Meet Siri Garber, founder and president of Platform PR, a full service public relations firm that specializes in representing celebrity clients.
From a Teen Vogue cover shoot, to a press junket to promote the launch of a new movie, to the interviews you read on Pur Opulence, celebrities interaction with press and media is carefully strategized and coordinated by publicists. It's Siri's job to make sure her clients stay relevant with the help of good publicity and media appearances. Operating her business out of offices made from converted garage space attached to her house, her company, Platform PR has grown over the past 21 years to become a major player in the entertainment industry. With clients ranging from A-listers to young up-and-coming breakout stars, Siri has built an impressive roster that rivals many of the industry's corporate firms.
Without any formal media or communications training or background, Siri has made a name for herself in an industry that's notorious for its exclusivity.
I chatted with Siri about everything from how PR is changing with the rise of digital media, to getting 600 emails a day, and how she started a successful PR firm without any industry experience.
THIS INTERVIEW HAS BEEN EDITED AND CONDENSED FOR BREVITY AND CLARITY.
When did you start Platform PR?
“When I started Platform in January 1998, there were really no boutique firms. I had the choice of working at one of five big firms and I interviewed at a few of them and thought they were too corporate and a little bit stuffy and boring. I had just come out of the political world and that’s not what I wanted to do. I wanted to be able to do PR, but do it more creatively and I didn’t vibe with any of the companies that I met with. I had money saved up from college that I wasn’t sure what I was going to do with and I decided I was going to start my own company. Most of the people that I interviewed with, a couple of the big firms offered my jobs and I went back and said, “I think I’m gonna do something on my own,” and they all said I would fail. One was really nasty and said, “You’ll be out of business in 6 months.” There really were no boutique firms and now there’s a million, now that’s the way of the world and everyone’s leaving and starting their own company now. It was such a different world back then, but we did it and I’m still here 21 years later. I didn’t take their words of cynicism and just did it anyway.”
HOW DID YOU GET YOUR FIRST CLIENTS given that you didn’t have the leverage of being with a big firm?
“The way I got my first clients, I was working at a political think tank called The Center for the Study of Popular Culture, and I worked for this author named David Horowitz. He was a very right-wing Republican and he brought me in because he wanted to start a bi-partisan organization called Wednesday Morning Club. We were bringing members of a political community and members of the Silicon Valley world, and the Internet was kind of just starting then, and he wanted to merge entertainment, Silicon Valley, and the political world into an organization that met monthly and on Wednesday morning, we would do an event. We would have speakers come in from all 3 of those different worlds and speak to members of the entertainment community about different issues. It could’ve been anything from, ‘Is the Internet going to take over?’, ‘Is print going to go away?’, and then even things like ‘censorship’, there were all kinds of different topics. We did a big conference at Disney that I helped to produce, and we had all these different people on panels, and then following that, we did a charity golf tournament to raise money for underprivileged kids that was out at La Costa resort, and I booked all of the celebrities to play in the golf tournament. When we were out at La Costa I had a group of 6 actors that I was there for 4 or 5 days with, and we had different events and activities, and I handled them for the whole week. One of them said to me, “You should be a publicist. If you started a PR firm, I’d be your client.” I laughed it off, but when I got home, I realized it was so much fun and I really enjoyed working with talent. I opened up the phone book and figured out how to do a DBA, I came up with a name for my company, pulled my money out of the bank, got my DBA, rented an office in Century City, and I literally just started my company. I called 5 of the actors that golfed in that tournament and said, “Hey, remember how you said you’d be my client? Well, I started a PR firm.” They all came on as my clients. And that’s how I got my first 5 clients!”
It seems like you essentially had to teach yourself how to work in this industry. There are a lot of unspoken customs and practices that are hard to know unless you’re in the industry... how did you navigate that?
“Everything I learned about this business was trial by fire, really. I just started doing it and I think I bought a couple books on how to write a press release, and terminology, and stuff like that. If you’re a quick thinker, it’s not that hard to figure it out. We all use an online database that has all the outlets in it, and back then, it was books, it wasn’t even online yet, think it was 10 huge books that were really thick and you just had to flip through to find the editor for a certain magazine and their contact information. There wasn’t even a lot of email going on then, it was literally snail mail. I made up marketing materials for my clients and we made up press kits, and you actually sent press kits via mail to the magazines and editors to try to get them interested in your client. Because I was new, I wanted to send out something that would catch their attention because they were getting hundreds of packages a day, so I used these mylar static-shielding bags, and I had custom stickers made, I put stickers, candy, Whoopie cushions, and sea monkey kits inside the press kits with the press materials, and all of the press materials were in color, whereas most of the press kits that I saw at any other PR firm was just one of those folders with a business card and crappy looking black and white xeroxes with a headshot. They were really sad. I came from more of an art background and I wanted what I sent out to be much more visual, and literally the first round of press kits I sent out, Ingrid Sischy had taken over Interview Magazine after Andy Warhol died, she called me, and I literally remember almost falling out of my chair. She said, “That is literally the coolest press kit I have ever seen in the history of my time in this business.” That’s what clued me in that this approach worked.”
And you found that doing things differently worked in your favor and not having that traditional PR Background where you had to follow the rules worked out for you.
“Exactly. And I didn’t listen to what anyone said. But I was spending so much money on the toys and things that I was putting inside the press kits, so I actually reached out to Sea Monkeys to see if I could get a wholesale price to buy the little Sea Monkey growing kits, and through doing that I realized that they don’t have a publicist. I sent a letter to one of the executives and asked if they had anyone dong their PR, and it wound up getting me a meeting with them. I drove out to the City of Commerce and did a presentation, and they became my first corporate client. I don’t really do it anymore, but I was [representing] some brands back then, and I literally brought Sea Monkeys back into being cool got them back on the market and got them into Urban Outfitters and got them placed on teen shows, and all of a sudden, stores started carrying them again and they became hip and cool. Then I started representing a line of makeup called Velvet Goldmine and it went along with the film [of the same name]. The makeup line was created by Todd Haynes brother, Shawn Haynes who created it to go along with the movie because it was about glam rock. That was my second corporate client and we got them in Nordstrom, Urban Outfitters, etc. Then I represented a clothing line called Mighty Fine, and they did a lot of licensing deals later on with Hello Kitty, and various characters. They were all teen oriented products and I had a lot of young talent who were on some of the hottest shows. Wilmer Valderrama from That ‘70s Show was one of my first clients, and then I was also working with some restaurants and nightclubs at the time, too. That’s what kind of started the whole thing - my press kits.”
DO YOU FEEL THAT AS A BOUTIQUE FIRM, YOU OFFER A MORE PERSONAL TOUCH OR FOCUSED APPROACH TO YOUR CLIENTS?
“Absolutely. I always joke that we give too much attention to our clients. The only time I’m not responding to email is during the 6 hours I’m sleeping. It’s constant. We’re always available for our clients, they get so much more personal attention - I’ve had clients come here who have been at big firms and say that the difference is night and day. That, or they’ve been with me for a while and they decide they’re going to go to a big firm to see if they’re gonna get anything more and then they come back and say that their publicist never responded to them, or didn’t return their calls or saw them. I’m happy to admit that we spoil our clients. It’s definitely something significant with clients that come to us that they get 100x more attention than they would not being an A-List star at a big firm. When you’re a newer, younger talent who’s trying to break out, you can get lost in the sea of people.”
What does a typical day look like for you?
“I’m up at about 6:30AM every morning, and I try to do a little workout in my house and clean my house because my office is based in the garage behind my house, we converted it into office space. I have to clean everything because people come in and out of the house all day. I clean and get the house ready, and then my daughter gets up, I make her breakfast, and then I pack her lunch and get her ready for school, finish cleaning, and take care of my dogs. I try to be in the office by 8:30AM every morning, and then it’s immediate responding to emails and pitching. I don’t even know how many emails I get a day. 500? 600? I don’t know. Pitching, and booking, and coordinating, and setting up photoshoots. Taking meetings for new business and having lunches. Sometimes we have events in the evening. My daughter is usually home around 6 from school and her after-school activities, and then it’s making dinner for her, doing homework with her, hanging out with her for a bit until she goes to bed, and then I go back to returning emails or phone calls after she goes to bed. Then I’m asleep by midnight if I‘m lucky.”
What tools do you use to stay organized?
“I think… my staff. My Google Calendar. My memory. There’s a lot that you need to remember because there are so many moving pieces to everything that you do in PR. In you’re producing a shoot… we produce a lot of photoshoots, which didn’t use to happen back in the day, but now, most of the digital publications don’t have budgets, so everything’s credit only and if we want our clients to be featured, we have to get hair & makeup styling, come up with a mood board, and find a location. We spend a lot of time in the week on that, sometimes we’re producing 5 or 6 photoshoots in a week on top of booking press, taking meetings, covering shoots, covering any appearances, and then being at red carpets and premieres.”
YOU’VE BEEN DOING THIS FOR 21 YEARS NOW, HOW HAS PR CHANGED OVER THE COURSE OF THE YEARS WITH THE INTERNET AND SOCIAL MEDIA?
“It’s such a different world. The Internet and social media have completely changed the face of our industry. Print magazines are going away right now, sadly. There aren’t a lot of print magazines left. Newsstands are closing. 10 years ago, there was a newsstand on every corner, chock-full of magazines, you could go once a month and find new magazines, we always had to stay up-to-date with new ones coming out, and who was popular and who was on the covers. Now, every day we’re getting emails saying Glamour Magazine is no longer in print, or Teen Vogue is now digital, Nylon [Magazine] has gone digital. There’s good and bad sides to it, and I want to say that the good part is that when there used to be 12 print issues of a magazine a year, it really limited who was chosen for covers because it had to be A-List film stars. Now, if magazine is doing digital covers, they’re doing 24 covers, so it opens up the market to people who might not be as famous or as big. Then there’s the social media side to it, where, for a lot of the digital covers, when you pitch a great new actor who might be a lead in a film or a TV show, but they only have 100k followers on Instagram, some of the publications have criteria like 500k or 1 million followers or more for a cover. There’s so many different criteria now that come with who you’re pitching and who’s going to respond. It can’t just be that they’re a great actor with a great project, that used to be all that mattered, and now, it’s a great project, and what are their social media stats, which is a little bit weird, but that’s the way the world is now. And there are no budgets anymore either. Back in the day, when you booked a [magazine] shoot, they would send crews, they would pick your client up, there would be full catering… it’s very rare now. Most of the photoshoots, the talent has to get there on their own, if we want lunch, we have to buy it ourselves, and we produce the photoshoot. It’s still great, it’s just a totally different landscape that it was 10 years ago.”
What big projects are some of your clients working on that you're excited about?
“Our client Lakeith Stanfield just finished shooting a movie called Knives Out. It has Rian Johnson directing it, he just did Star Wars, and I think it’s gonna be really good. My client Danielle Macdonald who is the lead in Dumplin’ right now, it’s on Netflix… she has a movie called Skin with Jamie Bell that was at Toronto [International Film Festival]. I think it’ll be out in the Summer, it’s going to be amazing, the short film version of her feature was nominated for an Oscar and she’s the lead in it [Ed’s Note: Won]. Also, our client Shameik Moore, who is the voice of Miles Morales in Spiderman Into The Spider-Verse, it was nominated for Best Animated Feature [Ed’s Note: Won]. But I would say that all of our clients are working on great projects and we’re excited for all of them.”