Eleanor Howlett, the director and founder of Sassy Red PR, has worked in the arts industry for over 15 years. She is dedicated to delivering media-savvy campaigns, based on superior industry knowledge, with a passion for working with independent artists, organisations and companies.
How did Sassy Red PR come about?
I really love the independent arts industry in Australia. I’ve worked in and around it since I was in my late teens. I’m originally from Brisbane and impressed someone enough to get accepted to train at WAAPA, in Perth, as an actor. When I was shoved out of that nest, I eventually ended up in Melbourne and, as is the way, discovered I actually needed to be able to eat between acting gigs.
I worked in a multitude of roles before securing a position at an arts venue as a Box Office Administrator. It really struck me as quite odd, when I was there, that there wasn’t more support in the marketing and publicity of the artists and companies that hired the space. The venue was just an empty space without shows and artists utilising it – so by promoting them, we were promoting ourselves as well. That just made sense to me as good business, and everyone came out a winner. I ended up pushing for that, developing it at the venue and I found it really challenging and enjoyable. When I eventually ended up leaving that position, I walked away and decided I just didn’t want to work for anyone else anymore except myself, and my own clients.
I started Sassy Red PR through the New Enterprise Incentive Scheme (NEIS) and never looked back.
The first two financial quarters though I did spend a good deal of time sitting in quiet rooms, motionless and stunned, wondering what the hell I’d gotten myself in to, but when it took off it just grew and grew. I feel very blessed that people trust me with their shows, and want me to be a part of their team.
It gives me this great freedom to work with a diverse cross-section of artists and companies, to work freely and without others holding me back, and to still be a part of an industry I love. Plus – there really was no one else specialising in working with independent artists in this way, when I started out. Well… none that I knew of. As an independent artist myself, I understood how to set up the business in a way that catered to that demographic, and supported them.
Why is it important to you to support independent artists, companies and organisations?
The independent artists, companies and orgs of today will be running and informing our main stages tomorrow. They’re the future of Australian arts – and given the volume of talent already producing work in dark, out-of-the-way pop up spaces in Melbourne, it’s very exciting.
People have strengths in many areas – I work very collaboratively with the clients I take on, and they hire me to do the job they don’t want to have to do, or just can’t. I do have a tough love approach at times, but it’s purely because while I work with them, I aim to also give them some understanding and skills about the process so that they can use them next time, should they not have the funds to hire a publicist.
For example, I’m always very pedantic about promotional images. Pics are THE most important part of a company’s promotional kit. If they look like a six-year-old took them on her mobile phone while running, I won’t let it slide. If the tools I have to promote a show don’t do the show credit – I’m not doing my job effectively, and it reinforces this limited view of indie artists I think some (possibly the majority) of the media have.
To be an independent artist in this country and stage your own work more often than not you need to be creator, funder, administrator, writer, director, while also working in a ‘day job’ – it’s massive. People are so stretched, it’s nigh on impossible to juggle all the aspects effectively.
I look at part of my role as working to eradicate this brushstroke view that independent artists are all flaky and disorganised when it comes to the business (promotion, marketing, etc) side of their work. They’ve hired me – right away it’s obvious they understand the importance of the marketing and publicity of their work, which speaks volumes
I’ll always remember when I started working for a company and after sending out the first release for one of their shows this journo emailed me and just said; “Thank GOD they finally got a professional publicist on board.”
It was pretty funny, but also quite telling.
You’ve recently added Sassy Red Productions to the Sassy Red empire, is production something you have always been passionate about or a new love?
I’ve actually been producing theatre since 2008, but it seemed logical to add that in to Sassy Red when I actually found the time to do it again! I was really only able to get back into that when Sassy Red PR had found it’s rhythm, and I knew how to allocate my time.
I’ve had companies approach me with a few other projects recently, but either the timing was off or I didn’t feel the work was a good fit. I have a golden rule that I don’t work with clients or companies whose work I’m not engaged with, or passionate about. It’s just insulting to take on this kind of work for the cash. You’re working with people on important projects here; work they’ve invested a lot of time, creativity and passion towards, and it’s really disrespectful to bypass that for the bucks.
It’s not lost on me that I’ve managed to skillfully choose two of the most demanding, most thankless roles in the arts world (or any industry, for that matter), but I like a challenge. I find them both very rewarding, and that’s what matters. It’s my working life, and I have no desire to spend it doing something I’m not passionate about.
If you had to sum up your approach to life in one sentence what would it be?
Game on; because you can still be playful and have fun while getting the job done.