Recently I had the privilege of speaking with Liza Anderson, a highly regarded celebrity publicist, public relations expert, and the Founder and President of Anderson Group Public Relations. Representing a wide spectrum of diverse clients on hit television shows such as House of Cards, Brooklyn Nine-Nine, Scandal, The Walking Dead, True Detective, Game of Thrones and recent films such as BLENDED, THE EXPENDABLES, and ENTOURAGE, as well as storm chasers on The Discovery Channel, Emmy-nominated choreographers, lifestyle & fitness experts, makeup artists, YouTubers, digital producers, clothing designers and athletes, her company has grown to become one of the most powerful, respected and sought after PR agencies in the industry. We discussed how she became a publicist, the obstacles she faced when opening her business, and what she does when one of her clients has a PR emergency.
Can you tell us how you got started as a publicist?
I started off at the ground-level as an intern working for free, then I was a receptionist answering phones. After that, I was an assistant to the two presidents at a company called BWR literally answering their phones and getting them coffee. But they were in the thick of it, they represented big-time actors and they had huge corporate accounts. It was a really exciting atmosphere to be in. I really gravitated toward the whole process. I couldn’t believe I was getting paid. It didn’t seem like work. I looked forward to going into the office everyday, I would look at my watch, and it would already be five or six o’clock. While everyone else was counting down the time until they could leave, I was just getting ready!
The hours are quite unique in the entertainment industry, is that difficult?
Yes, the hours are different, but if you love what you’re doing, the hours don’t matter. Days turned into weeks, and before I knew it, I had my own assistant and my own clients. It snowballed from there. It was a kind of natural, seamless process. They have the expression, “God laughs when you start planning your life,” and that’s exactly what it was here. I didn’t know what I wanted to do, and I closed my eyes, and before I knew it, I was a publicist.
How do you evaluate a potential new client to see if it’s the right fit?
I used to say that I would represent a fire-eating dog, as long as they had a hook and I could get it press. I like to keep my mind open to all PR opportunities. I don’t like to put myself into a niche or “category” or walk around with blinders on. I don’t say that I just do actors or just do TV or just do film because that’s far from the truth. I do stick to the mantra, however, that I want to work with people I enjoy, and that I look forward to talking to and take pleasure in their company. I don’t ever want to work with someone where I see their name come up on the caller ID and I don’t want to pick it up the call. If that happens, I know I’m doing something wrong. I did have some of those people earlier in my career, but as I’ve continued to grow, and as my company flourishes, those types of calls seem to be less and less. It’s working smarter, not harder.
When you started your own company, what obstacles did you face?
Well, first of all, ignorance is bliss. If you don’t know what obstacles exist when you start a business, you aren’t afraid to face them. You just assume every challenge you have is a normal part of doing business. When I opened up my company, there had been a previous writer’s strike that people were still talking about. There was a recession. People just weren’t opening up businesses. This was five or six years ago. People were retreating rather than getting out there and slaying dragons. I did pay attention to that, but I refused to participate in the recession. I put my head down, opened the company, and kept moving ahead. And here we are, twenty-five people later. Life is good. Knock on Wood!
When a client has a problem with their image, how do you approach solving it?
It depends on the particular problem; it’s hard to give one answer to every problem. It depends on the type of relationship you have with the client. I think you need great communication skills with the client and in life, and you have to be open and honest. If you don’t have a core relationship with them, and you don’t have trust, it’s really hard to formulate a plan from the ground-up. That comes with time and working together and the relationship you develop not only with a client, but with their agent, their manager, their whole team, and even their family. It takes strategic thinking, and it takes somebody who genuinely cares. People who tend to do it the same thing over and over again get a little complacent. We hear the phrase, “the honeymoon is over,” but I say to my staff, make sure the honeymoon is never over. No matter what you are doing in life. Keep it fresh. If you buy a new car, and a few months later you don’t appreciate it, go out and get it detailed, treat it well. Spend time with your grandmother. Do little things that rejuvenate the love and passion that you have in your life, and that exists in your career as well. When you apply that to your clients and you care about them, you will give them the attention they need and deserve. Throw in some strategic ideas here and there, and you have the main ingredients for an amazing PR campaign.
A couple of years ago, I thought I had something wrong with my health. And the tests came back and they were fine, and I was jogging up this hill towards Sunset Blvd. I had this sort of Rocky moment, I was all sweaty and running and had the thought, “as long as I have my health, I’m never going to sweat the small stuff.” I went into this tattoo parlor on the side of the street, and asked them to tattoo the date on my wrist. Everyone asks me what “7/28” is and it’s a reminder to not sweat the small things in life, because if you have your health and family, the rest of it is inconsequential. I feel that way about my work, if you have great clients and staff, you can work out all of the crises and forge ahead. Keep it all in perspective.
Who would be your “dream” client to add to your roster?
Well I’ve had many dream clients; if I had to add someone else to the list I’d say Richard Branson for sure. Take me to outer space, start some airlines, see what’s going on in the music industry, I mean come on!
Thanks so much to Liza for taking the time to speak with me. She is a genuine person, and expert in the field of PR.