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Maggie Gallant: The Journalists' Publicist

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''I believe in being a journalist first, and I believe in being passionate about what you do and having fun with it,'' Maggie Gallant explains. After a pause she adds, ''When I say 'having fun,' I don't mean long lunches with martinis and getting sloshed and coming back to the office a la Samantha from Sex and the City.''

While the behavior of Samantha Jones from the wildly popular HBO show Sex and the City isn't the best representation of what it takes to succeed in the field of public relations, passion for what you are doing and the ability to think like a journalist definitely are.

From an early age Gallant wanted to be a performer. She had a personality that was suited for it: she loves being in front of an audience, loves the creativity it invokes, and loves the theater. It was only fitting, then, that she intended to pursue a career in the field after graduating from college. Still, to be certain this was a wise professional move, while attending George Washington University, she decided to explore other industries to make sure there weren't any other fields that interested her as much as theater.

She began working at USA Weekend and eventually was hired on as a writer. What she discovered while there was that she loved coming up with the ideas for stories, even more than writing the stories themselves. It was then that she realized that public relations was the field for her. She promptly decided to create a public relations major at George Washington, taking courses in communications, event planning, marketing, and many, many journalism classes. Why journalism? "Because," as she puts it, "you can't pitch a reporter until you know how a reporter writes a story or creates a segment."

Following graduation, Gallant moved to New York and began working at a film publicity PR firm. However, that didn't last long. "I knew that it was time to go because they just weren't at the same passion level that I was in my career." She returned to her position at USA and began interviewing with all of the New York PR firms and was disappointed to learn that no firm for which she was applying approached the field with the vital combination of understanding the journalistic perspective and the creativity to generate new ideas.

Then September 11th, 2001, came. Gallant lost a close personal friend who was very inspirational to her. This, in addition to an innate drive to succeed and the belief that she could be a better publicist than those with whom she was interacting, led her to start her own firm. She called representatives from the Clif Bar company and pitched herself to them, explaining why she would be the best person to represent their product. Without even meeting her, and with her located on the other side of the United States, at the age of 22 she was hired. It was then that Spotlight Communications was established.

Many would argue that venturing out at such a young age would create challenges since Gallant did not have much experience or much of a track record behind her, but she only saw her age as beneficial. "I knew in my heart and soul that being 22 was an asset. I wasn't an older, jaded publicist who was sick of what they were doing, because I was definitely meeting those kinds of publicists in New York," Gallant explains. "I loved what I was doing, and I felt so honored to be able to do it, and I was hungry and so excited, and that was important."

Q: What do you like to do in your spare time?
A: I do love just walking the streets of New York. I love entertaining. There's nothing I love more than opening up my home to my friends and family. I play tennis and go for walks around the city, and I really feel fulfilled by the work I do for UJA Federation New York.

Q: What was the last piece of music that you listened to?
A: I am a very crazy Billy Joel fan. In our office we play music from an iPod, and we all kind of switch around our iPods. My iPod was most recently played, so Billy Joel was playing.

Q: What is the last magazine that you read?
A: The last magazine that I read was Vogue, this morning.

Q: What is your favorite television show?
A: I watch so much television, and I love so many different shows for different reasons, but I'm a very big Oprah Winfrey fan. I think that she asks very good questions. I think that she connects with her viewers so well. There's many things, obviously, that you could say about Oprah — she's [a] borderline religious icon in our society these days, but I think she produces every day an exceptional show, and I don't think you can say that about a lot of other programs. And I always walk away learning something from her program.

Q: Who is your role model?
A: My personal role model is a woman named Barbara Roos. She is an event planner out of Atlanta, Georgia, where I grew up, and she's someone who has had personal trials in her life. And she pulled herself up by her Ferragamos, and she is now one of the most sought-after event planners in the country. She is someone who's taught me a lot about being strong and being fabulous. And I say that in every sense of the word; she's fabulous. Being strong, being fabulous, and being loyal. And all of those things are what I try to be every day.

Six years later this hunger and excitement remain, as well as a strong work ethic and the ability to think like a journalist. "[In] everything I do in creating a PR campaign, [from] writing the materials to what I say when I'm on the phone with reporters, I constantly have in my mind what it was like to be that person on the other end receiving those materials or receiving that phone call," Gallant says.

She thinks like a journalist not only because she was one, but because she knows that doing this will ultimately lead to success in the public relations field. According to Gallant, every publicist should ask themselves, "What is newsworthy about this?" when determining which products or services to publicize. And if they don't believe that there is anything newsworthy, they shouldn't promote or publicize the product; they shouldn't work with it at all. From a personal standpoint Gallant states, "If I don't really believe in it, and I can't be passionate about it, I think that that reads very clearly to people."

And Gallant is passionate about what she does, both in her professional and personal life. She is passionate about this field, and is thankful that her job has put her in a position to constantly learn and utilize her mind. She is passionate about giving back to others, women in particular, because helping them ultimately means that everyone succeeds. She is passionate about giving back to the community as a whole and enjoying time with friends and family. She is passionate about living, because she believes she will become a better publicist by having experiences that allow her to better understand the world around her.

So, in Gallant's estimation, success in the PR industry is dependent upon how well you think like a journalist, how passionate you are about what you're doing, and how hard you're willing to work to get what you want and to go where you want. Gallant concludes, "I think that the number-one thing is to plan to work hard…[because] the more you put into this job, the more you're going to get out of it."
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