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Putting the Spin on Porn

Putting the Spin on Porn

July 1, 2006
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" Everyone needs effective PR to gain exposure and create mainstream publicity "

Longtime publicity guru Brian Gross is soft spoken, confident and assured — far-flung from the image of the manic carnival barker or smooth-talking snake oil salesman one might normally associate with the world of public relations.

While only briefly mentioning his clients for BSG Public Relations — which include Adam & Eve, Burning Angel and Acid Rain Productions — when called upon to do so, Gross fervently believes that it's important for people to understand that if you're really looking to grow in the way that companies like Vivid and Wicked have grown, you have to cover every base.

With growth comes growing pains, Gross says, and as the adult industry continues to evolve and gain more ground in the cultural marketplace, webmasters and brick-and-mortar content producers cannot afford to leave any stone unturned.

"There are more people getting into the business every day, and it's getting harder to retain a competitive edge," Gross says, equating the difference between major league players and minor league bench-warmers as only a difference in priorities and management.

"The major players," Gross observes, "have in-house editors, producers, management and, more importantly, they have publicists and people working in licensing and branding."

A former publicist for Vivid Video, Gross says it's just a matter of hiring to take your company off the bench and into the starters' lineup.

"Everyone needs effective PR to gain exposure and create mainstream publicity," he says.

Gross accepted the position as head of publicity for Vivid in March 1999 after several years of toiling away in the Los Angeles music industry. He began his career while still in high school, interning two days a week for a record label and hanging out with the likes of Danzig, the Black Crowes, Henry Rollins and Skinny Puppy.

"It was unbelievable for a senior in high school," Gross says. "And it opened my eyes to the fact that this is what I wanted to do for a living."

Gross eventually worked his way up to an assistant position at Reprise Records and then migrated to Elektra Records, where he specialized in tour publicity for bands including Metallica and Third Eye Blind.

"And then I came to realize one day that the publicity departments in the music industry are sort of the black sheep," he says. "They are the first ones to get cut, and as the industry began to lose substantial ground in the fight with Napster and other threats in the online sector, it became obvious that I wasn't going to have a job. And I wasn't going to stick around to get my head cut off."

Enter David Schlesinger, head of publicity for Vivid Video, who was launching Vivid's online division. He asked Gross to come onboard as director of PR, and after an amicable meeting with CEO Steve Hirsch, Gross accepted the job and stayed with Vivid for 18 months where he learned to market porn stars with the same aggressive zeal he reserved for rock stars.

Mentor Steve Hirsch
"I learned a lot about marketing from Steve [Hirsch]," Gross says. "And I learned about how to really get the most out of the brand and out of the company."

Working with mainstream media that cover the music industry, Gross observes, is a complex task because you talk about music and people have strong opinions about what they like or don't like, but pitching adult is more simple.

"People either like adult or they don't," he says. "Mainstream media either wants to gain exposure for their publication or television outlet (through adult industry PR) or they simply can't."

At the end of September 2000, after some in-house turmoil at Vivid that climaxed when contract star Chasey Lain failed to appear for a radio festival in Indianapolis, Hirsch decided to close the in-house publicity arm and hired a New York firm to handle all future PR.

"He closed the department, gave me severance, and to this day that was probably the biggest thing anyone has ever done for me," Gross says.

Gross was determined to "just chill out" for a few weeks, but before long, his phone was ringing off the hook. Jenteal called, then Devon, who had just been announced as a Penthouse Pet, and then Jill Kelly phoned. They all wanted him to handle their public relations.

"I had taken some interviews with other companies," he says. "But you can't go from being with Vivid to another company; you just can't. So I picked up these three clients and then realized that I was making three times the money with just three clients in a month than I did with Vivid. I knew I was on to something."

In January 2001, Gross launched BSG PR, and there's been no looking back since.

When asked why some adult companies fail to push themselves the way Vivid, Hustler and other giants have done, Gross is quick with an answer.

"There are numerous adult companies that feel as if publicity will come to them and isn't necessary," he says. "They feel that they have better ways of spending their money because they only have X amount of dollars to spend. Others feel it is too time consuming. And then there's the camp that thinks their company is never going to get mainstream exposure because of the type of material they produce."

Not only is good and effective PR a necessary beast to engage, Gross believes, but "it's not brain surgery; you just need to handle it correctly and you'll see a big difference because the media can be your friend."

Consumers who love pornography, Gross says, are web savvy and read websites that publish news about adult film stars and adult companies. This creates a self-sustaining electronic PR bonanza that produces immediate results.

"You send out a press release about a client, the client has a website, the press release goes all over the web, people click through, and you see an immediate bump in traffic," Gross says. "It's not like selling records where you have to wait to see what the Sound Scan looks like. It's an immediate reaction to what I'm doing. And that's exciting."

Publicity a Priority
With two leading trade magazines and a plethora of online editors to contend with in the contemporary market, Gross says there is a greater need for companies to issue professionally written press releases.

"There are a lot of writers who don't have time to sit through shitty press releases," he says. "You can't fuck around. You've got to do it right, and you have to be accurate. You can't put out a press release with one ticket of information that's one page long. That's ridiculous."

In addition, online gossip venues about the adult industry are vital to the business, Gross contends, because everybody loves gossip.

"It's my job to keep those people talking about my client," he says.

But how to handle negative publicity about your company or one of your star performers that might appear on a website catering to trade gossip? The last thing to do, Gross advises, is to call the editor and say: "Don't fucking print that, it's bullshit."

"Getting angry is the wrong way to handle it," he says. "I need to prove, as in a court of law, why my client is innocent. The correct way is to say 'You printed this, you're incorrect, here's why you're incorrect, and let's figure out the politics of this leak, why you printed this and what we can do about it."

BSG PR clients pay a simple monthly retainer with a three-month minimum. In publicity, Gross says, it takes three months to get the machine going. The first month involves gathering all of the information and creating a press kit. Month two entails the distribution of the press kit and other press materials.

"And by the third month, if we're not seeing progress, we will shake hands and part ways," he says. "But fortunately I've been able to create progress with most if not all of my clientele.

"It's worrisome to me when people say that they need a publicist because they need to move something by tomorrow. I can't do that, and if a publicist tells you they can, they're not doing it right — you have to take the time to build and create that publicity campaign."

It's now going on six years for BSG PR, and for Gross "it has been an amazing ride." He enjoys the freedom to publicize people and companies that he enjoys working with and prides himself on signing clients like Taylor Wane, Kelly Madison and Joanna Angel, personalities with positive attitudes about the business and a strong work ethic.

"There are so many avenues to make money as a porn star," Gross says. "And if you put your heart into it and really go for it, you can be successful and retire at a young age, or a fairly young age, and never have to work in this industry again. And certainly there have been girls who have done that, but there are only a few who have the capacity to work as hard as they do and make themselves a sustaining success."

Gross prefer to work with clients who are strong individuals that deserve success.

"I want to make it happen for them," he says. "I want to be a part of it. I want to make them successful. That's my passion, that's why I work the long hours I do."


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