Susan Smythe Bishop’s career in the motion picture industry spans more than 19 years. She joined Alliance Communications in 1992, and worked on (to name a few) The English Patient, Austin Powers and The Lord of The Rings trilogy. She also collaborated with many high-profile Canadian filmmakers, such as David Cronenberg, Atom Egoyan and Denise Robert. Later, Bishop was promoted to senior vice-president of Publicity and Promotions, and raised the level of promotional activity from a local market focus to fully integrated national partnerships.
Bishop joined Maple Pictures in 2008 as co-vice-president of Publicity and Promotions, where she oversees the publicity and promotions for half of Maple’s product for the Theatrical and Home Entertainment divisions.
Bishop creates event cakes as a side business and donates all profits to the Canadian Picture Pioneers, as a way of giving back to the industry that she’s grown to love. She’s even earned the prize of “Best Wedding Cake” for two consecutive years at Bonnie Gordon’s annual Cake Competition
How long have you been in your current position?
I’ve been working with Maple Pictures for just under two years.
How does your company leverage PR ?
Our primary objectives are to increase awareness of our product and to grow our brand. This can be achieved in a number of ways, including taking part in press junkets, tailoring national opinion-maker screening programs, developing fully integrated national partnerships in all media (with a heavy emphasis on social) that encompasses publicity, sweepstakes/contests and event marketing. We place heavy importance on partnership marketing and working with like-minded companies. With this approach, we can tap into each other’s resources, extend our promotional reach and benefit from each others brand equity.
What qualities are most important to you when hiring a PR team member?
I’ve almost always hired at entry level positions. Ideally, I think that’s how it should always work as when someone leaves our department – the person immediately below them should be able to take over the reins.
An interest in PR and/or a PR background helps, and anyone that has done an internship with a like-minded company would be considered for an interview. In my opinion, the amount of experience required for an entry level position isn’t nearly as important as the personality of the person we are looking for. They have to be a good fit with our team, they have to have a very positive outlook, be a team player, have a good sense of humour and have a natural sense of gratitude. We don’t want to bring someone in who will expect to be promoted within six months, and really shy away from candidates that appear to be star-struck.
Who is your mentor or professional in the industry you admire?
This is a hard question because there simply isn’t just one. I have learned just as much (if not more) from younger staff as I have from my previous bosses. My early experiences gave me the foundation I needed. Paying close attention to my employees has shown me that it’s so very important to have balance in your life and not allow your job to define you. I’ve learned to look for inspiration in everyone I meet, so anyone I’ve come in contact with may have unwittingly become a mentor to me in one way or another. I’ve even drawn inspiration from people whose behaviour is so atrocious that I secretly thank them for showing me how NEVER to behave or treat people.
What are your feelings about how PR has been positioned in the media in more recent years, on popular TV shows?
Well, it actually makes me laugh a little because as far as I’m concerned, I think we have a rather un-sexy career! Don’t get me wrong, I really love what I do (in fact, it took me stepping away from it for a year to really appreciate how much I loved it and this industry). But, it’s not as though we are constantly hanging out with celebrities at parties.
Our job is to make talent look great to the press, even if/when they treat us badly (and some do). We’re the ones that get soaked in the rain while holding the umbrella for the actors as they are stepping onto the red carpet; we are the ones to make sure talent are comfortably seated at the dinner table and that their order has been taken, before we sneak to the bar to munch on bar mix. And, it’s not just about working with actors. In fact, that is a small part of what we do.
It’s sometimes our job to work 18 hour days to pull off an event or a huge promotion without a hitch or to get that proposal polished and ready to present. It can be a really fun, creative and fulfilling career for sure, but you will never find me in stilettos on the job – I’ll be the one wearing sensible shoes, and laughing with my co-workers, as they are the ones I want to hang out with!
What’s your biggest piece of advice for PR pros, both junior and senior?
For junior PR pros, I would say be upfront, honest and earnest with everything you do. For senior PR pros, I think there is so much to be learned from the younger people in our industry. I don’t believe that “I’ve been doing this for years, so I have all of the answers” really holds up anymore (if it ever did), because things have changed on the media landscape so rapidly. The younger PR staff are so savvy and can adapt so easily to change. It’s important that we learn from each other.
What do you love most about your job?
I absolutely love the people I get to work with each day – I’m so fortunate to work with such an amazing group of smart and fun people. I also really love the challenge of putting together a promotional campaign with next to no budget; it really pushes and challenges me to be more creative. More than anything though, I have to say that watching the younger staff learn and grow has become a huge part of what drives me in this crazy business of ours. That is so rewarding and gratifying.
A little more from the fourth floor:
: A great sense of humour.
: O, the Oprah Magazine.
: Lychee Martini.
Motto in two words
: Be Thankful.
Idea of perfect happiness: Just hanging out with my husband and our dog.
Indulgence: Chocolate cupcakes with buttercream icing.
Celebrity crush: Colin Firth.