Interview with New York City Publicist and Writer Stephanie Schroeder about Publicity Tips for Creative-types, Artists and Independent Business Owners, and about Flourishing with Bipolar Disorder

I met Stephanie through “House Swapping”. She stayed at my sister’s flat in London while my sister stayed at her apartment in Brooklyn. I got the chance to meet Stephanie when I spent the summer subletting an apartment in NY last year.

What’s in the interview
1. The first part of the interview is about the publicity biz. I asked Stephanie to share her best publicity tips for artists and independent business owners. She’s included DIY tips for people who can’t afford to hire a publicist, and tips about how to work with a publicist for people who are on their way to becoming bigger fish.

2. The second part of the interview is about psychology. Stephanie has had some steep challenges to overcome in this area. She works in two competitive industries (publicity and journalism) in the most competitive, intense and fast-paced city in the world. She also has bipolar disorder. These days she’s flourishing both personally and professionally. She shares what she did to get to a good place psychologically, and the psychological self care strategies she uses to stay there.

I’ve labeled the two sections so you can read whichever half of the interview you’re interested in.

Stephanie’s Work and Publicity Tips for Artists and Independent Business Owners

1. Alice: Can you tell the readers what you do for work?

Stephanie: I run a small publicity and artist management shop, Pushy Broads Consulting LLC. Small meaning it’s me and my clients and maybe a freelancer here and there. I say it’s me and my clients because part of my business is helping to empower artists and indie business owners in their own marketing and PR. It’s a constant and evolving relationship with each other and with the industry and press. When someone hires me of course it’s mainly because they have run out of energy doing both their creative art or running their own small business AND doing their own PR on top of that.

I’m also a working journalist and have been on the staff side of editorial and now freelancing for the past decade. I an a kind of old-fashioned reporter in that I actually do my “homework: before interviewing a personality or a regular Joe/Jane. And not just on Wikipedia, which is often full of bad information. I’m a big believer in being fair and accurate and following up when something is not clear. I always ask my interview subject whether I may reserve the right to follow up with them, to pick up the phone and call or email them with additional questions. It makes for a satisfied interview subject and I also feel confident about my work—that I’ve done the best and fairest job possible.

2. Alice: What’s most important for artists and indie business owners to know about the publicity business?

Stephanie: Here are a few guidelines that I tell potential clients, sometimes even before meeting them, just so expectations are managed.

• Publicity is NOT a one-size-fits all or “just add water” and stir enterprise. As a client, you need
collaborate and put in time on your own campaign.

• Publicity is an art, not a science, but it is also not brain surgery. Brainstorming between client and publicist on a regular basis helps increase the effectiveness of a publicity program.

• PR vs. Advertising. Perhaps with publicity you do not see an instant result of ink on a page as with advertising. Perhaps you will. Public relations does not compete with advertising, it lives in a totally different realm where media coverage serves as a 3rd party endorsement of you, your art, your service or product and acts as a building block for more media attention. Publicity begets publicity

3. Alice: Can you talk about what artists and indie business owners can do for themselves to garner media attention?

Stephanie: With all the social and new media around, generating a buzz is fairly simple, it’s maintaining and raising your profile that is the hard part and usually when people seek me out it’s because they simply cannot handle it on their own any longer. Artists and indie business owners can use Facebook and Twitter as tools for guerrilla PR, along with something like starting a blog or having an interactive and fully functional website. Calling the media with news–when it’s appropriate–and hitting on the right beat report is key. Also, using listings, especially for performers, is of utmost import.

I would say that for performers to get a list of outlets that list weekly events and then send out a who, what, where, when to that list each time they have a show is really important. It takes time to build those kinds of lists—I can do it in a few hours b/c I have access to media databases and such that are subscription-based, but people doing their own PR can also do research on the Web.

Small/indie businesses have to work slightly harder than individuals in the entertainment industry, though my theater clients would likely disagree. Solopreneurs in retail or commercial ventures, or working in a professional capacity often have to get a bit more creative and find really interesting and unique hooks and angles for the media to pay attention. Again that’s where I usually step in because it becomes, at some point, impossible to dedicate oneself fully to a business endeavor AND run the publicity gamut.

Writing and distributing press release over smaller, less expensive wires is good, but then again most reporters and reviewers get thousands of press release emailed and faxed to them every day. A different way to do it is sending shorter versions of a press release, a Media Alert, to targeted journalist. This works really well I’ve found. Put MEDIA ALERT: and then a catchy subject in the subject line and reporters are more likely to look –and respond.

Stunts work, sometimes, but are a big effort and are just stunts after all. Sales are good, listings, again are good in different arenas. The social media networks are great, too. Maybe LinkedIn and other business-oriented tools are more suited for more business-y clients. But really, every solopreneur should have a personal AND professional Facebook page AND be on Twitter and committed to Tweeting regularly. This stuff is not going away—it’s only growing, and daily. So it’s better to get on board now, which is in the middle of the game, than miss out completely.

4. Alice: If people are going to invest in publicity services, what’s the best thing for them to invest in?

Stephanie: The best thing to invest in when they hire me is using my quirky, intelligent creativity to come up with an appropriate PR campaign and fun, funky avenues to reach the media. Doing journalism myself, I know what makes a good story and I will make a good story for every client and pitch that story to the press. Not every (in fact most often not many) journalist will be interested in your story, but hitting on the few that are is the measure for success of a program and the hallmark of a good publicist. Which I also caveat with the fact that sometimes absolutely nothing can happen for months simply because reporters and such are SO busy with the shrinking budgets and publications –even online outlets, etc.—they cannot focus on the fun or interesting or quirky stories and are permitted only to write about what, to their editors’ and publishers’ minds, HAS to be published.

Also, coming into a publicity situation, a creative or independent type (or anyone seeking publicity) has to understand there is a certain “ramp up” period, a timeframe in which we are getting to know each other and I am finding out their story and figuring out different angles with which to approach the media and how best to go about it.

5. Alice: What price ranges should people expect to pay for publicity services?

Stephanie: I like to work on a monthly retainer basis, though I do work on a project basis as well. The going rate in NYC is $2000/month and that is on the low end–I hover very close to that, but on the low end. The less I have to do, the less I have to charge—so if someone comes to me with their PR “stuff” in total order, it may be less. However, when someone comes and wants me to create a campaign out of complete chaos, the price is going to be much higher.

6. Alice: What’s your advice for getting the best outcomes when working with a publicist for the first time?

Setting realistic expectations is key! PR is never a sure bet, it’s really a crap shoot after all. But, the chances of publicity a campaign succeeding (whatever success means to each individual, and that also needs to be spelled out at the get-go) and working to a client’s advantage is how creative they are willing to let me (and them) be. There is so much noise in the media –and the traditional print media is shrinking anyhow–I have to cut through the noise of 1000+ press releases sent by other publicists to every journalist every day. So, to do that, I’ve always got a new angle or a different style. I’m pretty quirky as you can imagine form the name of my company and I play on that type of quirkiness to garner attention for my clients as well as for myself.

Psychological Questions

7. Alice: You work in two competitive industries (publicity and journalism) in the most competitive, intense and fast paced city in the world. What psychological self care do you do regularly?

Stephanie: The most important thing for me as an individual—well there are two things: having a team (friends, colleagues, professionals, vendors, etc.) surrounding me who I can count on no matter what. That and having enough time alone—both just to meditate or just clear my head and to write. I write tons of stuff for other people both press stuff and magazine and newspaper articles, but I also am a published writer in my own right and need time to myself to work on my craft. So I need alone time to write and on the weekends, or a day where I am working at home all day and don’t have meetings in Manhattan or whatever, I like to take a walk in the park or even just down the block or whatever. In any case I NEED Stephanie time to deal with everything else.

8. Alice: What psychological self care do you do for an additional boost e.g., when you experience a disappointment, something goes wrong, or you’re going through a tough time?

Stephanie: Sometimes I just go to sleep knowing I’ll have a different perspective in the morning after a good rest. Often I think, when I get really stressed out, “What is the worst case scenario?” and when I think about it, there really is none, it’s just not that bad. I mean truly, I don’t get a client I really wanted to represent, or an article I am working on is not going to be finished on deadline. I don’t want to make my life more chaotic, but if I am working on an piece of writing and I simply don’t think it’s good enough at deadline, I will ask for an extension –from my editor if I am writing for a specific publication or myself if it is work on my book or other personal stuff. Or even if I’m busted financially because clients aren’t paying their bills on time or something and I need some groceries , I will reach out to the aforementioned team of friends and colleagues—my support network—to get through.

My therapist says on those occasions to look at it in reverse: “What is the best case scenario?” and then strive for it. Perhaps…but I am not there yet.

One thing I DO NOT do is beat myself up. That does nothing but breed negativity and insecurity. I am not insecure and don’t plan on becoming so…I take a lot of things in stride an roll with the punches, you’ve got to in these businesses I’m in and with the stuff I have to deal with personally. Also, business is business and really, one cannot take business decisions personally. It seems most men get that, but women often don’t. It’s something I try to spread the word about, not much is personal—whether business or not. It’s psychological crap emitting form the other person or people and rarely a reflection of whether you are a good person or good at what you do or whatever. It’s other people’s insecurities and cowardess that breeds that negativity.

9. Alice: My experiences of you are that you’re brave and confident. Do you have times of self doubt? What do you do to overcome it?

Stephanie: I’ve been through hell and come back, so yes, I think I am brave and confident and even sometimes a bit puffed up about things (and conversely a bit unforgiving towards others’ foibles). But, then I’ve been on the brink of suicide during three times I’ve been struggling with mental health issues. And, really, after that, there is nothing me to be afraid of.

10. Alice: You’re open about having bipolar disorder. What’ve been the most helpful elements of the treatments you’ve participated in?

Stephanie: Yeah, I’m all about being open about my mental illness. I want to educate individuals and society as a whole about it and remove the incredible stigma attached. There is so much ignorance about mental illness—and it’s 2009!

Elements that are particularly helpful, well, regular sleep, exercise and a healthy diet is paramount. For everyone, of course, but especially for anyone with a mood disorder. Then there is my “Team” – those who I can turn to for support no matter what: my current therapist for sure, who has in the past three years help me turn my life around by showing me that there are always options and I never have to be stuck in any situation (especially an abusive one) I don’t want to be in. She gives me these affirmations from time to time and really I think they are bullshit, very “The Secret’-like, but on the occasion that I get into a pattern of negative thought or just feeling blue, I do use affirmation-type stuff to pull me out of it.

My girlfriend is very supportive –and not afraid of my illness, which is great. And my sister—I talk to her every morning, just to check in. This has been going on for four years and it’s very helpful just to have someone to check in with, even if only for a minute or two and vent or relay what is going on or just say hello and know someone is there for me.

And then there is my pharmaceutical cocktail—that is what REALLY keeps me sane on the chemical level.

11. Alice: What advice do you have for other people with bipolar disorder who are trying to let their light shine and pursue their dreams, but are also managing their disorder?

Stephanie: Pace yourself and accept your limitations, but don’t force limitations that are not there. Society puts a fence around people—in every arena. You have to be this or that, you can or cannot do this or that because, blah blah blah….fill in the blank. Don’t listen to it. And, really, you cannot care what others people think. Who cares what they think? Many people are very pretty and angry, stuck in their own little boxes and resentful they cannot get out—or don’t want to. So they are all about maintaining appearances so as not to look foolish or…whatever it is they don’t want to look (which is usually what they really are). It’s not appearances that matter, it’s substance and anyone who cares about you or wants to really know you and accept you and your work will be impressed that you dance to your own tune. Again it’s total bullshit all this stuff about “shoulds”. I am not a rules person. I am not a criminal by any stretch, but I am not into following the script of society to obtain the so-called American dream, which doesn’t exist in any case—and I am glad of that!

12. Alice: What advice do you have for family, friends, and girlfriends/boyfriends of people with bipolar disorder?

Stephanie: That’s a hard one. I wasn’t diagnosed until I was 37 and I’m now almost 46. So I went most of my life thus far not knowing why I was depressed or angry or whatever. I also have Tourette Syndrome and was already on some medication –in low doses– that is the same treatment for bipolar disorder, so it kind of kept a lid on the BP for a while. But when it exploded, everyone in my life well, first, we all finally understood my past behaviour, but then they all wanted to micromanage me. Especially having attempted suicide, I was always the “sick” person in any sort of relationship, intimate or not and everyone was walking on eggshells.

For family and friends, keep an eye, but don’t overstep, snoop or invade privacy. Check in, but don’t smother. And mostly don’t assume every little change in mood means something major. Shit, everyone gets the blues and it’s okay to. Look at the world we live in. If ya didn’t get depressed or down sometimes, you’ wouldn’t be human. But, for partners especially, of a mentally ill person, be supportive. You’re not going to be trusted if you don’t give —and give willingly and without judgment. And if there isn’t trust, then there really isn’t a true relationship. And, don’t ask if they’ve taken their medication!

I’ve finally thrown off the mantle of being sick or BEING bipolar. Of course I have bipolar disorder, but I am not the disorder itself. I am mentally ill, but I also have asthma and am not defined by either of those illnesses or by any other single trait, characteristic or whatever.

13. Alice: What are your main sources of positive emotions?

Stephanie: It varies from day to day week to week. I’m happy, which I never thought I could be. That was the depression talking for 40 years, not me. I like my life and my work, I’m proud I run my own business and that I publish good and interesting journalism regularly. I’m pretty frenetic when I work, but calm and serene appeal to me. I like to meditate—in my own way—and do yoga or some sort of other calming exercise or practice. Breathing well is good for me on so many levels. A BodyTalk practitioner recently told me that depressed people usually don’t know how to breathe in properly, which means they don’t breathe in joy and life and life-sustaining emotions or life-sustaining anything. And I’ve reflected on that and found that it’s pretty true. I also write about health and wellness, calm and serenity –I usually try some sort of treatment and then write about it, which exposes me to new and different ways of being. Often I incorporate into my life and sometimes not, but it’s always exciting finding out about different ways people take care of themselves.

I like to travel and do it affordably by houseswapping. It’s a great way to travel as inexpensively as possible and have the chance to experience a new place, culture and people like a local. That brings me a lot of joy—and looking forward to a planned home exchange keeps me going for the months preceding it.

I like to be up early, to work in the dark stillness and then see the sunrise. I take a photo of the sunrise every morning, just to compare it day to day and to record that I’ve actually lived to see the sun rise again!

14. Alice: You’re writing a memoir that’s getting some buzz already. Any scoop? Anything you can say about it yet?

Stephanie: Well, the title is “Beautiful Wreck: Sex, Lies and Suicide.” If that doesn’t pique some interest, you’ve gotta be half-dead.

But really, I just got the domain and am working with a designer to put up some interesting stuff including, perhaps, some excerpts. An agent is reading it. Ive received several agent rejections, but this one seems more interested than not. A filmmaker and a film producer are reading it both as a favor and I suppose if they are interested in it as a property then that would be wonderful.

This interview skims over a lot of the content of the book, I suppose, but I’ll also give ya my elevator pitch:
In Beautiful Wreck: Sex, Lies & Suicide, I chronicle 20 years of misadventures as a transplanted Midwestern lesbian with undiagnosed Tourette Syndrome and bipolar disease in turn-of-the-millennium New York City. I detail the psychiatric underworld—first as a staffer at a homeless shelter on Ward’s Island working with mentally ill men—and years later as a patient on a locked ward at Jersey City Medical Center. The fifteen-plus years in between are the substance of my book, a raw account of my life both marred and informed by mental illness

I wouldn’t be a good publicist it I didn’t tell your readers to check out for updates about how my memoir is coming along, and Pushy Broads Consulting for your publicity needs.

Thank you to Stephanie Schroeder!

Dr Alice Boyes is a psychology PhD who combines the best of Clinical, Social, and Positive Psychology.