By: Sarah Dudinetz (@sarah_dudinetz)
This episode of PR Hangover features Chelsea Nachman and Molly Barnett of Grapevine PR, a full-service theatrical PR firm based in New York City. Their clients include Laura Benanti, Dear Evan Hansen, Ben Pasek & Justin Paul, Jessica Vosk, projects for Cyndi Lauper, and more. We were able to chat about why a passion for your work is important, how theatrical PR helps control the narrative of a Broadway show, how Hamilton changed the industry, and more. You can listen to it here.
Falling into the perfect place
- Molly and Chelsea both never intended on being a theatrical press agent– in fact, Chelsea majored in psychology at the University of Michigan. However, they knew they both had a passion for theatre, and that while they didn’t have on-stage talent, they wanted to be involved in theatre in some capacity.
- That passion is what led them both to Playbill’s job listing site, and sending 17 resumes in for various job listings… only to get one back. Chelsea notes that the job of being a press agent, especially in an industry like broadway that has countless people and moving parts involved, is a high-demand job- you need to be passionate about what you do to avoid becoming resentful and burning yourself out.
What is theatrical PR?
- In essence, theatrical PR handles every aspect of communication for a show that is public-facing but isn’t paid to advertise. This could include performances on morning television shows, interviews with journalists, citings in newspapers about celebrities who came to see the show, and more. Another way to think about theatrical PR is that it is controlling the image and a narrative of a show from the bottom up: What photos and video/”B-roll” are made available to press? What selections of songs are going to be made available? How will the show be represented to the public?
- Ideally, press agents are involved with a show from before the show is even announced. This ensures that, from the ground up, they are making major announcements, inviting critics/feature writers/producers to opening night, carrying the show through theater awards season, and even taking the show on tour.
How has their work changed?
- Molly and Chelsea started out working for a firm that handled musicals and shows as a whole. In their new venture, Grapevine PR, they’re specializing in individual talent, a trend that was brought on by Hamilton– a mega-hit of a musical that required individual actors to hire their press agents. The work itself, Chelsea says, is the same, the focus is just different.
- Molly and Chelsea note that social media is more important than ever. For example, if a casting director has narrowed it down to two people for a role, but can’t decide, they may take into consideration the number of followers those two people have. Journalists may take this into account as well, as they want you/your client to repost their articles and get it out to as big an audience as possible.
Challenges faced working in this industry
- Chelsea notes that it’s very challenging to balance a work life and a personal life- as a press agent, you need to be constantly aware of what’s being said and what is happening, as well as thinking about how these things can affect your client. Your job isn’t confined to specific hours- you’re always ‘on-call’, so to speak.
- Molly says one of their main struggles has been figuring out how to make Broadway a national story. Broadway brings in a substantial amount of money- more, Molly notes, than all of the New York major sports teams combined. However, Broadway is thought of as a local New York topic, while no one thinks of the New York sports teams in this way. While people pour in from around the country and the world for Broadway in New York, it can still be challenging to get writers and press to cover Broadway nationally.
- Hamilton helped the Broadway industry tremendously in this regard. Due to its incredible pop culture success, it made writers who normally wouldn’t cover Broadway write about it.
What do you love about what you do?
- Chelsea says her one of her favorite things is building personal relationships with clients. It’s a two-way street: We have to trust our clients, and our clients have to trust us. As someone who grew up a huge theatre fan, she loves getting to build these relationships with people she’s admired for so long.
- Molly recounts a conversation she had with the producer of Fun Home. The producer thanked her for her work, and Molly said that it was the cast and creative team that deserved the credit. The producer replied, “I know, but it doesn’t matter if no one wants to see it.” This quote sums up why theatrical PR, and PR in any industry for that matter, is so valuable.
Sarah Dudinetz is a senior studying Advertising and Public Relations. She is the Podcast Director for GVPRSSA and an Account Associate for GrandPR. In the future, she’d like to pursue theatrical PR. Sarah also competes in the Miss America organization and was first runner up at the Miss Michigan pageant in 2019.