MEET BRUCE SPRINGSTEEN’S LONGTIME PUBLICIST, AN INDIE PR LEGEND
Shore Fire Media founder/CEO Marilyn Laverty has repped The Boss for decades — and his manager refers to her as a "master communicator."
One recent Sunday, Shore Fire Media founder and CEO Marilyn Laverty was paddleboarding when she experienced a publicist’s worst nightmare: She dropped her cellphone in New Jersey’s Shark River inlet and watched it slowly sink, rendering her incommunicado. “Carrying a phone when you’re paddleboarding isn’t really necessary or advisable,” Laverty admits now. But as a publicist, she adds, “I’m more comfortable with it on my person.”
Consider it an occupational hazard. Laverty has navigated the often murky waters of public relations for over 45 years — expanding from handling iconic artists like Bruce Springsteen, Bonnie Raitt and Elvis Costello to representing venues, tech companies, streaming services, documentaries, entrepreneurs and even athletes.
After trying her hand at journalism — her first job out of Cornell was as an editorial assistant at the Ithaca (N.Y.) Journal — and deciding it wasn’t for her, she joined Columbia Records’ publicitydepartment as an assistant in 1977. She briefly jumped to RCA before returning to Columbia in 1979, ultimately rising to vp and running the publicity department. In 1990, with assurances from Springsteen’s and Wynton Marsalis’ managers that they would continue working with her, she struck out on her own, starting Shore Fire in her Brooklyn Heights apartment.
Like most publicists, Laverty is much more comfortable pitching her clients than talking about herself. She answers questions cautiously and deliberately and suggests specific angles — like focusing more on Shore Fire’s present (say, exciting new clients like best new artist Grammy winner Samara Joy) than its past, or highlighting her 45-person staff rather than herself (including her executive team of senior vps Mark Satlof — her second hire in 1990 — Rebecca Shapiro, Matt Hanks and Allison Elbl, all of whom have their own high-profile clients and oversee various staff or operations in Shore Fire’s Brooklyn Heights headquarters or its offices in Nashville and Los Angeles).
That same strategic focus and attention to detail has made Shore Fire one of the leading independent PR firms of the last 30 years and Laverty the only indie publicist with whom Springsteen has ever worked. “We and Marilyn have been a match for the last 40 years,” says his manager, Jon Landau. “She has no agenda except for the artists, is a master communicator, is entirely networked, is respected in all corners of the industry and is not shy when — tactfully — disagreeing with management. In fact, she can be incredibly stubborn, but she’s usually — not always! — right.”
How soon after you launched Shore Fire in 1990 were you sure you would make it?
From the start I knew it would work. We had a lot of great artists and we grew slowly. We never had to have layoffs because we grew too quickly. Starting in my apartment was definitely cost-conscious, but within two years we moved to an office in Brooklyn Heights, and after a few years [we] moved to our current space and have been there now for 25 years.
What is something you learned in your early days from a client or mentor that has stuck with you?
Being able to work with [Springsteen] at the beginning of my career was the greatest lesson in knowing yourself. He’s not only one of the most incredible artists of our era, but he knows who he is like no one else. He doesn’t focus on what other artists get. He is really pursuing his own vision and his own way. It has been a lesson that I’ve taken to everybody I’ve worked with, to try to get them to articulate their personal vision and try to honor it with everything we do.
Last November, his comments to Rolling Stone about dynamic pricing for his current tour, and how high some prices were, generated some controversy. Do you prep him for such interviews?
We always let Bruce know in advance about the overall content of an interview, and Bruce always answers questions entirely on his own. I think the thing people love most about Bruce Springsteen is his honesty, his realness. He’s like that in interviews, too. He says what he thinks. It’s honest, not tailored to get a certain response. It’s direct. I respect that.
How has your evolution into so many different areas of PR come about?
One of Shore Fire’s greatest strengths is our brainpower with all 45 staffers. There’s a lot of variety within our roster, and it’s constantly changing because it really reflects not just me and my tastes, but the whole collective. There are so many staff who’ve been with the company over 10 years, over 20 years, but it’s very exciting when the new staff are telling us what they care about and bringing in clients. We’ve developed the roster around the interests of the staff.
Addressing allegations of misconduct is common for artists now. How does Shore Fire handle those situations?
I think all of us publicists are facing some cases of cancel culture on an individual basis, [but] my idea is to try to work with artists who are — it may sound Pollyanna-ish — really good people. We focus on artists who are more known for their artistry than their behavior.
In 2019, Dolphin Entertainment, which also owns PR firms 42West and The Door, purchased Shore Fire. Why was it the right time to sell?
I met [Dolphin founder] Bill O’Dowd through [attorney] Don Passman, who has been a [Shore Fire] client. Bill shared his vision for building a great supergroup of companies. As PR changes more each year, we really become marketers as much as media hunters, and I felt that there would be something very dynamic with working with Bill and with these companies.
How has your role changed since the acquisition?
How we handle our campaigns [and] how we shape our roster are entirely up to us. I’m still bringing in clients, but at the same time, I’m devoting a lot of energy building collaboration within the companies right now, figuring out how we can work together and how our artists can benefit from their clients and vice versa.
Does a positive album review still matter at a time when everyone on social media can weigh in?
Holy cow. I remember when every campaign you had to get a review in Stereo Review and High Fidelity. A great review or an appearance on a morning or latenight TV show are still goals, but nowadays, we’re also putting together ideas for promotional events and partnerships. We call publicists “storytellers” nowadays and maybe that seems like a funny term, but by creating opportunities for artists to be seen at events or creating partnerships, you’re also telling their story.
Speaking of telling stories: Shore Fire differentiates itself from other PR companies by generating intriguing storylines on pitches, like, “This ambient artist gave NFL star Aaron Rodgers tips for his dark retreat.” [Shore Fire used this subject line recently in a pitch for artist East Forest.] How do those come about?
We have a Slack channel devoted entirely to subject lines. We frequently will put subject lines up to a vote, and we share success stories because it’s very competitive getting your message out there. Our success with artists is built over the course of months, but you can only build a story if people are paying attention.
photos included in link: