Analysis: Profile - Uptown girl gets down to some serious PR - Lizzie Grubman has alternately been hailed as one of PR’s brightest young stars and vilified as an example of everything that’s wrong with the new breed of 20-something publici

Some things that do not happen when you spend time at the downtown New York City offices of Lizzie Grubman Public Relations: Youngish gals in black cocktail dresses flitting about exchanging air-kisses. Members of the New York nightlife cognoscenti stopping by, trading tales of the previous night’s bacchanalia. People wearing sunglasses. It is instead - perhaps disappointingly for those who might expect otherwise - business as usual.

Some things that do not happen when you spend time at the downtown New York City offices of Lizzie Grubman Public Relations: Youngish gals in black cocktail dresses flitting about exchanging air-kisses. Members of the New York nightlife cognoscenti stopping by, trading tales of the previous night’s bacchanalia. People wearing sunglasses. It is instead - perhaps disappointingly for those who might expect otherwise - business as usual.

Some things that do not happen when you spend time at the downtown

New York City offices of Lizzie Grubman Public Relations: Youngish gals

in black cocktail dresses flitting about exchanging air-kisses. Members

of the New York nightlife cognoscenti stopping by, trading tales of the

previous night’s bacchanalia. People wearing sunglasses. It is instead -

perhaps disappointingly for those who might expect otherwise - business

as usual.



This in itself is an accomplishment, as construction has imbued the

office with the feel of a bombed-out bunker. A rickety wooden table

passes as Grubman’s desk, and there’s a sheet of paper where there

should be window blinds. Nonetheless, the office bristles with energy at

8:45 on a Monday morning, with phones chirping and eager-beaver staffers

combing the pages of Gotham’s five dailies for mentions of LGPR clients.

’It’s a little bit chaotic,’ Grubman, 29, admits with a smile.





Socialite or success story?



Such are the tribulations of being Lizzie Grubman. The day-to-day

reality of running her dollars 1.5 million agency tends to interfere

with the all-consuming social life that outsiders assume she enjoys. And

while it’s ludicrous that a child of privilege who has built a

successful business before the age of 30 might be considered a victim in

any sense, she is clearly one of the profession’s most misunderstood

members.



This can largely be traced to the infamous 1998 New York cover story

that chronicled the comings-and-goings of Grubman and several other

20-something publicists. Though she shrugs off the piece as ’ancient

history’ and says that the writer represented her fairly, it’s clear

that she resents the lingering perception that she is more a social

creature than a professional one.



’The story made what we do look like one big party, which it isn’t,’ she

says. ’I only go to my own events. I’m not a gal about town.’ Vanessa

Grigoriadis, who wrote the story, agrees: ’She’s a consummate publicist

and businesswoman in every sense.’



To set the record straight, Lizzie Grubman is engaging, funny and almost

devastatingly selfaware. She doesn’t boast or complain, or traffic in

innuendo. Outside of an occasional dismissive roll of her eyes, she is

forceful and direct. All she wants, it seems, is to be allowed to go

about building her business her way. ’Not too much to ask, right?’ she

jokes.



More than a few within the industry continue to doubt her abilities.



’She’s just another party girl,’ says one, while another questions her

ethics and business philosophy (’she’s in it for the quick fix’). But

for the most part, Grubman’s tenacity and intelligence have won over the

city’s media elite.



’If she says she’ll do something, it will get done - and well,’ says AOL

SVP and former Robinson Lerer & Montgomery partner Kenny Lerer, who’s

worked with her on several projects (including one for Oprah Winfrey’s

Oxygen Media that Grubman calls ’the biggest thrill of my life’). Adds

New York Daily News gossip columnist Mitchell Fink, ’She is totally in

the mix of everything that’s happening in New York. There’s no question

that she’s at the top of her game.’



Growing up on Manhattan’s Upper East Side, Grubman aspired more to

Fink’s career than to PR. During her summers at sleep-away camp, her

father (prominent entertainment lawyer Allen Grubman) would send her

copies of the National Enquirer and The Globe. But the gossip maven

dreams died quickly. ’I can’t write at all, which sunk in when I went to

college.’





Torture test



She stayed for less than two years at Northeastern University. ’I was

the worst student ever,’ she admits. ’I ran around until all hours of

the night.’ Her first job, which she admits was secured with some help

from her father, was in the PR department of a major company that she

refuses to identify. ’They tortured me,’ she recalls. However, the

experience did prepare her for what lay ahead: ’I realized I’d have to

do things myself.’



She then hustled her way into a two-year stint as director of publicity

for the Big Apple Circus, followed by a brief stay under pro Nadine

Johnson.



Was the parting a hostile one, as the New York story seemed to

indicate?



Grubman shrugs. ’I left there with just about nothing - no Rolodex, no

mailing list.’ Johnson chalks up the split to ’different styles.’



It was late ’96 when Grubman set up shop in her apartment. Since then,

she’s accumulated a quirky mix of clients, ranging from large

corporations (America Online, Sony Music) to personalities (Britney

Spears) to dot-coms (Beauty.com). The firm now numbers 26 employees in

three offices (Miami and Los Angeles in addition to Grubman’s Manhattan

base).



’We’re an untraditional PR company, and we’re filling a niche that

bigger companies don’t,’ she says. ’But working with others in the

industry lets me know how much I still have to learn.’ The respect of

the industry is clearly something that Grubman covets, and by working

alongside many of the town’s top shops (Fleishman-Hillard, Dan Klores

Associates, Rubenstein Associates) she has made real progress towards

the mainstream.



Indeed, she is aware of LGPR’s shortcomings and regularly hands off work

when she feels she isn’t up to it. ’I don’t want to make matters worse,’

she explains. She also seems immune to the profession’s typical

glad-handling. ’People appreciate my bluntness. Things like PR proposals

- I don’t believe in them.’ Clients receive weekly status reports, and

Grubman insists that her account executives secure a certain number of

placements per week. ’I want results,’ she says. ’It’s not a matter of

quality over quantity. I want both.’ So Grubman has to be a pretty

brutal person to work for, right? She laughs. In fact, the agency has a

distinctly family-like feel and seems more attuned to the elusive notion

of teamwork than most firms.



For the future, the long-rumored LGPR/Peggy Siegel Company merger looks

ready to roll (PRWeek, February 14), and selling the agency is a

distinct possibility, albeit not right away. ’I’ve been asked about it,

but we’re not ready.’ As for Grubman herself - a self-described ’stress

monster’ - she says that several years in the business have tamed her

control-freak nature.



’I’m better now. I’m nowhere near as bad as I used to be.’ And nowhere

near as good as she will soon be, she seems to imply.





Lizzie Grubman



President, founder



Lizzie Grubman Public Relations



1992 - Director of publicity for Big Apple Circus



1995 - Works for NYC publicist Nadine Johnson



December 1996 - Founds Lizzie Grubman PR



1998 - Opens Miami office



1999 - Opens LA office.



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