Carrie Simons Kemper
From TV Sets to Book Launches: Meet The Unstoppable Publicist
Key Takeaway: Be a sponge. Learn as much as you can from every opportunity.
Top 5% in the world at: Handling logistics. My husband calls me Julie after the cruise director from The Love Boat because of my ability to handle all kinds of logistics and not get thrown by any of it.
Behind every successful celebrity, book launch, or new tv series, there’s usually a publicist working tirelessly to get the word out. In many instances, that person is Carrie Simons. As CEO and president of Triple 7 PR, an entertainment publicity and corporate communications firm, Carrie works with production companies, TV campaigns, book launches, experts, and celebrities. Some of her clients have included MasterChef, the Nashville Film Festival, and the Chicken Soup for the Soul books. “We work across all factors of media from TV to print and bloggers, really trying to elevate the awareness of our clients and working with them in a long-term capacity to consistently build their story,” she tells us. Carrie got her start in the industry as an intern at NBC Entertainment before rising through the ranks and doing publicity for The Tonight Show with Jay Leno for six years. Her biggest piece of advice? Soak up as much as you can from every opportunity.
HOW SHE DID IT
Growing up in Los Angeles, I had a relatively unique perspective to being in the media business versus people who moved to LA later and were a bit more enamored by Hollywood. When I was in high school, we had to do an internship as part of our curriculum. I chose a publicity internship with an agency called Davidson and Choi. Because it was a small firm, it was really all hands on deck. From restaurant openings to the Nutcracker at the Pasadena Symphony, it was the wide array that made me interested in publicity.
I was also a competitive golfer starting at age 13. Playing a sport that is so individual and mentally challenging really taught me how to visualize, how to prioritize, how to have that mentality that I think a lot of people are now finding through meditation. You can't have distractions and you can't think of anything other than the shot in front of you — I think business is very similar. You want to look at all the possible hazards, create what your shot is going to be for the task at hand, and then have the confidence to execute your decision.
Princeton is an incredible school with a great history and tradition. When you walk on campus, it feels like the ideal image of a college experience. On top of that, I wanted to move across the country and be on the East Coast for four years.
How did you choose your major?
I majored in politics. Growing up, I paid attention to the news and always had really interesting conversations with my parents about politics. I looked at college as an opportunity to have a 4-year experience that didn't necessarily need to align with my career path, but that could be a time for me to hone my interests in political theory.
When did you realize you were interested in the entertainment industry?
After my PR internship in high school, I had various entertainment internships during college. My senior thesis was on the implementation of the parental rating system for television and I was able to talk to the head of the MPA and the heads of NBC about that in a way that combined what I was interested in at school with what I was interested in for my career.
Can you tell us more about your internships?
Internship at The Brokaw Company: My first two summers I came back to Los Angeles and worked at a small PR agency called the Brokaw Company. My grandfather had delivered one of the partners in the company, which was my Hollywood in. I worked with the person who handled country music artists. She went on her honeymoon and I was in the trenches on some of the tours at the time, handling the PR logistics.
NBC Internship: The summer before my senior year, I did an internship at NBC because I had always been kind of a TV junkie and wanted to see that side of the business. I also used it as an opportunity to get research done for my thesis.
At the time when you did press clippings as an intern, it was literally cutting and pasting and copying — all of the things that technology has eliminated the need for. A lot of the time was spent creating those packets and then distributing them to the executives. In doing the distribution, we got to know the assistants to the executives, and realized we had an arsenal of information at our fingertips. By scheduling time to talk to them about what they did, we had an opportunity to understand the business rather than just doing the grunt work.
I think there are two schools of thought to the entry-level positions of interns and assistants. One is that you're using it just as a tool to demand a promotion. And the other is using it as an opportunity to understand the inner workings of what makes the business successful so that when you’re promoted you understand not only what job you're expected to do but what job somebody else is going to be doing in your footsteps.
Once I graduated, NBC didn't have any positions available, so I went to work at Universal. I got the job by finding out through word of mouth what positions were available at the assistant level and applying.
I was an assistant to the head of domestic television publicity. We worked on a number of series, handling the national media opportunities for the talent and the executive producer of the shows. The Law and Order franchise was one of their biggest at the time.
What were your daily responsibilities?
It was a lot of answering the phone, getting to know the people who were calling, being in meetings with the executives when appropriate, being on sets as needed, and really being an observer. I think there's a big misconception about what assistant roles are versus what people think they should be. If people were given the responsibility that they think they should have, none of them would last in this business for more than a couple of years. When you realize what you're doing is part of your education to be in the industry long-term, it leads to much greater success than that glorified notion of what getting into the entertainment business is.
At the time, NBC was the number one network. They had taken a chance on me during my internship, and the head of the department and I had forged a mentorship-friendship. When she asked me to come back I knew that I had her support in growing with the company.
I started as an assistant and then moved onto junior publicist, publicist, senior press manager, and director. I started at NBC when I was 22. I turned 30 there and I left a little bit thereafter. It really was a work family and we went through everything together: marriages, births of friends' kids, the head of the department's daughter sitting on my lap after school when she was little. It was a lifetime of relationships built over a decade or so.
Starting from the beginning what was being an assistant at NBC like?
The most important lesson I learned was never let a phone go to voicemail. I was working for Rebecca Marks who still is one of the heads of publicity at NBC. She taught me how to be a professional, how to manage tremendous personalities and have decorum in every interaction, and how to work in a business that's ever-changing.
How did you get promoted to junior publicist?
Because of the internships I had done in college and high school, I felt like I was ready to be promoted and championed myself. I had candid conversations about why I felt I was ready to take on the next level and cited specific experiences that I previously had, even though from an age standpoint, I didn't have the industry maturity.
Thankfully they believed in me and gave me the opportunity to prove myself. So I started working with Rebecca on specials and made for TV movies, and then built my relationships internally to build the trust to be able to handle the series.
How did you get the promotion to publicist?
The person who was handling the Tonight Show left and I went to the head of HR and asked to be given the position. I handled the Tonight Show and a show with Christina Applegate called Jessie and worked on movies of the week and music specials. I was essentially the liaison between the projects I was working on and the media that would be writing about them. It involved drafting press releases, distributing them, having them placed, scheduling interviews for talent and producers, and making sure the right outlets were writing stories about the premiers of shows, key episodes, and specials.
What do you think made you so promotable?
I think it is about being available to help wherever you can and being a sponge so that you learn as much as you can in every task that you're given. It’s what gives the person making the decision the comfort in trusting you with that next level position versus worrying that you're going to make mistakes. Asking questions rather than making mistakes or owning mistakes so that they can be fixed quickly rather than covering them up also breeds that trust.
As I got elevated to senior manager and then director, the number of projects that I was working on and what I was overseeing changed as needed, but really the overall job responsibility stayed the same in terms of connecting projects with media.
Why did you decide to leave NBC?
It was a really tough decision for me, but at the time we announced that Jay Leno was leaving the Tonight Show. Jay had always been so good to me and trusted me to represent him in the show when I was incredibly young. It felt disingenuous to move on to the next job before he did, but it also put me in a position of not knowing what my next role would be once he was gone, since I was so tightly aligned with that show.
BWR had come to me a couple times to talk about moving over to the agency. I had a lot of friends there and respected what they were doing. When they approached me again, it was the right time to explore something new. I had just turned 30 at NBC, and felt like if I didn't expand my wings at that point, I probably never would.
What was being a senior director at BWR like?
It was certainly different to see the agency side of things versus a network or studio perspective. We oversaw the PR campaigns for a myriad of corporate television campaigns — everything from WWE to VH1 reality shows.
It also afforded me the opportunity to go back and forth to Nashville because we were working on a show for one of our clients there. That led to relationships in Nashville and job opportunities there that led to my next transition.
Why did you decide to start your own company?
I'd been at the agency for about a year and a half. I was toying with the idea of moving to Nashville. I had an opportunity to open a company that at the time was a subsidiary of a film production company, which would assume all the back office parts of having a business. I never aspired to have my own agency, so having it within the framework of a larger company was enticing. I could grow it as much or as little as I wanted to. It was the best possible safety net. By the time it no longer made sense to stay within that corporate structure, I already had such a great team and such awesome clients that I couldn't have imagined not continuing with my company. The normal jumping off the cliff fears didn’t exist.
What steps did you take to grow your company?
It was really word of mouth and when we as a team felt in our gut that we were ready to take on more business. We also have a policy of only signing business that we believe in. It means that we're excited about the people that we're talking about to the media and that we're looking forward to the calls we have with our clients.
How do you see your company aligning with the shift in social media and publicity?
We're going to stay the course. While we certainly are here to consult with our clients on what they're doing with their social media, our focus has always been to stay true to what publicity is in my opinion, which is creating that relationship between client and media.
What do you wish you knew when you were first launching your career?
That you'd be exhausted. I always say I got my son when he was six. I am his stepmom. In those first five years when I would have given birth, stayed up all night, and everything else, I was instead doing that for my career. Then when he came into my life with his dad, I had the best of both worlds. It gives me even more appreciation for the women that are doing both and how truly difficult it is.