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Before the Carpet Rolls Out: Where Public Relations Coincides with “Country Music’s Biggest Night”

Published on February 2, 2023 at 9:17 a.m.
by Jamie Zimmerman.

When looking to break into the professional world, new graduates need look no further than the entertainment industry, as it is one of the largest growing fields today. Indeed defines the entertainment industry as “a field of employment related to television, theater, film and music.”

But where can a public relations major fit into these elements of the entertainment field?

Many think the only path for public relations practitioners to work in entertainment leads to being a publicist who manages and promotes media coverage for clients. However, the job of a publicist is not the only option for public relations within the entertainment industry.

PR majors and professionals learn and are well-versed in a variety of skills, including interpersonal communication, time management, research, multimedia, creativity and writing proficiency. There are multiple career opportunities that individuals with these attributes can pursue in regards to the entertainment industry, such as an event planner, production assistant, multimedia manager, producer and more.

Photo by Nainoa Shizuru via Unsplash

Country Music Association: An insider’s perspective of working in the entertainment field

Music is a large component of the entertainment industry, and one of the most well-known associations in the music world, specifically country music, is the Country Music Association. CMA is “the premier trade association of the Country Music industry. … The organization serves as a critical resource of support and information, honors excellence in the genre and provides a forum for industry leadership.”

Within the communication department at CMA is Stephanie Shank. Though she started her career in the entertainment industry as a publicist, she realized her passions align more with the production area, so she paved a path to a job that combines them both, she said. Shank currently works as manager of production and talent relations for CMA — a role with more to it than one might think.

Shank described this position as a “two-part role.” Part of her position lies with the production side. She outlined her work in this area as managing and overseeing the flow of red carpets and the backstage media center at CMA events, and also handling all credentials for media, nominees, and talent walking the carpet at these events, which includes “collecting their information, submitting their credentials for printing, designating their specific zones, and distributing them to proper parties.”

Photo by Austin Neill via Unsplash

On the talent relations side, Shank portrayed her role as one of the main points of contact at CMA when it comes to all matters regarding talent.

“Whether it’s confirming talent participation at our non-televised events, collecting artist-approved photos and bios to build out assets, or sending video clips and content for approval, almost all the communication to and from artist teams will funnel through me,” said Shank.

Of the many events that CMA produces, such as CMA Fest, a CMA Country Christmas or Touring Awards, one of the biggest events Shank and her team prepare for is the annual CMA Awards.

CMA Awards: prepping and assisting

The CMA Awards are held each year to honor the best of country music. While prepping for this year’s CMA Awards, Shank and other employees at CMA had direct-report assistants to collaborate with and mentor through their work. For Shank, her right-hand woman was Vanderbilt master’s student Taylor Gordon.

“She was there with me side by side when it came to collecting artist assets, creating contact sheets, facilitating credential submissions and distribution, handling limo drop passes so artists would be able to enter the red carpet, escorting artists on the red carpet, and so much more,” said Shank in regard to Gordon’s contribution to her role.

Shank and Gordon both explained how they spent a multitude of time prepping for the awards with tasks such as overseeing the production of the red carpet, drafting press releases, scheduling and managing rehearsals, collecting assets for media content and more; a large part of the prep was essentially serving as the “liaison between CMA and the celebrities” as Gordon described it.

Photo by Marc Schulte via Unsplash

Gordon said that preparing for the awards was an immense amount of work and “not always as glamorous as people would think” but also noted that shadowing Shank on the day of the event and “getting to walk and work the red carpet was such a cool experience; it definitely made all of our tedious work beforehand worth it.”

Shank said that when she takes an assistant at CMA, she tries to take them under her wing and give them an immersive experience of the role. She added that assistants like Gordon are involved in these events from start to finish in order to make sure they see the benefits of all the work they put into it.

Gordon assisted at CMA for four months and remarked that she is grateful for the experience, as she had never held a role umbrellaed under public relations of any sort. She also noted that working in this position gave her a better understanding of where she wants to go in the future in regards to public relations, while also helping her break into the entertainment industry.

Getting a start within the entertainment industry

The entertainment field is notoriously challenging to get into, and the Indeed editorial team remarked that “there is no set education or experience necessary for many entertainment jobs and individuals often find positions through contacts already in the field.”

Similarly, Shank gave her best piece of advice on getting in to the entertainment industry: “Network, network, network. … It’s all about connections.”

Connections, whether big or small, can result in an internship, temp role or assistant position. Shank said assistant positions like Gordon’s allow them to takeaway real-life experience to help them build relationships and gain knowledge in the industry, especially if they are students who are still figuring out what they are passionate about in their professional careers.

Photo by Wesley Pribadi via Unsplash

Both Shank and Gordon offered concluding advice to students and other individuals eager to get into the entertainment industry.

Shank: “Ask questions, work hard, continue building relationships and explore what you’re passionate about. If you work hard and make life easier and more efficient for the person you’re assisting or working for, they will remember that and continue to refer you to other jobs and can be a great connection/resource for future careers in the industry. The entertainment industry is a competitive field. So many people want to work in this field, so you need to work harder than the next person to make that good impression.”

Gordon: “Never be closed off to an opportunity; your skillset is broader than you realize and you shouldn’t be afraid to try something new. As you continue to discover what you are passionate about, you will start to gain an understanding of what you are capable of and what environment is best for your personality. Also don’t be intimidated by titles; if a role seems exciting to you, take it because no matter what, you can always learn from it as you take on new challenges.”

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