Interview with Phil Lobel, of Lobeline Communications
Updated: Jun 30
This week we speak to Phil Lobel, one of the entertainment industry's leading PR Practitioners...
Please tell us about your agency, and what makes you unique?
I was first a college concert promoter at the University of Colorado in Boulder. It was there that I won the BILLBOARD Magazine Talent Buyer of the Year award. I then went to work for the legendary Barry Fey in Denver after promoting many a concert all over the Rocky Mountain Region – really from Kansas City to Phoenix – shows from the Rolling Stones, to U2’s legendary 1983 where the “Sunday Bloody Sunday” concert video was shot at Red Rocks Amphitheatre.
When I moved out to Hollywood in 1986, with the vision of starting my own public relations company, all my initial clients were music related and ones that I had worked with as a concert promoter. I found that my niche was touring music artists with new record releases, and that there was no other public relations company in Los Angeles or Hollywood that was led by a former concert promoter.
It gave me a unique perspective, as I found that understanding the inner workings of all aspects of the music business made me more relatable to the managers, agents, artists and record labels.
I knew that press was not just about vanity, but about the ROI; driving bodies into seats for concert ticket sales and store purchases of records/CD’s tapes (remember all those?!).
Hence, Lobeline Communications was formed and my first big break came when we landed the seminal George Michael FAITH Tour and record release from 1987-1989.
On a more personal level, what are the biggest lessons you have learned over your years spent in PR?
WOW! So many. But most importantly, if you believe in a client and your story, never give up pitching the media outlet you desire. I spent 60 days trying to convince Entertainment Tonight that George Michael was worthy of a story, and called every week. And finally, when the Executive Producer listened to his single “One More Try,” it touched his heart and he personally called me to say, “Amazing! I know you have called my team for two months, and I kept saying ‘no’ but now that I’ve heard this single, I have green-lit a feature!”
On another occasion we were repping a company that created an anti-stuttering device. I so believed in the importance of the technological breath-through that I called the science editor at WNBC-TV in NYC every month for a year. One day he rang me up and said, “I had a story cancel on me this week, can you set up the necessary elements and people for me to interview locally THIS WEEK?” I jumped on it and made it happen overnight. After the story ran and the station got so much positive feedback, Dr. Frank Fields sent me a letter by mail and wrote: “I’ve worked with many publicists in my life, but never one as tenacious as you! Thanks for the great story.” Having grown up on his NYC based reporting, I was truly honored.
It took me a year of pitching at different times to bring both a David Copperfield and a Tony Robbins Architectural Digest cover to fruition.
If you believe in your client and the story… staying focused and determined is the best strategy for a publicist.
Which celebrities you have enjoyed working with the most, and why?
I’m in the business of PR, sothe last thing I would want to do publicly, is rank one over the other. With a 34-year history and partnering with Jamie Hurley and Miguel Costa, the company now excels at traditional public relations and all aspects of 21stCentury social media and digital marketing. But suffice to say, I have many memorable stories, from Brad Pitt to George Michael in 1987/88, to Lisa Vanderpump today and everything in between.
That includes the likes of Blue Man Group, Copperfield, The Ten Tenors, Van Morrison, Reggae Sunsplash, BB King, Lucie Arnaz and the family’s 50 th Anniversary Tribute to I LOVE LUCY, Tran Siberian Orchestra, Olympic ice medalists Sasha Cohen & Timothy Goebel, the Titanic Exhibition, Crumble Catering and their Elton John AIDS Foundation Academy Awards viewing party, Tony Robbins, NASCAR’s Angela Ruch and so many more over the decades.
Which publications do you have the best relationships with, and what advice can you provide on how to foster relationships with journalists in the entertainment industry?
My relationships with media extend across platforms, from broadcast to print, both on the consumer and trade industry level. And they are also too numerous to list. But, they all have specific elements in common in how we deal with them and what we provide: delivering news worthy stories; honest and factual communication; thorough and TIMELY access to the needed content (i.e. interviews, photos, facts etc.) and a willingness to be available to them 24/7. Because in today’s day and age, 24/7 IS the current standard for the news cycle.
Which social media platforms do you think will have the greatest importance for entertainment PR practitioners in the next few years?
Instagram, Twitter, and Facebook.
Covid-19 has obviously hit the entertainment industry pretty hard… how has this translated into work you do for your clients? i.e. how have you adapted?
It has certainly had a huge impact on the entertainment industry as a whole. However, fortunately for Lobeline, we are a full-service agency that services numerous industries outside of entertainment. The digital side of our business has had a huge uptick, which isn’t surprising with more people online than ever before.
Should small businesses who face an existential threat because of the Coronavirus pandemic use social media to be open about their concerns with their clients, or stay silent?
I think it’s important that businesses communicate with their clientele and think of new ways to engage their audience. That said, we have never been a fan of using social media as a therapist and airing everything that’s happening with you and your business. There is definitely a fine balance of the two.
Would you advise companies to create social media plans specifically based on the Coronavirus pandemic?
Absolutely. Now more than ever it’s crucial that you reassess your marketing plan as a whole and bridge the gap between traditional and digital advertising methods. Sadly, those that don’t, may not make it to the other side of this pandemic.
What are your thoughts on Twitter’s decision to ‘fact check’ President Trump’s tweets?
As TRUTH really does still matter, this is long overdue on Twitter’s part. I hope Facebook and others will follow suit.
Given your involvement in the entertainment industry, when do you think things will return back to ‘normal’?
There will be a new “normal” for quite some time and into the future. We do not think things will get back to anywhere near what it was in the coming 6-12 months until there is a vaccine. Again, it’s more important now than ever before, that businesses assess their market and come up with a comprehensive plan that can get them through the pandemic and continue to evolve with the times.
Do you think the role of crisis communications firms has become more important since the start of the Coronavirus pandemic?
Absolutely. The spread of false information is more prevalent than ever. It’s important that public figures stick with clear and concise facts only and don’t speak to things they aren’t specialized to speak on. If you represent a CEO of a large corporation or a celebrity, it’s important to manage your client’s public communication and consult against spreading misinformation.
How do you think the pandemic will affect PR agencies in general?
There will be (and has already been) a huge shift in the industry. Many of our competitors have already gone out of business. Those that haven’t adjusted to the times to offer services that clients need and can take advantage of, may not make it through. We have always prided ourselves on being able to adjust on the fly and adapt to challenging situations. Granted, no one could have been prepared for this, there are certainly things you can be doing for your business to ensure that your clients deploy strategies that will help them get through this.