The Publicist

Every studio publicist knows the nervous feeling new CEOs bring

Every studio publicist knows the nervous feeling new CEOs bring

No matter the industry, when a new CEO takes over a company, nervous employees sit around waiting for the axe to fall. Especially the PR folks, always seemingly the first to go.

Firing workers with long tenures is the surest way to impress Wall Street and put your own mark on the firm. Acquisitions are the other black hand of employee fates.

Sony's purchase of MGM earlier this year resulted in pink slips in the Lion's publicity department, and layoffs are expected among DreamWorks' praisers when Universal formalizes its acquisition of the Spielberg-led company in the weeks ahead.

Meanwhile, Paramount publicists have been in limbo since Brad Grey took the reins last spring. Some of the studio's PR staffers have been around since I worked there in the early '90s. That's 15 years - a remarkably long tenure in Hollywood. The Melrose lot maintained an unusually stable workforce under Sherry Lansing, with little turnover. Very different from my stint there, when we had three different department heads and two studio chiefs in less than two years.

I remember full well the jokes and strained laughter that would mark every Friday morning as we arrived at our desks expecting, at any moment, pink slips. When black Friday did arrive, and staffers filed one after the other into the boss' office, I secretly hoped mine was the next head on the block, as I'd wanted to leave anyway. It was, but in return for losing my staff job I was offered my first freelance unit publicity assignment. Best day of my career, as I've been at it ever since.

Some say it's high time for new blood on Melrose. "The studio needs shaking up," a Burbank studio publicist told me. "Complacency is inevitable after so many years, and Brad needs a fresh team and fresh start."

Easy to say when you're not the one being "refreshed." Grey launched his captaincy with the tired mantra "young, hip, innovative." Please. Catering to lowest-common-denominator 17-year-olds is what got Hollywood into the mess that it's in now - dwindling box-office, dull remakes, and low creativity. How about "smart, exciting, and funny" as your moniker?

If Paramount is determined to go "young and hip,"

it won't need its cadre of veteran publicists, who'll likely join their MGM brethren in diving into the choppy waters of unit publicity. Welcome, friends, but better bring a life raft - there are sharks out here, too.

Lawrence Mitchell Garrison is an LA-based freelance publicist and writer

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