Public Relations(8)

By: Katie Heaney

I rolled my eyes without thinking, and hoped no one had noticed. That bubble burst in a microsecond when I heard Archie snicker and saw Ryan shooting daggers in my direction. “Is there something you wanted to say, Rose?” he asked, turning the room’s attention to me. I’d never heard my name said with such precise derision.

“Enlighten us,” said Sam. He and Keiran—both just a few years older than me and forever resentful of the fact that I seemed to be moving up the ranks faster than they ever did—shared a look of anticipation, sure I was about to dig myself into a deeper hole. Unfortunately for them, I was promoted for a reason: I’m really good at my job. Even though I wasn’t typically one to veer from my own strict, ordered, deliberate vision of my professional path, and even though I feared a swift retribution from Joanna, something deep inside me told me I needed to speak up, to trust that I had something worthwhile to say.

“Actually, yes, since you asked,” I said, rising out of my own chair and walking across the room to stand directly behind Sam and Keiran.

My heart and mind were racing; my adrenaline was pumping. Since being hired at Weaver-Girard, the only other time I’d spoken out of turn so publicly—at an all-hands staff meeting, when I’d delivered an impromptu and impassioned tirade about the legitimacy of teen bloggers as tastemakers in fashion and music—the outburst was followed shortly thereafter by my promotion. I had never spoken so freely in front of a client, though, and there was a chance the consequences could be a little less positive. But at this point, I was all in.

“We’re worried Archie isn’t going to sell enough copies of his next record, right?” I saw varying levels of shock on the faces around me. “I’m sorry to be blunt, but we all know that’s why we’re here.”

Archie shrugged but made no move to interrupt me.

“That’s not, on its own, a bad thing. Fear is good! Better to have this discussion now than after the fact, when we’re figuring out how to come back from an album that’s already tanked. Like your last one.” Archie’s eyes widened ever so slightly.

“Yes, that is our job,” said Ryan. I’d struck a nerve. It was always the male higher-ups who so easily turned defensive; honestly, I was never sure how they’d made it up so high with egos so fragile. “Thank you for explaining how PR works, but unless you have any thoughts on this specific idea…”

“You’re right, I’m sorry, I do.” I wasn’t about to stop now. There was a decent chance I was speaking in my very last meeting as an employee at Weaver-Girard, so I figured I’d make the most of it. Besides, what I was about to say was right. It was my job to make them realize that. “We know better than anyone else: If someone is famous, it means their peak is behind them. Archie’s held international attention for a few years now—which is admirable—but the audience who loved him from the beginning are aging out of the music-buying, concert-attending demographic.”

I looked at Archie, who seemed more skeptical than he’d been just a moment ago.

“I know, this is more calculated than you want to believe the life of the artist is, but you started in this business when you were, what, nineteen? You know it’s the truth. And contrary to what I think you’re thinking, fame doesn’t have to mean sacrificing substance. Which is why Raya is perfect. She’s going to be huge. She’s been seen at every big summer festival. Last year because of what she was wearing, but this year because she’s popping up on stages. There isn’t one big-name DJ who doesn’t have her in his set list. But she also writes her own music—which you’ve already said you like—and her songs are also selling this idea of… self-sufficiency, self-respect. Smart rebellion. Young girls are obsessed with her. They feel like they know her because she’s constantly engaging with them on Tumblr and Instagram. And so if this girl, this fantasy stand-in for themselves, is suddenly seen all over the place with that British singer their older sister used to love? Well, maybe that guy’s worth checking out, too.”

If my life were a movie, this would have been the point at which someone (Ryan, probably? Or Archie—more handsome) led a gradual standing ovation with nothing but a slow clap. The reality—“Sounds good to me,” from Maria, and a shrug from Archie—was exponentially less exciting, but satisfying nonetheless, if only for the fact that I could tell it really got under Sam and Keiran’s skin. Ryan wasn’t happy to be upstaged, but still, a win for me was a win for the firm, which, most important, was a win for him. It didn’t matter who presented the idea, necessarily, as long as it was well received as our collective genius.

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