Hot Off the Press: Sasha Brookner, Director of Helio PR
Growing up I was like every female adolescent who (to my mom’s dismay) tore pages out of magazines and plastered them on my wall which spanned the spectrum of music, politics and fashion. Originally planning to pursue a career in Academia I got sidetracked in the late 20th century and fell onto the axis I live now, public relations. For 13 years I have watched the rise and fall of entertainers, studied marketing techniques, cultivated my writing skills and honed in on the voids in the market. I’ve been extremely fortunate to work with some of the most creative people in the world from musicians, painters, choreographers, activists, fashion designers, producers, graphic designers and spoken word artists. I’ve developed stories, sold stories and put them into plaques. I’ve seen rags to riches and I’ve seen deep disappointment but I admire them all for taking a risk on their dreams. The vestige of their narratives continue to decorate my office walls and remind me that stories are meant to be shared.
-Sasha Brookner, director of Helio PR in Los Angeles, California
Clientele (past and present): Goapele, Katt Williams, CeeLo Green, Brother Ali, Ledisi, KRS- One and more
1. How did you get started in writing and public relations? What attracted you to these fields?
I was actually attending UCLA, pursuing a degree in History. I began interning at various entertainment companies really just to obtain college credits so I could graduate on time. I somewhat fell into PR haphazardly. I began working in the publicity department of House of Blues in Hollywood, then at one of BMG’s sub-labels Red Ant Records and from there moved into working at indie PR firms and eventually branching off and founding my own company. I enjoyed being able to work in conjunction with writers, artists, photographers and other really creative people to mold a client’s public perception, often out of very talented clay.
2. You have experience as a writer and experience in public relations. Which do you like better?
To be honest, I’m not even close to being a professional writer, I don’t have a passion for journalism or putting together literature the way so many of my peers do, they are ferocious with their lexicon skills. I see my friends polish off stories in a night – I get the urge to write maybe three times out of the year and it takes me months to put them together partly because I don’t have enough time to focus and also because I get writer’s block super quickly. Public Relations is my profession, it’s what I’ve done for the past 13 years and can do pretty much at this point with my eyes closed. PR can be a great tool to share other people’s narratives on a global scale, so if you’re working with artists that you think the world should know about it can give a job more likeability (not sure if that’s a word. see that’s why I’m not a professional writer).
3. What is the most valuable skill a person needs to be successful in public relations?
At the core of my job it’s a sales position. The mistake many peers make is getting into this thinking you can condense an already written bio into a press release then pay some news service to disseminate it and sit back and wait for some magical response. That may be true with the Coldplays of the world but if you’re just getting into PR chances are your client “list” aren’t going to be at the top of the alphabet. You have to not only form genuine relationships with writers, talent bookers and producers but you have to see the world through their eyes. Figure out what it is they’re looking for and how to make your client sound sensational to a bunch of folks who have heard just about everything under the sun, and unfortunately hear it on a daily basis. Out of everything in Robert Greene’s “48 Laws of Power” the tactics of mastering the art of timing and appealing to people’s self-interest when asking for something are definitely applicable in my profession. You also can’t be generic – turn a nobody into a somebody takes creativity, especially if it’s all just an illusion. I’m striving for us publicists to be respected like the billboard slogan writers of the world…so far not having much luck. Here’s a skill tip: please try to make us look good.
4. Where do you see the role of the publicist in the years to come?
Some people postulate the field of publicity to be shrinking as artists and managers master the skills themselves. However I think even amidst artists learning and navigating the ropes of the world wide web and making their own connections at blogs and online sites, there’s still a need for a representative who can keep them organized and spend more time analyzing their look from an outside perspective. It’s the picture/frame paradigm. Publicists keep an artist presentation worthy and a high-quality rep lives and breathes whatever the pulse of media is that week. If I was an artist I know the last thing I’d want to be doing is the PR, management and booking side. Many creative artist types are not that business savvy, and the others who can handle it could be devoting that time into songwriting, treatment writing, engaging fans or envisioning their long term strategy, not trying to keep track of PR materials. So I think the role will ultimately remain consistently where it’s been since the days of Ivy Lee. We live in a celeb driven culture, most want to be famous for a variety of non sensible reasons so like lawyers who will always have an inundation of criminals and frustrated patrons wanting to sue there’s never going to be a lack of prospective clientele who wants someone to make them important.
5. What has been your greatest career achievement thus far?
Being able to buy myself leisure 🙂