Hollywood Publicist Rick Krusky and his publicity firm MWPR represent two cast members from the Netflix smash hit series Cobra Kai (Martin Kove and Griffin Santopietro) along with Hollywood names such as Daphne Wayans, Brian Keith Thompson, and many others. He and his wife, Marlan Willardson, run the publicity company MWPR, one of the industries’ fastest-growing PR firms.
The life of a publicist is — to say the least — very interesting. And Rick was kind enough to delve into it with us recently. Here’s what he had to say about red carpets, branding, interviews, and more.
Monsters and Critics: I wanted to get into a little bit of your origins; I love talking about how people got started. As far as the PR business, how did MWPR formulate for you?
Rick Krusky: My wife Marlan Willardson and I started the business 14 or 15 years ago. She had been over on the Paramount lot for many years doing film publicity and then decided to start her own firm.
I already had a corporation, was running businesses, and had personally been involved in the entertainment industry for my entire life. So I just started helping her out on the business side of things initially, and then it evolved from there. It sort of naturally happened.
M&C: Tell me about getting your first client. What was that like?
Rick Krusky: Our very first client was Michelle Stafford. She’s a 2-time Emmy Award-winning actress for The Young and the Restless. She was the first.
We’ve worked with her for many years since. Another one from the early days was Giovanni Ribisi from Avatar and Saving Private Ryan. Seems like a long time ago now.
M&C: I don’t know if there is a really good answer to this because it sounds like you do all sorts of different things and wear all sorts of hats, but what is a day in the life like for you as the head of a PR firm in LA?
Rick Krusky: A day in the life — that’s tough, but I can try. I wake up and I just start working immediately. Most of the day is computer work, phone calls, setting up interviews, coordinating things like press appearances, working with the media, talking with clients, dealing with pitches and stuff, overseeing some other publicists we have, and producing editorial photo shoots.
Sometimes it starts very early, 3 or 4 o’clock in the morning. For example, if there’s a client in New York doing a morning show, sometimes I coordinate remotely.
Then evenings, in many cases (pre-Covid), I’m at red carpet events. I generally arrive before the client and make sure everything is lined up for them. I greet them, announce them to the photographers, escort them down the carpet, and facilitate interviews with reporters. I’ll sometimes stick around longer — it just depends.
So they are two extreme environments: One is all day on a computer, phone calls, office environment. And the other is at Hollywood movie premieres.
M&C: So, it can be very extremely different from day to day.
Rick Krusky: It’s definitely an extreme change of environment from working in front of a computer for hours on end to standing in front of a line of press on a red carpet: lit up with lights, swarms of people, photographers shouting at the actors, and guests arriving, fans cheering for them and asking for autographs. Polar-opposites for sure.
M&C: Do you consider yourself to be more of an introvert or an extrovert?
Rick Krusky: It depends on the day. I feel like when I was younger I was more of an introvert, or at least certainly very independent, meaning I was comfortable being alone. Of course, I do like being with people too.
So I don’t know if being independent is necessarily being introverted. On the other end of the spectrum, I feel that this job almost dictates that you be an extrovert. You kind of can’t be an introvert in this world.
M&C: I see. I did want to get into the red carpet stuff because I think that is a really interesting aspect of the PR business. And I also don’t see a lot of PR reps doing it.
At least I don’t get that impression, when I work with a lot of them, that that’s a part of their job, or part of what they offer to people. What does red carpet exposure do for a client?
Rick Krusky: From a publicity standpoint, the most fundamental thing is that it gives you exposure in terms of the media. There are photographers there shooting the clients, and the photos are then available for media to pick up and use.
Then there’s also the interview aspect — talking to reporters — which is more media exposure. And then aside from the publicity, there’s the “networking” side of things too.
For example, if the client is in the entertainment industry, there’s the opportunity of meeting or hanging out with their peers, other celebrities, directors, and producers. So in that way, it can be a business opportunity as well. Maybe they meet a director and wind up getting a job out of it. Happens all the time.
M&C: So, it really is about who you know, a lot of the time, it seems? There is obviously the talent, but getting your clients to rub shoulders with some executives and fellow actors is a big part of that, it sounds like.
Rick Krusky: Yes, it can be. That’s more the case where the client is a guest of the premiere but not part of the film itself.
There’s also the opposite where we have clients who are in the movie and they’re attending the premiere and I’m escorting. They’re doing the press line and meeting others in the industry, but they already know a lot of the principles from the film, like the filmmaker, producers, studio execs, cast.
For example, I coordinated and accompanied Martin Kove on the Once Upon a Time in Hollywood premiere in Los Angeles. In that case, he was in the film, so he already knew Quentin Tarantino, Brad Pitt, and Leonardo DiCaprio.
They’re his friends. But I still helped facilitate things like connecting them on the carpet, setting up shots of them together, stuff like that.
As an opposite example, I procured an invite for Marty to John Wick 3 and accompanied him to that as well. But in that case, he was not part of the cast. But he met the director on the carpet. They hit it off, had a great conversation, and exchanged contact info. The director was actually a fan of Martin’s show Cobra Kai. So who knows where that might lead.
M&C: Red carpets — this topic does interest me a lot. I did want to ask you a few questions about that, if you don’t mind.
Rick Krusky: Yes, of course. It’s funny, when we were talking earlier, you were saying it’s an interesting subject from an outsider’s standpoint. And I initially thought it wouldn’t be something that would be of much interest. But maybe that’s just because I’m in it. But when I look at it from a more detached viewpoint, I can see that it could be of interest.
M&C: Yeah, like you mentioned Brad Pitt. He’s definitely my favorite actor of all time. If I were to bump into him that would be a huge deal for me. (Laughs)
Rick Krusky: Yeah, I understand. And it’s not like I’ve never had a fan moment. I have, probably more so in the early days. But it’s work. There’s a lot to do and a lot happening and so I tend to be much more in work mode.
It’s not a spectator mindset. Red carpets are unpredictable. I’ve seen every possible iteration of how things can go right, go wrong, change, surprise you — things that you would never expect. I’m no longer surprised by anything. You’re juggling a lot.
There are a lot of moving parts and you never know how they’re going to play out. A lot of people, media, guests — and you’re there to keep everything moving in the right direction for the client. A lot of instant factors to weigh, screaming fans, photographers vying for shots of the client, setting up interviews with reporters with a ton of other publicists doing the same for their clients. Lights, autographs, all occurring at the same time.
My point is that it’s work, and it’s in an environment that doesn’t afford you the luxury of “taking in the sights.” It forces you to be very present. Other celebrities become, in a way, “decisions” — like who, what, when, and how do they apply to your client and the purpose of my job, if that makes sense. A carpet is a moving, living, breathing organism of sorts with no “do-overs.” It’s “live” with a ton of split decisions to make.
M&C: That’s a very appealing part of MWPR, the fact that you have these red carpet connections. How do you prepare someone for maybe their first, or second, or very early on, experience of walking down a red carpet? How do you coach a client up before they get out there into that kind of chaos? What kind of things do you tell them?
Rick Krusky: Well, for people who have never done it before — I’ve obviously worked with a lot of people who were very experienced at it — but for someone who is new, I usually just talk it through with them, give them some scenarios, answer any questions.
And we can even do more specific media training if it’s called for. Mock-up interviews, practice going through them, advising as needed.
Obviously, there is a lot to get into and the subject can get deep, but I wrote a concise article that goes over some of the basics. I can go over those points with them, and answer any questions they may have. But the bottom line is I’ll arrive before them, I’ll be there with them, and I will — in real-time — advise them. I’m there for them. I’ll give them what is probably the number one rule while we’re on the carpet — particularly someone new at it — which is to listen to me and do what I say.
That makes it much easier with everything that’s happening. I’ll have the client listen to me: hold at a point on the carpet when I say to, come with me when I ask them to, talk to this reporter, pose for that photographer, stuff like that.
M&C: So having them follow you in the process.
Rick Krusky: Yes. But it’s not in a bossy way. It’s just about being coordinated. And that means things like, “hold here,” “watch me,” “come quickly when I call you,” stuff like that.
Also, there are a lot of tips or media training you can do beforehand to help too. For those with little experience, let them know the most common questions they can expect, how they might want to answer, how they should be with the reporters and the cameras.
There are a lot of tips you can go over. I do go over them with clients if or when they’re needed. But the most fundamental thing to remember is to listen to me.
M&C: That is a very interesting topic because, as a reporter, I try to intentionally not ask the kind of questions that could get people in trouble. But some interviewers go for the jugular. So what kind of things do you tell people about how to talk to the media and what to say and what to avoid?
Rick Krusky: That’s a big subject and has a lot of different determining factors, especially when you ask about what to avoid. And every client is different. But in terms of some of the more basic things, the first thing I recommend is to just be natural and be yourself and just talk to the reporter, versus to the camera.
It keeps it more personal and more engaging. Someone new to interviews sometimes feels they need to look at a camera. But I’ve observed how reporters react when the person they’re interviewing is not even looking at them. It doesn’t go over well. I recommend having a real conversation with the reporter. Another thing is if you’re asked a question you don’t know the answer to, don’t try and fake it or make up answers. Don’t feel like you’re on the spot and have to answer, because then it just comes across like that.
I recommend an easy, organic way to say “Yeah, I’m not sure” and then move onto the next question. You’re under no obligation. Now in terms of questions to avoid, that’s a much bigger conversation. You need to know your client well, know their history — publicly and even privately to a large degree — and know what sort of questions they might be asked that may need to be pre-considered and gone over.
It’s tough to give a general answer on this since it’s very much on a case-by-case basis. You need to know your client very well, know their campaign, know their brand, know the business of PR and the media and how it all interrelates.
M&C: I love that because it seems that people do have an easier time with the media and with their public perception when they are being themselves and are being genuine.
When they are doing what you’re saying and just being themselves and being real and having a conversation, it seems that in those interviews people don’t tend to get in trouble as much, in my opinion, as opposed to when they’re trying to pull a rabbit out of the hat and be fake. People smell fakeness from 12 miles away.
Rick Krusky: I couldn’t agree more. I think being real is key. And also preparing. For people who are new to carpets, I also recommend figuring out how they want to pose for photographs, how they want to look, look through Getty images, for example, and look at other celebs.
It’s important because, like I said earlier, there are no do-overs. Some people jump onto a carpet and do whatever they do, but then later they see the photos and maybe don’t like them and maybe they’ll want them taken down.
But the bottom line is, once you step out onto that carpet, it’s fair game. The photographers own the rights. What’s done is done. So preparation is important. Now, of course, those who’ve been doing it forever or are pros know exactly what to do.
M&C: One thing I have noticed that I really like about MWPR that I think makes it stand out from a lot of publicity companies in the industry is that you take on more than the stereotypical client (musician, actor, public figure).
You tend to take on people with all sorts of cool, unique projects and I really relate to that because I love covering that stuff. I love hearing about whatever a person’s gift is, whatever you’re good at, let’s talk about that because I think that everyone has a gift.
What caused you guys to lean in that direction of just saying hey we’re going to open ourselves up to all sorts of projects, all sorts of people? What inspired that business model?
Rick Krusky: That kind of evolved over the years. We first started with entertainment. My partner Marlan Willardson, the “MW” in MWPR, came from movie publicity. She was on the Paramount lot for years before we founded our own company. And we live in Los Angeles too, so Hollywood was sort of our world.
But early on we started to get requests from others who weren’t necessarily in the entertainment industry. So we expanded our scope to encompass entertainment and lifestyle. But what I really look for in a client is “fit.” Do they fit with us? Do we fit with them? Is what they’re looking for what we do? And most importantly, do I think we can help them achieve what they’re looking for?
In other words, it has to make sense to me, regardless of their brand genre. I look at it this way: We know our world and we have our business model. We know how to help get media exposure for clients and how to assist in reputation and PR. So then it just becomes a matter of getting to know the client well, which I mentioned earlier.
After that, we just apply what we know to the specific brand. So the field the client is in is not as important as knowing the client well and knowing how to apply our skillset to them.
We worked with an attorney at one point who was very well renowned in the entertainment industry. But he was an attorney, and we’re not “legal publicists.” Lawyers don’t have publicists, right? But it was just a matter of getting to know him and his world and then applying what we do to it. We got him some really great press.
M&C: Where do you see MWPR going in the future?
Rick Krusky: My hope is that we’ll continue to expand. You know it’s funny because we’re a boutique firm. We like to work very closely with our clients. I think expanding would be good, but there’s also something about keeping it very manageable and remaining close to the clients that I think is appealing to a lot of people and winds up being beneficial too. I think there’s something cool about that.
Follow Rick Krusky on Instagram: @rickkrusky
Follow MWPR on Instagram: @mwprinc
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