How PR Pros Adapt to Adult's Evolving Landscape

LOS ANGELES — It’s not just more hype from the professional hype merchants. Like their counterpart clients, adult PR firms can no longer depend on one segment of the industry to pay the bills and must seek new opportunities in the fast-changing adult landscape.

Whereas media reps used to rely on studios or the occasional novelty company to fill their client rosters, they're now forced to branch out and represent any number of different types of companies that includes pleasure products, authors, sex educators, expos, manufacturers and in many cases performers themselves.

And that means the honing of new skills and smarts.

The industry’s top PR companies are realizing that writing releases and sending emails simply isn’t enough anymore, despite the adult’s incestuous and relatively small industry. Add the impact of the Internet and the continued acceptance of porn in the maintream and what's emerging is a new paradigm — with new rules.

Hodder Media Inc. chief, Anne Hodder, a media pro who’s made the transition early on says she’s often jokingly referred to by some clients as the “Sex Toy Girl” because of the amount of new novelty companies she represents.

“I work with a slew of companies but specialize in the sex toy market. You can hold a vibrator up to my face and I could probably tell you who made it without having to look at the packaging (I’m in it that deep, so to speak). And that’s one of the reasons clients come my way, in addition to my unique understanding of sex toy manufacturing, marketing, packaging and education,” Hodder says.

That kind of “face-time” that includes product and industry knowledge is what’s separating the old school PR types from those who are seeing positive results for their clients — and their companies.

And any edge helps. Performer and PR agent Kelly Shibari — part of the new, more tech-centric breed of reps — brings social media skills and her adult fans to the table for her clients.

“I am able to leverage my fan base and brand as a performer on social media. When you add to that my marketing background, my understanding of mainstream entertainment marketing, product placement, network, my tenure in the industry on multiple levels and my writing skills, I think you end up with a well-rounded marketer who also understands publicity in a way that is not sensationalist,” Shibari says.

But that’s only half of the battle. Shibari points out that she must also be able to have a solid grasp on her clients’ market segment. She notes that some companies simply don’t do their market segment research. “They think they have an innovative product, but three other companies are already in the market with a similar product,” she said, explaining that when a company wants a new spin on an old product she’ll try and highlight the product’s “heritage” in a new way instead of simply trumpeting it on social media as the biggest and best.

And social media can be a double-edged sword. The Rub PR’s Erika Icon said that it involves much more than just tweeting. “We counsel clients not to start fights, speak negatively and/or ruin their reps. It’s unprofessional when companies, performers, and/or other PR firms engage in this type of behavior,” Icon warns.

It’s this kind of added value that’s becoming necessary in adult PR according those on the front lines. Today more than ever, a rep must have a solid working knowledge of both mainstream and adult media.

Icon, whose company focuses primarily on talent branding is even seeing the tables turning where mainstream companies are looking to break into the adult arena.  “I notice more webcam companies seeking PR. I’ve worked with a few, but have turned down the majority of them. Many come from the mainstream world and have an unrealistic idea about how much they’ll be making. Webcam companies generally lose money the first six months, and are lucky to break even. They can’t compete with huge companies like Streamate and Cherry Pimps,” Icon said.

Whereas mainstream savvy in days gone by was minimal, today it’s become essential.

Icon said she not only brands her clients as mainstream-ready but gets them work, pointing to a circle of mainstream movie directors, producers and writers that contact her regularly for casting. “One of my clients was cast in a mainstream horror movie currently making the rounds in Europe and U.S. film festivals. The same director/writer just got a deal for six more movies and is very interested in three of my girls. Most of my current clients are being cast in a drama currently being written that will be made next year. And later this month, Kimber James is appearing on a reality show on E!. Mainstream is a logical progression for adult starlets that can act and have the right look,” she says.

Sexual wellness website, another Icon client saw placement in Vice Magazine, Jezebel, Cosmo U.K., Gizmodo U.K. and Jacket that led to a soon-to-be-announced distribution deal.

Fine Ass Marketing vice president Christopher Ruth pointed out that although mainstream media is often the desirable goal, it’s a very general term, and good PR means deciphering the details. “Any media that is not adult industry related is lumped under mainstream media, but there is a huge amount of diversity — fitness media, university media, health media, women's interest media, comic media, etc.  All of these media outlets are looking for unique angles to stories, and many are especially curious when approached about an adult performer who fits into their realm,” he said.

Ruth’s laundry list of clients includes every facet of the sexual health and wellness field in addition to adult companies and performers. He notes pleasure product manufacturers, sexual health products, delivery platforms, award shows, expos, sex educators, lingerie manufacturers, websites, authors, an anti-piracy service, a sociologist, musicians, and even fitness equipment as the new types of companies seeking representation.

Although adapting means courting new types of companies, some old school rules are still important.

BSG PR owner Brian Gross says, “what really matters is a good story.” Gross, a 21-year veteran, represents an array of different companies including websites, pleasure products, and some individuals themselves, and says that whereas in the past when PR types could focus on a few interested outlets, now the Internet has not only created a new vehicle for companies, it has also substantially increased the amount of media outlets — and that means providing news that will attract more eyeballs.

"The relationships we have with mainstream media writers allows us to work on story ideas together with them.  It doesn't matter if my clients are 'adult' or 'mainstream,'" Gross points out.

StarFactory PR for example, has taken a fan interest in “cosplay” [costumed characters] and used it to effectively promote adult star Tanya Tate – differentiating her from other porn stars.

“We find a specific organic quality that makes someone special and capitalize on that. Easy example is Tanya Tate and geek media. The cosplay angle was something that was already an interest of hers. We just took it to the next level and were able to succeed mainly because it wasn’t manufactured,” StarFactory says.