Interview: Hollywood Publicist Liza Anderson, Founder, Anderson Group Public Relations

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Liza Anderson knows it’s not easy to grow your agency in the midst of a recession. Her tricks: Hard work, hiring lots of great people, and “constant hustling.” Anderson founded Anderson Group Public Relations, and has since taken on a number of celebrity clients including Eva Longoria and Michael Emerson of Lost.

In this interview, Anderson talks about her style of PR (“I don’t see the benefit of being on Page Six.”) why truth and honesty is key to her business (“I don’t think press is necessarily used to that from a publicist.”) and if Hollywood is overly scared of blogger Nikki Finke (“I don’t pay that much attention.”)

You’ve quadrupled the size of your agency in three years. What are they keys to growing an agency?

Very little sleep. Lots of hard work. I’ve just been working a lot and hiring lots of great people. It’s constant hustling. The minute we opened our doors there was the writer’s strike then the actor’s strike followed by recession. There was a constant black cloud that’s followed us as we’ve grown as a company. That overwhelming gloom and doom is a great motivator for success. It makes you work twice as hard. Sometimes fear is great motivator and it’s worked wonders in my case.

The agency’s clients include A-list stars from Lost, Desperate Housewives and 24, like Eva Longoria and Michael Emerson of Lost. How do you keep them happy?

I think they key is first to have a great staff. I don’t do it by myself. I have 15-20 employees. It’s such a diverse client list. We also have corporate clients. It starts with keeping employees happy. With clients, they still want the big broadcast hits, great print hits, a great online presence. [Online] is very much in demand. It didn’t used to be five, ten years ago. Now it’s the complete opposite. They come in and say they want to have a great online presence. But of course the late night talk shows, Access Hollywood, Extra, morning talk shows are still important. Celebrities are also looking for great media that hits industry press so they can get their next job. Everyone in TV wants to crossover into film. They want a high profile when it comes to casting directors.

Is Hollywood overly afraid of Nikki Finke?

I don’t know. I don’t pay that much attention. I’m not that into Nikki Finke where I can tell you one way or the other. I consider her another news source. I’m not an agent or manager or someone affected who would consider her fearful. I may have more fearful things to think about like crazy people at Perez Hilton.

How has social media changed your business? Do clients want you do to digital work, or would they rather stay off social networks and stay with the mainstream media?

It depends on the client. 90% of our clients are on Twitter. They all have a Facebook presence. It really is a personal preference. They are all using Twitter as a very powerful vehicle to hit their fan base and broadening their image.

There is the impression that every Page Six item or celebrity scandal is secretly dreamed up by a publicist. How much is real and how much is PR?

I don’t dream up anything that is on Page Six, I try to make it go away. In my world, with my clients I don’t see the benefit of being on Page Six. Page Six is press for the sake of getting press. If you’re out in the social world and you’re attending the opening of an opera or gallery it’s going to go beyond Page Six. To get that scandalous sort of press I don’t think it really serves anybody in a positive way. It’s not the kind of press I actively seek as a publicist. There are publicists who do that but it’s not my preferred method by any means. I prefer the long lasting, elegant method.

Give us an example of when you’ve had to defend a client in the midst of controversy. What works in these cases and what doesn’t?

It happens all the time. I really come from this strong belief that truth and honesty and developing relationships with press contacts is the best way to approach any situation. I don’t think press is necessarily used to that from a publicist. It doesn’t initially work in the beginning until you develop these relationships for tabloid magazines to believe me when I say, ‘No, she’s not pregnant, no she wasn’t there last night, yes he is in love.’ But now I do have somewhat of a reputation that you only have to ask me once.

So, I do believe there is a lot of benefit to being honest. Although that doesn’t seem to be the way it is out there unfortunately. I refuse to start engaging in manipulation of the press and manipulation of the tabloid sort of online journalism just for the sake of a little explosion hear or there . I’m into a long term approach, and long terms effects of a media plan for a client. The old expression is slow and steady wins the race.

What do you think of how the PR around David Letterman’s scandal has been handled? Would you do anything different?

I think that people do what David Letterman has done. They do it all the time. I don’t quite understand why he’s gotten such a bad rap. I’ll leave it at that.

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Rob Anderson, Managing Director, Fenton Communications

David Steel, SVP Marketing, Samsung

Ken Shuman, Head of Communications,

Brian Solis, FutureWorks Principal, Blogger, Author

Liz Kaplow, CEO Kaplow Communications

Stephen Baker, BusinessWeek Senior Writer, “The Numerati” Author

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