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Geoff Sirmai: Publicist

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Geoff Sirmai may be a publicist and actor today, but he wanted to be a Socceroo as a child. He still keeps his boots in the back of his car, just in case.
Geoff Sirmai: Publicist

What did you want to be when you grew up?

Always wanted to be a professional soccer player and a Socceroo. I still keep my boots in the back of the car… you never know when you’re going to get the call-up.

When did you know you would work in the arts?

At age nine when I starred as the bad guy in my first school play. And soon after, I was writing ‘operas’ and ‘directing’ my friends… ha, ha.

How would you describe your work to a complete stranger?

Publicity is a kind of matchmaking. You find the stories, the sparks of special interest in your clients’ work; then you employ strategies to grab the attention and harness the enthusiasm of the media – generally and specifically. All to share the work with the widest possible audience.

Is there a mission to your work?

Probably best summed up as ‘To share the stories’. There is so much great work in the arts that doesn’t reach the audience it deserves. What I love most is making a ‘splash’ for a show or an artist… the buzz that comes from everyone talking about it, anticipating it… and then spreading the good word.

What's your background – what did you study to get to where you are?

I studied Arts with majors in Music and honors in English Lit. Then went on to do a Masters (with hons) in Australian Drama. Plus lots of career specific courses in media, broadcasting, drama etc. My earlier twin careers in journalism and arts performance made for the perfect grounding.

What's the first thing career related you usually do each day?

Check my emails. There’s always a request for an interview, a photo or a release that’s ‘VERY URGENT’. Or maybe there’s an inspired idea from a client that I should run with.

Can you describe an "average" working day for you?

They vary so much – also depending on how I juggle with parenting and my kids’ schedules - but it could start with responding to urgent info, interview or image requests, followed by working on and distributing media releases. I’ll do a media search and scan for expected (or unexpected) press clippings and I might have a client meeting over morning coffee. Depending on where that is, I might pick up some papers to scan for reviews or other press. Afternoon could include more follow up calls, monitoring and recording client’s radio interviews… some social networking and e-marketing of events, perhaps giving a PR workshop to industry artists and finally attending an opening night (which involves not just final checking of media and other VIP guest list, but lots of meeting and greeting on the night). If I’m lucky, I might sneak in a soccer training session, gym or pump class – injuries allowing! (I do punish this old bod of mine a bit). Or even a rehearsal for a performance of my own.

What's the one thing - piece of equipment, toy, security blanket, – you can't work without?

Laptop. I almost said my iPhone, but I really need everything with me all the time. Ready to go.

What gets you fired up?

Injustice of any type. In the arts world you have to wear unfair reviews occasionally… but I’m more frustrated by brilliant artists whose work is hiding under a bushel. Come out into the light!

Who in the industry most inspires you?

The great actors and directors. The makers and doers. Especially the ones who become mentors and role models for the next generation of rising talent.

What in the industry do you despair about?

Commercial pressure on media. It’s a sad reality but nothing is more soul-destroying than seeing brilliant work by independent artists with no advertising budget being passed over for editorial coverage in favour of big-spending imported, commercial or highly-subsidised theatre.

What is the best thing about your job?

Getting coverage for those same deserving clients and PITPs as I call them (Penniless Independent Theatre Companies). The art of publicity is cutting through to get the attention of media purely on the basis of newsworthiness to their readers, listeners and viewers.

What’s the worst?

Clients with unrealistic expectations or delusions of grandeur. Nothing comes without effort and teamwork. The competition is fierce. Even at the top of the tree, the media don’t just line up for your story…

What are the top three skills you need in this industry?

Attention to detail, imagination and energy (both physical and emotional). A smile goes a long way too.

What advice would you give anyone looking to break into your field?

Know your business. That’s not just knowing the arts back to front, but the media likewise. Until you know how it all works, you won’t be able to ‘match-make’ successfully.

How do you know when you missed the mark?

Oh, my clients will tell me alright. Or the media will. It’s tricky because there are many factors that affect audience response (bums on seats) and media interest. But everyone is interested in the bottom line.

Which of the below phrases best suits your career development to date and why? a. "The road to success is always under construction. " b. "Opportunity dances with those who are already on the dance floor." c. "Success is best measured by how far you've come with the talents you've been given. " d. "No one can cheat you out of ultimate success but yourself."

"B" definitely. Or perhaps even better: “If everyone is enjoying the dance, let the music play.”

Geoff Sirmai is the director of Watchdog Communications, one of Australia’s leading independent arts publicity consultancies.

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