Is Jess Black an Apostate?

For most people the idea of an art collection that challenges religious doctrine is not particularly ground breaking.  However, after multiple failed attempts at reaching out to several support groups for former Jehovah’s Witnesses I began scratching my head.  I realized that it is quite possible that no one has ever openly challenged the practices taught within this religion out of fear of losing even more than what they have already lost.

When we distributed a press release in August about the theme of this collection it was immediately picked up by Jehovah’s Witness groups as well as anti-Jehovah’s Witness groups.  Our website (jessblackart.com) experienced over a 1000% increase in unique hits.  I checked it three times.  The JW groups shared it with their followers but essentially had no comment.  However, we received several private messages about apostacy.  You take the good with the bad.  The anti-JW groups commented on Jess Black’s bravery in actually calling the religion a cult.  Still others would comment how nice it was that a former JW has made something of his life.  For someone like me who was raised very loosely as a Presbyterian (so loosely I had to verify spelling) the controversy of someone leaving a religion or speaking out against it did not resonate.  I mean, haven’t celebrities made careers of rebelling against Catholicism?

Jess has repeatedly told me, and I believe him, that I will not completely understand because I was raised very differently.  He explains, “When you are part of this religion it becomes your entire life, it’s not just a Sunday thing.  There are definitely good things about it, but overall I wasn’t buying what they were selling.   Because you are not allowed to socialize with others outside of the religion you become somewhat sheltered.  When one wants to leave the religion the church teaches all the others to shun you.  This shunning includes your parents and sibling and all of your friends.  It is believed that the fear shunning instills will bring you back into the religion.  Otherwise, you can find yourself suddenly cut off.   No one ever really says that they are shunning someone but instead would describe people who question their faith or leave the religion as having the wrong or bad heart condition.  As a child I never understood why God would choose to afflict one person over another with a good or bad heart.  Early in my teen years I realized that most of this was bullshit.  I faked it for years.  At age 17 I told my parents just that.  Oh, I also told them I was gay.  I was scared, but staying and living a lie was scarier to me.  I dealt with about six months of hell and moved to New York on my own before my 18th birthday.  I have no idea how I had the guts to do that.  I left the religion before I was formally labeled an apostate or anything like that.   I too have opinions about what is right and what is wrong.”

Heart Condition is the name of Jess’ latest painting, which explores the struggle of deciding to stay within the religion or breaking free and becoming your own person.  This is all part of the “Leather Bound in Black or Red” collection.

As the collection grows it can be viewed at http://www.jessblackart.com.   Exhibition plans in Los Angeles are tentatively scheduled for November 2011.

Hollywood Casting Should Reflect Truth, Not Political Correctness

For years I have been hearing about the white bias in Hollywood.  I have been told how actors of color are overlooked and parts are given to their white counterparts.  I have been told that television and movies do not reflect the actual demographics of this country but rather cater to the white middle class.  I decided to do a little research and discovered that most of what I was told and believed is not true.  In fact, Hollywood has likely favored political correctness by casting ethnicity where it may not necessarily exist.  But does this matter?

The United States is populated with 312,144,000 people.  From this figure 64% identify themselves as white, 16.3% self-identify as hispanic, 12.6% self-identify as Black or African American and 4.8% self-identify as Asian with the remaining 2.3% comprised of Pacific Islander, Native Alaskan and American Indian.  Hollywood should ensure that the color landscape reflects these numbers, right?

African Americans comprise just under 13% of the US population yet they have represented 16-22% of the television landscape since 1999.  While the early 2000s had many black ensemble casts concentrated on secondary networks like UPN and the WB, today there’s Grey’s Anatomy to Gossip Girl, from SVU to CSI, from Desperate Housewives to Parenthood and many more where African-Americans are present in ensemble casts in unprecedented numbers.  African Americans are not under represented on television.

I could find no statistics that reveal the percentage of Asian actors on American television but a 4-5% saturation of working asian actors does not seem unlikely.  Asian actors currently working include, George Takei, Margaret Cho, Amy Hill, Lucy Liu, Daniel Dae Kim, Ming-Na, James Kyson Lee, Sonja Sohn, Tila Tequila (whether you want her or not), Olivia Munn, SuChin Pak, Reiko Aylesworth, Jennie Kwan, Brenda Song, Yun Jin Kim, Sandrea Oh, Jenna Ushkowitz, Harry Shum, Jr., John Cho, Joan Chen, Bobby Lee, BD Wong, Ken Leung, Rex Lee, and so on.  These are just some of the more famous Asian actors.

So as it turns out casting may be fair, it may be more than fair when it comes to numbers. The issue may be how ethnic groups are represented in scripted material.  The questions becomes are Black or Hispanic actors who are cast as doctors and lawyers actually representative of Black or Hispanic lawyers in the real world.  Likewise if they’re cast as gang members and criminals.  Are Asian actors accurately represented when they’re cast as scientists, mathematicians or Chinese food delivery people?

Let’s now try a little casting game and explore our own biases.  Both of these actor/models are the same age and general build.  The only thing that varies is their ethnic makeup. How does this affect how you would you cast Jesse Koskov (left) and Art Napiontek (Right)? Click on each picture to enlarge it.

Another question is if one would have varying opinions if on a headshot it read Jesse Koskov or Jesse Lee or Jesse Peraza?  Does one seem more ethnically specific?  If so, does that affect any opinions you might have of the actor/model?  For the record he is Jesse Koskov.

Is our bias more directed toward women?  For example, based on appearance alone what would be the best role for Diane Yang (Left) and Minka Kelly (Right).  Would it make a difference if Diane used her married name, Diane Kirk?

Hollywood exists to make money.  It makes money by giving the public what it wants.  Hollywood is making a lot of money which stands to reason that it is giving the people a lot of what it wants.  But something is broken in the system.  I’m sure that a few of you had definite opinions about how to cast each of the individuals in the photos. My guess though is that most of you thought that the people in the photos were interchangeable, essentially saying that they could play any role that was not ethnically specific.  Nevertheless, I have heard designers turn away Black or Asian models because, “We already have a [fill in ethnicity] model in this show” or casting agents state, “I’m sorry this role is meant to be more suburban, we didn’t want anyone ethnic.”  Are these statements indicative of casting executives adhering to US demographic studies?  These statements seem ignorant, but they must reflect American ideologies.

Achieving diversity in the arts is about creating characters and scenarios in which characters of color are portrayed as more than the villain/gangsta or comic sidekick/helper or incidental neighbor.  It’s okay to have a television show with two Asian costars where the theme is not about being Asian.  Sometimes that occasional mix of cultures within one country can be funny.  It reflects real life.  I will always remember agreeing to meet a few of my close friends, all of whom are Japanese, at a dim sum restaurant in Los Angeles’ San Gabriel Valley.  When I walked in I realized that the restaurant was huge and every table was filled with Asians with the same dark hair.  We never think about how we spot people in a crowded room.  I started walking to four different tables before I finally found my friends who saw me from the moment I walked in and by this time were laughing hysterically at my predicament.  Apparently my 6’4,” 200 pound frame and blond hair was not difficult for them to spot.  In fact, I was a beacon of confusion for three minutes.

It’s about finding people in Hollywood to create representations that reflect, in some meaningful way, the culture at large.  It’s about creating those moments in life without fear of being politically incorrect.  Once we eliminate the fear of doing or saying the wrong thing we will no longer struggle with what is appropriate.

For more information on Jeff Steck Management please visit www.jeffsteck.com

Jess Black: Examining an Authentic Life

The launch of the new art collection, Leather Bound in Black or Red?, is a personal journey about Artist Jess Black’s religious upbringing.  With two paintings completed, Black is realizing that this collection transcends his personal experience.  While each piece is specific to Black’s life, the collection is resonating with others who have felt trapped pretending to be someone they are not.  These paintings will explore societal limitations but celebrate liberation.  This collection is for all people who have endured an unauthentic life out of fear of rejection.

The newest painting reveals Black living a life of oppression, conforming to arbitrary standards that force him to swallow his own truth.  A truth that if discovered will result in his abandonment and end his life as he knows it. Dressed in his Sunday best, Black replaced his head with a programmed television.  Painted in the lower right corner of the television is the word “Propaganda.”  The faint depiction of his face in the monitor is marred with tape placed over his mouth to silence “his truth” from being proclaimed.  His body is that of a goat, because in Matthew 25:32 it reads “All the nations will be gathered before Him, and He will separate them one from another, as a shepherd divides His sheep from the goats.”  Note that it is not His sheep and His goats.  It reads that sheep will go to heaven for being His followers and goats will be condemned for turning away from God.  Unknowingly by others, Jess is taught that he is a goat, though assumed to be a sheep.  He does his best to hide his truth in his best sheep’s clothing.

As we look beyond his body we see stacks of houses.  Each house has been visited door to door.  There are houses of those saved and houses, marked with a red X, of those who will not be saved.  Other people with television heads adorned with halos and labeled as “brother” or “sister” are standing on the same soap box where our hero gently rests his hoof.  These societal siblings appear blissfully unaware of the horns growing from their increasingly conflicted “brother.”

This painting also gives hope for liberation.  His tie is melting away indicating a fading of his imposed dogmatic shell.  Black also incorporated his tattoos in the painting; tattoos he acquired long after rejecting his Jehovah’s Witness upbringing.  He explains, “The tattoos represent the real me shining through.  They symbolize who I am supposed to be, not who they want me to be.”  He continues, “This is the first time I have put all of these feelings into art.  It’s the first time that I am sharing so much about my private life.”

For more information on how you can view or own an original painting by Jess Black, please visit http://www.jessblackart.com

21 PR Mistakes

The following is taken directly from Business Insider magazine.  It encapsulates everything that I tell to clients.  While it’s nice to be validated by the larger agencies, sometimes it’s nice to hear information from other sources.  My personal comments are in bold.

Public relations is more important than most small business owners realize. But before you take a deep dive into PR, you should know: It’s not the 80’s – everything has changed. You may have built a profitable company, but with the right public relations strategy, you’re on the brink of developing a world-class “brand.”

Before you develop illusions of grandeur about landing on The Today Show or the front page of national news — you should be keenly aware of the mistakes that most small business makes when it comes to PR.  So many believe that they should instantly be at the top because of how superior they feel their product is.  In actuality, the superiority of one’s product is the foundation on which to build, not a free pass to the top.

We’ve tapped some of the nation’s leading public relations firms, run by entrepreneurs just like you, to uncover the number one PR mistake your small business makes. Are you, and your agency, doing PR right? Let’s find out.

1. Don’t discount relationships with bloggers. Keep media relationships at a happy and healthy pace with timely information – it works wonders! Heck, one of my clients will be on the Today Show because of it.  This is the foundation of my company.  Never underestimate your online presence.

Seattle: Jaime Palmucci, Founder/Digital Strategy Director at Debutante Media: @debutantemedia

2. Make your business newsworthy.  If you think editors should just write about your company simply because it launched – think again. Don’t leave out news value or potential news angles and ideas.  Your company might be brilliant, but something becomes newsworthy when there is an angle.  There needs to be a perspective that gets attention.

Chicago: Molly Lynch, Founder/Managing Director at Lynch Communications Group: @mollylynch

3. Trust your PR agency!  You hired us for a reason, so listen to us. If we suggest you need new photography, you probably do. If we tell you that you need to do this interview, you need to do it. Challenging your PR agency’s expertise is only going to defeat the purpose of hiring us.  We’re here to help you, so let us help.

NYC: Lauren Rich, Founder + Director at RICHPR: @RICHPRStar

4.  Include PR as part of your ongoing business model. If you opt for DIY PR, remember that sending a poorly crafted press release here and there and expecting it to bring you exposure won’t work.

Portland: Carey Powell, ACC, President/Owner at Fearless PR and Media: @FearlessCoach

5.  Invest in your company’s profile.  Invest your time, energy and budgets in building your brand through media relations, social media, speaking engagements and more. As a small business, it’s important to build a strong foundation for your brand, and in turn, your company will appear more credible and dynamic to target media and potential customers.

Charleston: Beth M. Cleveland, Principal at Elm Public Relations: @PR_Beth

6.  Choose the right firm to represent your brand. It is crucial that you and your public relations firm are on the right page, and definitely a part of the same industry. Don’t sign with a PR firm just because your friend owns it, you like the website, or because you can afford them. A PR agency should be the final missing puzzle piece and the right fit to complete your vision.  Agreed!  As the owner of a small agency I also have to be aware of my own reputation.  I focus on smaller businesses, individuals, and independent films because I know I can make a positive impact.  At this point my company will not entertain larger format companies or companies with an established brand.  It’s our job at JSM to build a brand from the ground up.

NYC: Jordanna Stephen, Founder/President at Touch of Pink Public Relations: @TouchofPinkPR

7. Random pitching is not a strategy. Don’t send poorly constructed, non-targeted press releases and pitches to random media outlets – it is a huge mistake. A large majority of business owners don’t take the time to understand how journalists and editors work, and in turn their press releases and pitches end up in the trash.  So many are under the impression that this is a numbers game.  Throw enough out there and something will stick. The reality is that if you throw crap out there you are damaging your reputation.  One good release does not offset 20 poorly crafted pitches.

NYC: Kristin Marquet, President at Marquet Media: @KristinMarquet

8. Don’t underestimate what it takes to make media magic. A tremendous amount of time and energy is required to make media placement magic happen! And once you land a major press hit, not using the placement for marketing is a huge mistake. A mention in Real Simple, a quote in the New York Times, or an appearance on Good Day New York should be a part of your credentials.

NYC: Andrea Samacicia, Owner at Victory Public Relations: @VictoryCom

9. Don’t hire an agency that doesn’t do research. Research is an essential component to any PR plan. Your agency should know your audiences, industry, competitors, relevant media outlets and appropriate contacts.  Post-campaign research is also necessary to measure the effectiveness of your campaign. Though research is the most neglected, it is the most valuable aspect to ensure results.

Miami: Danika Daly, President/CEO at Danika Daly PR: @danikadaly

10. Get out of your own way. Don’t create your own hurdles by spending too much time on who you want to be instead of who you are. Finding your own voice is so important because PR will broadcast that, so that people can find you. This is the reverse of what a lot of small businesses and publicists do, which is to go out and try to change minds. You run a business, not a charity. Sell nuts to squirrels.

Chicago: Philip Chang, Partner at Carbon Publicity : @strongerbonds

11. Refine your media lists. Targeting big-name press and media outlets, just because they have name recognition and large audiences isn’t always the best way to go. There is far more value in a local and niche media outlets, where your audience will be more relevant and interested in your message.

Chicago: Ryan Evans, President at Bitesize PR: @bitesizepr

12. Maximize the momentum. Most businesses don’t know how to maximize the exposure they get with a public relations program. There is so much more you can do with an article, a news clip, radio interview or blog review after it airs or runs. And once you receive press, don’t rely on PR solely to move the needle with sales without any other type of marketing or advertising program.

NYC: Elyse Bender-Segall, CEO at PR Revolution: @prrevolution

13. Be realistic and give it time. You don’t give PR enough time to work effectively, and expect it to make your business flourish overnight. Many small businesses only utilize PR for a short amount of time and then abandon it quickly when it doesn’t live up to their unrealistic expectations.

Los Angeles: Steven Le Vine, President/CEO at Grapevine PR: @grapevinepr

14. Invest in your brand. Don’t underestimate the value of investing in professional photography, branding collateral and press samples. Presentation is everything when you launch a new brand and introduce your business to influencers, media and to the public for the first time. To get the most out of your PR investment, be sure to equip your publicist or agency with the proper tools to succeed.

NYC: Carla M. Nikitaidis, President/Founder at CMN PR @cmnpr

15. Understand your target audience. Small businesses sometimes shoot for coverage in outlets that are not relevant to their audience or end goals. When planning PR strategy, the intended business results should always be at the forefront — not coverage just to have “ink”.  This is extremely important.  The goal is to target those who are most likely to become your customers.  Again, “shoot-in-the-dark” PR does not work.  

NYC: Karen D’Angelo Hopp, Co-Founder/Partner at Bazini Hopp: @karenhopp

16. Hire a Firm that Get’s It!  Don’t hire a large PR firm for namesake that can’t cater to the unique needs of a small business. With a small agency or consultant you can, more often than not, spend a lot less money and get a higher level of work done. If you hire a consultant, you can gain 11 years of experience for the price of a junior account executive at a larger firm and know who’s handling your account.  This is exactly why I started JSM.  There was a need for talented individuals and quality small businesses who had only nominal budgets.

Los Angeles: Elizabeth Rosenberg, President at LOFT Marketing & Communications: @loftmkt

17. Learn what public relations really means. Many small business owners are extremely excited to be in business and assume the most immediate need for their business is public relations. PR is a component of Marketing, so it’s essential for you to have a clear understanding of your brand first and to set some long-term marketing goals prior to seeking PR.  With the internet many, including myself, are finding that the lines of market and PR are blurring a little bit.  The differences still exist.  Marketing establishes what your are and how you will be perceived.  PR makes sure that everyone knows about it.  However, I can release a marketing campaign online that accomplishes both tasks.  The lines have blurred.

Houston: Ashley Small, President/Digital PR Specialist at Medley Incorporated: @ashleyrsmall

18. Create a crisis management plan. A mistake or failure on the operations side requires fast mobilization to address the underlying issue as well as the resultant problems with key audiences. Too many small organizations don’t think it’s worth investing any time or capital in this area, and they frequently pay for it in the long run – because the margin of error drops to zero over time for any successful business.

Los Angeles: Brad Chase, Partner at Capitol Media Partners: @mrbradchase

19. Stop pitching the wrong media outlet. Too often small businesses (and some PR firms) don’t take the time to make sure a media outlet is the right fit for their publicity needs. Pitching to everyone is a waste of time and a great way to get blacklisted.  This goes back to my statement about thinking this is a numbers game.  Pitches must be strategic or ultimately we must go into crisis prevention mode to recover a company’s good reputation.

Austin: Shennandoah Diaz, CEO and Master of Mayhem at Brass Knuckles Media: @brasskmedia

20. Think beyond the press release. PR is a relationship between your company and the media. Nurturing that relationship is invaluable. Befriend reporters relevant to your business and make sure they know you and your company long before you have a new release or other press event. Then when the time comes you’re sharing news with a good friend and not sending a Word document full of press speak.

NYC: Sarah Kunst, Founder at whEnroute: @sarahkunst

21. Be prepared. Great, we can get you coverage but you need a call to action. Always invest first in a web site that functions before investing in media relations as part of PR. Also PR needs to be a priority; it is an investment in the longevity of your business so please make time for it.   !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

There you have it.   PR can make a world of difference for your company.  Do not underestimate its potency.  But also understand that it builds upon itself and is not overnight.   For more information please visit http://www.jeffsteck.com.