Over the last 20 years, Gary Rosen Communications (GRC) has fostered excellent relationships with major Fortune 500 companies, studios, celebrities, authors, and musicians.
GRC’s clients include Judge Judy Sheindlin, Presiding Judge on Judy Justice, on Amazon freevee. The company also handles CBS Media Ventures’ Hot Bench, the syndicated courtroom hit. GRC repped CBS’s Judge Judy, which wrapped a historic 25 year-run as one of the most successful programs in the history of television. The company also served as the spokesperson and oversaw publicity for NBC Universal’s Maury, hosted by Maury Povich; The Jerry Springer Show; The Steve Wilkos Show, and The John Walsh Show. Additionally, Gary Rosen has generated publicity for more than 25 national television shows including Extra, The People’s Court, The Montel Williams Show, Hard Copy, Geraldo, Leeza, A Current Affair, Real TV, and The Joan Rivers Show.
Before entering the field of public relations, Rosen was a television writer and magazine editor. His byline has appeared in publications including TV GUIDE, Adweek, Television Week, and The New York Post. His copious list of celebrities and television executives’ interviews are highlighted by Oprah Winfrey, Joan Rivers, Merv Griffin, Alex Trebek, and Carol Burnett. Rosen lectures about public relations and the entertainment industry at UCLA, NYU, and Fordham University.
Rosen, a crisis management expert, has appeared on outlets including CNN, FOX NEWS, E!, REELZ, NEWSNATION, DAILY MAIL and HLN delivering commentary and damage control analysis on entertainment news making headlines. He is also regularly interviewed by journalists and is heard on podcasts and radio shows across-the-country to give his take on the ever-changing media landscape.
In this interview, I speak to Gary Rosen, Founder & CEO of Gary Rosen Communications (GRC). We talk about the power of good communication, how to handle a crisis, and what he has learned from representing some of the world’s most recognised celebrities and brands.
Q: How did public relations & communications become a career for you?
[Gary Rosen]: Since I was seven-years-old, I knew I wanted to be in entertainment. At that point, I thought I wanted to be on stage. I thought I wanted to be an actor. Even at that young age, they called me a walking TV GUIDE because I literally knew every show on every channel. You could say ‘Tuesday night at 8 o’clock, on ABC’ and I would tell you Happy Days,’ or Wednesday at 9, it was Charlie’s Angels on ABC. There was no question, I knew that the entertainment business was for me.
My career started at a TV trade publication as an editorial assistant and then I worked my way up as a writer and editor at different outlets. Later, I was with a magazine that ended up going out of business. I heard about an opening at a PR firm, a small boutique agency whose clients I had written about and decided to call them. After speaking to the owner, he called me 24 hours later and said, ‘…you know, I have a good feeling about this, I’m willing to try you out. Can you start tomorrow, two days a week?’
My mother Bess taught me very early on to take risks and just go for it. I went in and it was the easiest transition in the world because being on the other side, I was now pitching reporters. I knew what they wanted to hear and more importantly, I knew what they didn’t want to hear. I don’t like to waste people’s time, and I don’t like my time wasted because time is the only thing you can’t get back.
Q: What is the role of public relations?
[Gary Rosen]: Public Relations plays so many kinds of roles, everything doesn’t have to be immediate gratification. The role of a good publicist or agency is to plot out a strategy—carefully and systematically, which takes time and a good deal of effort to shape the message.
Additionally, it is not only what you see in the different forms of media… it’s what you don’t see. Sometimes your role is to come in and fix a problem that exists or one that is about to before the public is even aware of it. That’s where crisis management comes in. I love that aspect of the job because it is so strategic, and every situation is different.
Q: What are some of the biggest misconceptions about public relations?
[Gary Rosen]: I have specialized in entertainment public relations for television shows, and the people that I work for in the business are known as “talent” and just like you and I are different, all talent is different. A lot of people fail at what I do because they group all talent together.
As an example, let us say, Oprah is the same as Gayle King who is the same as Jennifer Lopez, who is the same as Beyonce. Just because they are labelled as “talent,” doesn’t mean they are similar at all. What do they share? They are uber-successful people, but they are also individuals with unique business models. They want to accomplish different things and are on different paths on how to do that.
The first thing you must know inside and out is the person/product/brand or the corporation. Then you must develop the strategy that I mentioned before. What are we trying to accomplish? What do they want to achieve in Public Relations?
Q: How do you know which story to tell, and when?
[Gary Rosen]: It’s a finesse. One must know what the right story is and when is the right time to tell it. Questions should be who’s our audience? How are we going to reach them?
For example, in a recent story regarding a client and a major donation to a Law School, we were trying to target different audience groups. There’s the legal/trade media audience, that is the Law Journal. That is Lane A. Then you want to reach the entertainment area, trade publications, that could be a Variety or a Deadline which is very big in our business, or a Hollywood Reporter. That’s Lane B. Then there’s the entertainment programs, Entertainment Tonight, Access Hollywood, Extra, that’s Lane. C. Then you have the major national & international news sites such as the New York Times, Wall Street Journal or USA Today. Also, the Associated Press obviously can encompass everything. Everyone’s not always interested in the story that you want to tell so another point is to decide who is best for this story?
We also have to think about whether we release it wide, or whether we want someone to break it exclusively? Sometimes, I consider it a puzzle with a lot of moving pieces. I still operate like a journalist, a strategist and, in some ways an attorney, because I work in legal arenas and on tight deadlines.
Q: How have digital & social technologies transformed public relations?
[Gary Rosen]: Social media has changed a lot of things. The world is 24-7. Everything is so instantaneous. When I was a journalist, you had to always have three sources, or they would not run the story. Now, according to “sources”, not even on-the-record, is good enough. Everyone wants to be first and often that leads to mistakes, retractions, back peddling, and the cycle starts again. It can be from entertainment to politics to news reports or parties gone wild.
It’s a very dangerous way of doing business. It’s here, and it’s here to stay. There are a lot of people who misuse social media and then they pay the price for it. These individuals and groups are hunting for people to make mistakes, take embarrassing videos and show the world. They love it. They love this thrill of finding something on social media. It’s changed the world and not always for the best.
Today to build a brand, you must use social media as part of your platform. One example is Donald Trump, who, in my opinion, put Twitter on the map. No matter what he said, how he said it when he said it, it didn’t matter. The coverage was enormous because he wrote something and hit a button. Whether his new platform will gain any steam is still to be determined, but that was someone who truly ran his empire and his presidency in some fashion through social media. Love him or hate him, it didn’t matter. He was truly a master at it, and he accomplished what he sought. Coverage and lots of it.
Now, for some celebrities who tweet or post certain things on Instagram, it comes back to haunt them. They wish they never did it, or they then apologize for it because they’re not thinking clearly. If in doubt, don’t. Even if you delete it, and many do, it lives on because someone has it and it’s a game of gotcha!
Q: How do you balance being authentic, with being politically correct?
[Gary Rosen]: I think we live in very bizarre times. On the one hand, you can’t say anything anymore. You have to be politically correct. You can’t make jokes. You have to watch every word you’re saying because somebody somewhere is going to be offended, even if you’re a comedian. Then, on the other hand, people reveal their personal lives, sex lives, vacations and every part of their existence on social media. There’s a degree of hypocrisy here, you can’t have it both ways. You have to be protective of your brand… if you go off on a tangent, into left field, it’s very hard to reel it back.
Q: Looking at the specific example of Will Smith’s incident at the 2022 Oscars, how would you deconstruct that event as a communications professional?
[Gary Rosen]: Well, first, that whole saga was so poorly mishandled on every level from the get-go. Except for Chris Rock, who was a gentleman who kept his composure.
It was a live event. Everybody was caught off guard and nobody knew what to do. The Academy mishandled it because they had the opportunity to do the right thing at the time, which was, in my opinion, to remove him the minute that that happened. But because it was Will Smith, they didn’t.
Then, he sat back down, and started screaming expletives and 35 or so minutes later, he gets to accept an Oscar. Bad form. Then on the Academy’s side, every day their story changed. So, they were digging a deeper hole and the mess kept spiralling. If Will Smith was truly sorry, as he said he was in his tearful acceptance speech, (in which he didn’t apologise to Chris Rock) – I would have said, ‘This is really going to blow up big. Skip the Vanity Fair party. Go home.’ That would have shown dignity and contrition, but the complete opposite occurred. He’s there, laughing, dancing with his Oscar as if nothing happened.
I like Will Smith. I think he’s a great actor. Will Smith has built a brand on social, running a business. One of the most successful actors ever. Deserved the Oscar. All of it. That doesn’t excuse his bad behaviour. And that’s why Hollywood is a very strange place at times. Sometimes you just get a free pass.
Q: I saw some interviews you did about this story on television and you seemed quite passionate about it, why?
[Gary Rosen]: That’s true. I wanted to talk about it because it touched on all the elements of true crisis management and I found it fascinating to analyse and dissect it piece by piece. I put myself in the position of what would I do if I was handling each entity–whether it be Will Smith, The Academy or Chris Rock. I believe if you are going to do commentary you have to be able to take a position, communicate it effectively and most importantly, own it. Over the years, producers have often told me that I give good TV. [laughs.]
Q: How would you contrast this with a very serious incident, such as Alec Baldwin’s Rust film set shooting?
[Gary Rosen]:The first thing I do is sit down with the client. As if I was a journalist or an attorney, and I say, tell me honestly what happened First and foremost, I’m always going to protect you and that information is confidential. But in order to know how to proceed, everyone needs to be on the same page and a strategy needs to be developed to determine the best way to handle the given situation. What I won’t do is lie to journalists. Because I tell clients, or potential clients, if you fabricate a story, that’s going to put me in a bad light, which is going to put you in a bad light. If you give reporters misleading or false information, they don’t forget. At times they might forgive- or I make a deal- but they never forget. Do it again and our reputation as a company, which dovetails to your clients, is kaput.
If you look at publicists who put out statements and then a month, two months later, you realize that’s a complete fabrication. The Rust film situation with Alec Baldwin is complicated. There are so many layers, legal issues, multiple people involved, and ongoing investigations.
Another example of a PR crisis was the interview Prince Andrew did with the BBC. I don’t know who the hell was advising him, most likely nobody. It was one of the biggest train wrecks I have ever seen in my life. That one single decision has seemingly destroyed him forever, and now that debacle is being turned into a film.
I’ll give you another example here in the states. Jussie Smollett who was found guilty of five counts of disorderly conduct focusing on staging a hate crime. Are you familiar with that story? He maintains his innocence. He testified under oath that he didn’t do anything wrong. Now that’s up to the public to believe. The jury didn’t. Now he, I hate this expression, because it’s so overused, but I’m going to use it anyway, has now doubled down, tripled down, quadrupled down six times down, that he’s innocent. He’s out on appeal. He recently recorded a song blaming everyone but himself. It got some publicity. He’s done a few interviews. He thinks this is going to help him. Time will tell.
Q: How do you separate the person from the ego, as an advisor?
[Gary Rosen]: One of my clients was going to do an episode of a program on his talk show and I felt very strongly that he should go down a different path. At the time, I spoke to the executive producer, and the person agreed with me.
I went to talk to the host before the show but when I walked in and gave my opinion the host said, ‘the last time I checked the name on the marquee was mine,’ meaning his. I said that’s very true, but I’m here to protect that name on the marquee. He said he disagreed with me about my concern and was going to do it his way. The executive producer who previously agreed with me, before I came to this meeting, flipped because that person wanted to agree with the host as the ‘yes’ person.
So, at the time, I had one of several choices.
1) I could say, ‘OK, you’re right, I’m sorry’
2) Say to the executive producer ‘Wait a minute, what just happened here?’
3) If I just stepped away and said ‘OK, I don’t have to do this at all and could have left it. No harm. No foul.
If initially, I never said anything, no one would ever blame me because I would never have been involved.
This is where I go the extra step.
If I convinced him to change his mind and I was wrong, I’d be out as fast as a TKO in the first round. It would be that quick. Or he could just go about doing it his way. So, we had a bit of an exchange about the pros and cons. What I ended up doing was, I gave an evil eye to the EP, walked past that person and right to the host, and said “I am advising you to listen to me. I think it’s the only way to go where you maintain your reputation. It is your name on the marquee. Do as you wish” and I walked out. He ended up listening to my advice and it worked out to his benefit. There were no issues afterwards. No repercussions. So, sometimes you must have the courage to do what you believe is the right thing.
It wasn’t about me; it was about him. Now, would most people have done that? Absolutely not. They would have accepted the status quo, and not gotten involved. That doesn’t mean I’m always right, but if I take a stand, at least I can challenge you and we can discuss it and have a civilized debate.
Q: What would be your message to the world, from what you are seeing around you right now?
[Gary Rosen]: I witnessed two unfortunate incidents in the last 48 hours here in Los Angeles and I said, ‘what is going on in this city.’ We are living in scary times on so many levels. I’m talking about people just lashing out. I’m talking about crime. I’m talking about people who say ‘well, it’s Covid’, everyone will blame someone else never themselves. This person robbed this person and the excuse for their actions was that they had a rough childhood. Get over it. I came from very humble beginnings without a father. My mother worked seven days a week to support us. She didn’t have a college education. She virtually had no savings. There were health issues. I could go through the whole litany, but others were far worse off. We just dealt with it the best way we knew how, and my mother taught me a work ethic, right from wrong, chivalry and the value of a dollar.
I’m disappointed in us as a country right now. I really am but I know if we all work together and listen and remember there are two sides to a story, not just the side you want to hear, greatness can return. But nothing comes easy. Just like any successful career whether it be journalism, public relations, medicine, law, or business, you name it, it takes hard work and perseverance. A little luck doesn’t hurt either. I am blessed and grateful for every day.