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Publicists Awards: Nominees Discuss Favorite Campaigns, IATSE Issues and Embracing the ‘Art of the Pivot’ During a Challenging Year

In advance of Friday’s 61st annual International Cinematographers Guild (Local 600) Publicists Awards luncheon, the Guild gathered several nominees who spoke with Variety about their favorite campaigns, issues that will affect them during IATSE’s contract negotiations, and how they embraced “the art of the pivot” during a challenging year. The luncheon, which also raises funds for the Guild’s scholarship fund, will be held Friday at the Beverly Wilshire hotel.

It’s an exciting but rapidly changing time to work in publicity, says Chris Garcia Nutley of Warner Bros. “It’s causing all of us to have to become more flexible than we would normally like to be,” he admits. “But I think it’s learning the art of the pivot [and] really leaning into authenticity. There’s just so much content out there, and I think it’s about being able to cut through that, and to me, the key is authenticity.”

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This year, Garcia Nutley worked on juggernaut “Barbie.” “It was about being big, being bold and very much leaning into all things Barbie for that release campaign. So not hiding or running away from the pink, but embracing the pink,” he says.

The takeaway from the fan-driven “Barbenheimer,” he finds, is counter-programming works. “I think that giving audiences high quality movies and transporting them in very different ways to different places, whether it’s the real world or whether it’s Barbie Land, is exciting. I think audiences want more of that.”

“Barbie” and “Oppenheimer” were two of many releases whose rollout was impacted by the WGA and SAG-AFTRA strikes. “Something that you have to have as a publicist is the ability to prepare and anticipate and map out a variety of scenarios, whether we’re talking about a strike or really anything else, you know, just planning for the unexpected,” said Julia Neal of Paramount Pictures. For many productions including Paramount’s “Mission Impossible: Dead Reckoning Part 1,” that meant starting early with junkets and other promotional opportunities before the anticipated strikes began.

Unit publicist Shelly Williams agrees, adding, “As a unit publicist, that makes me realize that what I capture during production is so vital, because that’s just one of those few times where if you don’t capture it, then it’s gone.”

“In many ways, publicists have become content creators,” adds Cynthia Swartz, president of Strategy PR/Consulting. “That’s become a big part of our job.”

Looking back at her earlier years in the business, unit publicist Linda Brown (a nominee for the Les Mason Award for Career Achievement) remembers launching “The Simpsons,” whose phenomenal success could not have been predicted at the time. “I remember people saying to me, ‘no one’s gonna watch cartoons at night,’” she says. “I remember picking people up in my car and bribing them with dinner [to watch] the first couple of episodes…Nobody wanted to cover it at first.” She adds that working in collaboration with Fox, we “positioned it as a cultural shift; it was defining culture.” Soon, Bart and the Simpsons even “presented” at the Emmys with pre-produced segments.

Turning to IATSE and AMPTP’s contact negotiations, which began on Monday, benefits are top of mind. “Where there’s been a dry spell for whatever the reason, maybe you need 400 hours but have 390 [to have access to benefits], it would be great if there was a way to, you know, if you work an hour you save an hour. It’s a bank and you could use it at the times where there’s down. Because with productions going out of town and strikes and all this kind of thing, you’re not in control of your own destiny as a freelance person and a lot of us are freelance,” suggests Brown.

Sony Pictures’ Katie Lovick adds that benefits for maternity leave are needed, saying “I’m on maternity leave right now and there’s no benefits.” Says Williams: “This is an issue that our union representatives are aware of, and definitely want to take to the negotiation table. Yeah, this is 2024. You should have maternity leave.”

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