PROFILE: Karpel thrives in supporting role for showbiz clients

Armed with many contacts, respect for his staff, and a love for PR that he's felt since his youth, Craig Karpel has carved out a unique niche in the entertainment publicity sector.

Armed with many contacts, respect for his staff, and a love for PR that he's felt since his youth, Craig Karpel has carved out a unique niche in the entertainment publicity sector.

"I've always known what I wanted to do," says Craig Karpel, president of The Karpel Group. "My parents joke that I was born with a Variety in one hand and Billboard in the other." Few people are so certain of their life's direction, but for Karpel, there was never any doubt about what he would do. Now, he runs his own publicity and marketing firm in Manhattan, and counts film distributors, television networks, Broadway shows, and record labels among his clients. While the firm executes many campaigns that are focused toward a mainstream audience, it has also developed a lucrative niche market, targeting gay and lesbian audiences for national campaigns and grassroots buzz initiatives. As a child growing up in New Jersey, Karpel began a lifelong love of the arts traveling into New York to see plays, musicals, and movies with his mother. At 10 years old, he started a magazine of film and theater reviews, which he typed up and gave to his father to photocopy at work. "Most of the reviews were movies and plays that I'd seen, but sometimes I'd write them based on reviews that I'd read when I hadn't even seen the show," Karpel says. Karpel attended college for six consecutive years, earning a bachelor of arts degree in public communication from American University and his master's degree in mass communication from Boston University. He had several internships while in school, but the most formative for his career was at Allied Advertising, which at the time was regional agency of record for Warner Bros.' film division. He worked there almost full-time during his last year of graduate school, filling promotional screenings for films such as Hamlet (1990, starring Mel Gibson) and The Hunt for Red October, all the while forming relationships and making contacts in the marketing departments of movie studios. One of the most educational aspects of the internship, aside from the practical skills and people he met at Allied, was Karpel's exposure to a PR style that melded publicity with promotion. Using media relations in combination with promotional screenings for influential early adopters and events, he saw how buzz was built, as well as how a campaign can be custom-made for a certain project. "It completely feeds into what we do," he says. "All of our activities can be integrated, whether it's PR and marketing, mainstream or gay. I saw how flexible a campaign can be." After graduating from BU, Karpel moved back to New York, during what he calls "the Great Depression of '91." Jobs were in short supply, so when he got a temporary administrative job at Broadway publicity firm Boneau/Bryan-Brown, he swallowed some pride and did odd jobs around the office. What was meant to be a two-week stint turned into six years at the agency, during which Karpel met influencers in the theater world, and began a successful practice marketing dance music with clients from Epic Records, Sony Music, and Angel Records. Eventually, he broke from Boneau/Bryan-Brown's practice and rented space from the firm, hiring two assistants. "I'm not of the school where a publicist is the most high-maintenance member of a team," says Karpel. "We're hired to take the work off of people's plates, and that's what I try to do." In 1997, at only 30 years of age, Karpel founded his agency. Using contacts from the fields of music, film, and theater, Karpel now runs a firm with a staff of 12 that works on 25 to 30 accounts at a time. Occasionally, he has to turn away work, either because staffers are too busy, or as Karpel says, "the project didn't fit our aesthetic." The group is film-distribution company Miramax's regional promotional agency of record, and accepts responsibility for the success of such off-Broadway hits as rock opera Hedwig and the Angry Inch and performance-art event De La Guarda, both of which had audience and positioning problems until The Karpel Group stepped in. Karpel works closely with media relations VP Bridget Klapinski - "she has been instrumental in the direction of the agency," says Karpel - and VP of strategic marketing Marc Mannino, who both manage several clients. "I really couldn't be here without their support," Karpel says. One of the agency's biggest sources of pride comes from its VIP list, used when filling promotional screenings, creating buzz in influential circles, and holding launch parties. Tastemakers and community members hold places on the list because often they are integral parts of the fabric of the city's culture, but not critics or media members. Karpel cites one VIP who knows every drag queen in New York City - a vital contact for a regional gay campaign. "We've been told by producers that our audiences are some of the best. They're very responsive, and it makes the performers and filmmakers feel special," he says. Looking to the future, Karpel Group staffers are working on DVD marketing, including TV shows Alias (ABC), The Osbournes (MTV), and Strangers with Candy (Comedy Central). Karpel no longer does everyday account work, and instead focuses on quality control, new business, and campaign launches. In his spare time, Karpel enjoys reading, spinning, and watching DVDs with his chocolate Labrador retriever Ella. "I'm really lucky and thankful to work with people who I admire as artists," he says. "That's been one of the most rewarding aspects of my career." While it's not unusual for Karpel to meet some of his idols at a party or promotional event (he recently met singer Kylie Minogue and Absolutely Fabulous' Edina, Jennifer Saunders), he says he isn't nearly as star-struck meeting celebrities as he is in meeting heads of publicity or marketing executives. "I've wanted to be like them for as long as I can remember," he says. ----- Craig Karpel 1997-2003 President, The Karpel Group 1991-1997 Publicist, Boneau/Bryan-Brown, New York. Clients included Epic Records, Sony Music, Angel Records 1990-1991 Internship, Allied Advertising, clients included Warner Bros. 1989-1991 Boston University, MA, mass communication 1985-1989 American University, BA, public communication

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