Andrea Smith Public Relations
- How did you get started in PR?
Back in the 1980s, I was working at MTV: Music Television in the law department with an aim to get transferred to production as I had previously worked as a TV producer for three years. The Public Relations department was next door to me and publicists were always dropping by with press releases for me to approve. I got to know them and then one day I sort of “saved the day” by camping out for 5+ hours at City Hall to secure a legal permit critical to the success of an MTV event. The head of PR was impressed by my dedication and offered me a job to be his assistant for six months and after that he promised to promote me to junior publicist. I accepted the offer and took to PR like a duck to water. I worked at MTV until 1998 – almost 14 years. Most of that time I was manager of publicity focusing on MTV Animation and MTV News programming. For those who think Beavis & Butt-Head are the downfall of western civilization, I take part of the credit for that – and proudly.
- How did you find yourself where you are now?
After MTV I had an exciting adventure working in the Internet sector for three years to help launch a community website (a precursor to Facebook) that had the biggest first day gain in the history of Wall Street. I publicized all activities related to the company and it was, to put it mildly, insane. Everyone in the epicenter of the bubble kind of knew this first foray into the Internet would be a bit shaky as we were trying to reinvent the rules and there was a lot of creativity but also a lot of unrealistic “forward thinking” going on. In August 2011, we crashed and there I was at one of those legendary “pink slip” parties at the John Street Bar near Wall Street.
About a month later, on September 11, 2001, I watched the first tower coming down from 3 blocks away and didn’t work much for a while. In January 2002, Aperture Foundation ran an ad in the New York Times that they were looking for a publicist. For a lark (I didn’t think they’d hire someone who wasn’t an art history major) I interviewed for the job and surprisingly got it. They hired the “MTV Publicist!” I worked at Aperture for 9 years and had the opportunity to collaborate with some of the world’s greatest photographers. It was humbling and amazing. The experience at Aperture changed the way I look at pictures and the world. I literally tore off everything on the walls in my apartment and replaced it with photographs by Aperture photographers. I left Aperture in 2011 to start my own business – Andrea Smith Public Relations – and I’m happy to say my business has grown year over year.
- What do you specialize in?
Photography – from fine art to photojournalism and everything in between. My focus is publicizing photo books and related exhibitions and programming.
- What are you currently working on?
This year I am closing in on 30 titles! I work on all of Daylight’s books (6 spring/8 fall books in 2017) who have a very diverse list which makes it a great deal of fun. I recently started working on a series of photo books about LGBTQ communities around the world published by The New Press. Other projects include The Outsider by Elizabeth Heyert, Cloud Chamber by Dan Ziskie, Walden by S.B. Walker, Frozen in Time by Sarah C. Butler, Through Darkness to Light: Photographs Along The Underground Railroad by Jeanine Michna-Bales, Expired by Kerry Mansfield, LA NY: Aerial Photographs of Los Angeles and New York by Jeffrey Milstein, I See A City: Todd Webb’s New York by Sean Corcoran and Daniel Okrent and Architecture of an Existential Threat by Adam Reynolds.
- What is a recent success you're particularly proud of?
I’m proud of all my projects from the most challenging to those that for various reasons are easier. I wouldn’t want to single anything out.
- What is most important in your work?
Integrity and a strong work ethic. I try to be honest with my clients and I believe I always pull out all the stops for them. The most important thing is to do everything I can to secure positive media coverage and sometimes that takes a while. Other times it comes fast. The key is to persevere.
- How would you say the media landscape in your field has changed since you started in PR?
It has changed dramatically. We can blame or applaud the Internet for this. If I recall correctly, when the commercial Web launched in the late 1990s the only content you had to pay for was in the Wall Street Journal. When I first started working at MTV it was all print (and broadcast) all the time. My fingers were always black from clipping articles from newspapers.
During my early years at Aperture things were starting to shift but you could still count on plenty of print pieces and the magazines generally paid decent money to publish the photographs. One year I almost raised my entire salary on a first serial rights deal with a woman’s magazine.
Then, as more and more of the coverage moved online, very few editors had the budget to pay anything because content on the Internet was free and advertising couldn’t make up the difference. On the upside, the possibilities are endless and this can mean great exposure for artists. For every print magazine that goes under, there is another blog or website popping up. What’s most important to me is that I have great content to promote. Then I will find a place for it.
- Where are your favorite places for business meetings or drinks with writers/clients?
Honestly, my home office in Brooklyn where my husband I both work on opposites sides of the apartment is my favorite place. I think people like coming here because its homey, quiet, there is a lot of space to spread out in, and my husband and I have good stuff on the walls to look at. If my clients don’t come here, I generally meet them at the Coffee Shop’s back room on Union Square, the Soda bar on Vanderbilt, or a place of their choice.
- PR/Communications can be fast-paced and stressful, what is your favorite way of relaxing?
Reading fiction, going to the gym, cooking, watching Netflix with my husband.
What are you reading these days?
Just finished Vinegar Girl by Ann Tyler which is based on Shakespeare’s Taming of the Shrew. It’s a perfect summer read. I’m now reading Ian McEwan’s Nutshell which is inspired by Hamlet. There is a pattern here. I love the Bard.
- What are you listening on repeat these days?
I used to live for music from rock n’ roll to classical and danced around my living room every night to my favorite tunes. Now, partly because I work from home, I don’t listen to music much anymore, sadly. I listen to the sounds of the chirping birds, the purring of our “PR Cat,” the drone of CNN (until I get depressed and shut it off) and during the summer the hum of the air conditioner. And there’s always the bad house music at my gym.
- What is the next art show you're the most looking forward in the next months?
It would be a tie between David Hockney at the MET, Stephen Shore at MoMA, and my husband, Stephen Shames’ retrospective opening at the Maison de la Photographie Robert Doisneau outside of Paris in October.