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Oct 15, 2018

Publicity & Impact at Netflix

Go to any cocktail party and you are inevitably going to be asked what you do. However, as a publicist, I find I’m often asked this follow-up: “Yes, but what do you do?” It’s a question that could easily devolve into an existential crisis (Is my job really just haggling over glam budgets?!) if not for the frequency of the inquiry and the opportunity to dispel common myths about PR (broadly) and more specifically about PR at Netflix. Myths like thinking PR is the same as marketing, that publicists control what journalists write, or more recently since joining Netflix, that being on the PR team is akin to signing up for the Hunger Games. Spoiler alert… it’s not. From a macro level, the opportunity with publicity is to to create impact and connections through strong storytelling; publicity at Netflix is a challenge to turn that connection into joy. But before I dig further into the utility of PR, a bit of background on how I got to where I am today. It took me some time to realize the true impact of publicity — and the ability to transform moments of recognition to moments of joy

I left college with a degree in saxophone and music education, with a clear path to becoming a band director, so there was absolutely no thought given to the whole publicist versus marketer debate. That would come later after I survived a year of student teaching with a profoundly deeper appreciation for educators, but only to realize I didn’t care much for kids. I quickly needed to come up with a new plan and thankfully had a good friend who evaluated my strengths and love of content (films, TV, comic books, video games, etc) and pointed me to entertainment publicity. It takes a certain amount of grit and patience to get a foot in the door for most jobs, especially when you’re trying to get into PR without a communications background or the ability to claim course credit for an internship. Nevertheless, months of LinkedIn networking yielded my first PR internship and a first taste at creating impact through publicity.

I was fortunate to work at an agency early on in my career. Agency work forces you to be nimble, typically allows for more diversity in the work and the opportunity to punch above your title. Admittedly, a big priority in agency work is pleasing the client and that isn’t always aligned with the broader campaign goals. The way that I think about impact and success in public relations has evolved as I have changed companies and gained experience from working on an array of projects… everything from a Holiday Fire DVD and a reality series featuring Sheriff Joe Arpaio to YouTube originals, syndicated daytime series and Emmy-Award winners “RuPaul’s Drag Race” and “Queer Eye.”

The publicity team at Netflix spends a lot of time thinking about impact. We don’t quantify it in terms of counting coverage breaks or dubious impressions. Instead we ask ourselves how can we create consumer joy and get fans to organically buzz about our content. That work is done in collaboration with our cross-functional partners in marketing, social and product who all take an “earn before you buy” approach. It’s one of our core values - engage fans organically and creatively and you’re far more likely to earn their time than by serving them ads. We look at impact also in terms of the share of voice and the quality and depth of the coverage. For me, success is a single, well-placed feature that tells the full story versus a dozen outlets that simply regurgitate lines from a press release (we actually don’t do many traditional press releases for this very reason).

So, what does it look like to “create a moment of joy?” I joined the Netflix publicity team in December 2017 and jumped onto “Queer Eye” almost immediately. We knew we had something special, but it was tough getting press to pay attention prior to launch. A couple of weeks post-debut, it was clear fans couldn’t get enough of the new Fab Five in looking at social engagement alone. We immediately began thinking about ways to fuel that fire and pulled our resources to create a Netflix Nerds Makeover asset. It gave fans more Fab Five and also generated dozens of headlines, broadening the show’s reach and helping to further build audience. We intentionally did a fast follow for the series’ second season to launch in June for LGBT Pride Month and decided to recreate the show’s opening theme song with pop artist Betty Who. The surprise drop of the remixed song and accompanying music video gave us a massive boost going into our premiere. Also, fan response to the first season showed us that there was an appetite well beyond the available eight episodes. So we brought the Fab Five to the town of Yass, Australia to offer a makeover of a hard-working local farmer. Again, we were able to deliver a moment of joy to fans and give them something to buzz about that likely could not have been achieved through paid media alone. Not every creative swing will be a home run, but the goal here is to learn from each hit and miss to improve our average.

There are exciting challenges ahead for Netflix as a global company and for publicity as a discipline. Thankfully, I’ve had the benefit of working with some of the most strategic and creative minds in entertainment through agency life and now in-house. Netflix can absolutely be a challenging place to work given the size of our mission (entertaining the globe) and the extraordinary culture which requires you to be highly capable, collaborative and a creative thinker. It’s not the Hunger Games -- we are a team and in my 11 months on the job, I’ve felt the support of the folks around me every step of the way as we work towards our common goals.

So that is what I do! Whether it’s at a cocktail party or here on LinkedIn, I want to hear what impact looks like for you.

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