/indie film and television actors, special industry/red carpet events and non-profit organizations. We asked Deborah for her take on the current labor disputes.

Deb, the strike is over 4 months old now for writers and 2 months for actors, how are you and your clients impacted, and what specific challenges are they facing?

No work means no money for my clients. Clients going on hiatus or holding off on PR hurts my bottom line obviously. New clients, people whom I have been courting for months, are waiting until the strike is over. Clients who have projects coming out at the end of 2023 are still touch and go. The mindset is let’s plan as if the strike will be over but be prepared to cancel/postpone if not.

Publicity is time-sensitive. Publicists have to plan their PR campaigns in advance, laying the groundwork for interviews and other press opportunities months, sometimes years before a project comes out. As with the pandemic, you must have a Plan A, B, C, D, etc. That can be tedious and overwhelming and leave you feeling defeated.

The strike also impacts me and my clients on a psychological and emotional level. As a team, we work hard to garner exposure and maintain momentum and buzz. It saddens me to know that for the two steps forward my clients made, they now have to go back three steps because of the strike. Some of my clients have projects that were slated for this year.

That’s not happening anymore. That moment we had been waiting for and planning for has now disappeared. It’s like we finally came back from the pandemic and now this. I remind my clients and myself that this is temporary and to stay focused and positive. Mental health and well-being are essential. You are your product. Protect it!

Can you share any strategies or actions your clients have taken to navigate the strike?

Some of my clients have sought opportunities in the indie film world, and local theater, while others are teaching acting classes. It’s about making ends meet and keeping your momentum. It’s a balancing act. Find a way to stay in the mix. Take an acting class. Learn another skill that will benefit you and your career.

I am seeking out opportunities to reinforce my business model for the present and the future. I will be joining award-winning casting director Erica Arvold with Arvold Warner Studio for a class on PR for Actors, Saturday, October 21.

I also suggest using this time to review your press materials, bio, headshots, pitch, website, etc. Additionally, it is important to me as a publicist to let my clients know that I will be there for them now and down the road. We are in this together. Or…schedule a time to chat with me and we can commiserate together!

How do you approach managing public relations during a strike to ensure that your clients’ messages and actions align with their goals and values?

As an artist, you must stand in solidarity. That would be my first point of action. Your message and brand should reflect that you support your fellow creatives.

It is also important to keep in mind that while you are not actively promoting yourself and your projects, you are still in PR mode. Whenever you communicate you have to be mindful of the bigger picture. Express yourself but be smart about it. This is still work.

How do you balance supporting your clients’ interests while also maintaining positive relationships with the media and industry stakeholders during a strike?

As a publicist, I thrive on my contacts and value the relationships I have built with the press and other industry types. During this time, I have reached out to colleagues in the media, from red carpet photographers to magazine editors to just check-in. What are you working on now? How is your business? Can I help you in any way?

I have also been in touch with other publicists, both directly affected by the strike and not. We are all feeling the effects of the strike in one way or another, especially friends in LA and NY who work in all sectors of the business.

We are people first. If we address that before everything else, we will be able to maintain positive relationships and move on after the strike.


REELated:


Warner Bros began suspending deals. Are you scared for your survival and your clients?

I have faith in my clients and their work. I also have faith in myself and my abilities as a publicist. We will come out of this better than when we went in. Surviving this industry is a combination of factors. It takes talent but it also takes business sense.

If you can learn anything good from this strike, it would be to approach your career with a business perspective. Move forward with a better understanding of your value both creatively and in dollars and cents, and with a plan for longevity. It is show ‘business.’ Don’t be naïve. Empower yourself by educating yourself.

What advice do you give to actors regarding communication and public relations strategies during a strike?

Read the room. You can support the strike but still come off tone-deaf if you aren’t careful. Read the trades. Check social media. It’s like the advice I give my clients when there isn’t a strike. And, as my mom says, ‘when in doubt, don’t.’ 

I also suggest citing a solution if you have a problem. It keeps the message positive and moving in the right direction. AI stinks. What’s your solution? Be productive.

Do you think we will ever get back to normal after a pandemic, writers firing agents and now this?

I do. The pandemic hit me and my clients pretty hard. I thought “how is it ever going to go back to what it was?” It did. Earlier this year I remember standing on the red carpet at an industry awards gala and thinking, a year ago this kind of event would never have happened. The pandemic is like a marker for me. Where were we last year at this time?

We have come a long way since the pandemic. So, I would like to think that the strike and its effects on our industry and talent will rebound once a fair agreement has been reached. I also believe that some wonderful opportunities and projects have been created during this time.

Relationships have been forged as creatives pound the pavement together, united in their quest for fair pay and respect. That excites me the most and gives me hope for the future of our industry!

You can connect with Deborah on Instagram.

For Reel 360 News’ full strike coverage, click here.


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