“Five Minutes With” Friday again…today we talk to BARRY FITZSIMMONS, an author, writer, producer, editor, creator, strategist, brainstormer, storyteller, podcaster and marketing man with a very exciting track record. Companies he’s worked with include ESPN, MLB Network, Studio City, NBC, CNBC …. you get the idea. His two books are Promo Cowboy and Life Askew.
So you’re the Promo Cowboy. What is a promo cowboy? A “promo cowboy” is a person who is devoted to a career in TV promotion, branding, marketing and/or content creation, and finds himself (or herself) skipping often from job to job, or town to town, in order to make a living at it. There are hundreds of us in New York alone. Maybe thousands. And when you count the cowboys in all 50 states, plus Canada… well, that’s a movement.
I gotta make one thing clear, though – despite the fact that my Twitter handle is @promocowboy, I am not the original Promo Cowboy. That was Greg Trimble, a fellow New York freelancer I’d known back in the 90s, who had this vibe, this persona, sort of like a cowboy. I think many of us cultivate a sort of persona, especially in New York, where it’s more challenging to stand out – it’s part of the reinvention process when you go from job to job and climb the ladder… every character in my novel, Promo Cowboy, shares this trait.
Anyway, Greg was a hell of a guy, and he died of a terrible, debilitating illness. Promo Cowboy, the novel, is an attempt to commemorate Greg, and to document our end of the industry. I mean, there have been some really important, dramatic and funny stories told about TV news, chiefly on film (Network, Broadcast News, Groundhog Day, Anchor Man), but Promo Cowboy may be the first to focus on TV marketing & promotion – plus, it has a serial killer, so… Yeah, my little TV-industry expose morphed into a crime drama (sequels are in the works!) as well as a podcast about working in TV marketing and promos. Makes total sense, right?
Best part of being your own boss…. It’s more about control than freedom. I often say that the idea of being your own boss is more alluring than the actual practice. I’m independent by nature, and I enjoy the freedom of being a cowboy, but that freedom is elusive, and illusive. I have a family to feed and a home to pay for. The truth is, as Promo Cowboy says, you gotta hustle and never stop. Here it is, the last days of summer, and I’d sure like a day at the beach, only I got clients to look after! Still, as a freelance promo producer in New York, you’re going to make more money than the guys on staff – a lot more, depending on how you position yourself.
My first big break was: Freshly graduated from BU’s film school, I am offered a position as Office PA on ABC’s Spenser: For Hire, filmed on location in Boston. I work 15-hour days, make coffee, make copies, answer phones, open and close the place (FILO). I make $50 a day and love it. Soon, I am on location with the crew and work even longer days, most of them outdoors, at wintery New England locations, freezing my ass off. I make $75 a day and love it.
Favorite way to jumpstart a stalled creative streak: Walk away. Bring a pad or use the voice record app and have a stream-of-consciousness conversation with yourself about the message you’re trying to get across, why it matters. Study the masters. Watch a classic film. Pray for clarity. If you’re the creative director, gather the team in front of a white board. Make the quietest person in the room say what he or she thinks – they always have something good to contribute.
Best quick office-type energy boost is: Eat an apple. Drink some coffee. Tea works too. Get outside. Take purposeful, copious breaths of oxygenated air, in through the nose – machine rooms are also great for that, the air is ionized.
Tech you use most in your job that you never thought you’d use: Before 2005 or so, I never expected I’d become an editor. Now I use Final Cut Express to cut my podcast. Best hundred bucks I ever spent. I love losing track of time when I’m editing something I believe in, where I’m the client, when I’m chasing a vision and getting closer with each keystroke. It’s sort of like writing a novel. It feels more like sex than work.
Latest campaign or spot you worked on and for whom: “Unstoppable,” Major League Baseball’s Postseason campaign for 2016, which has just begun running cross-channel on Fox, ESPN, TNT, MLB Network, etc. The campaign was designed by the great group at Oishii. Baseball fans will, I hope, come to love Sia’s latest single, which is the base track.
Favorite commercial or promo of all time: Hmmm… Guess I gotta go with Apple’s 1984 ad. I remember where I was when it aired, watching the Super Bowl in the common room at my dorm, a brownstone on Bay State Road in Boston. Changed the world, that ad did.
You made the switch from affiliate marketing to more…how did you do that? Sheer will, a few lucky breaks, maybe a little talent. That first gig on Spenser: For Hire lasted three years, and on hiatus I worked on commercials and features like Field of Dreams and Prancer, but I didn’t have the stomach for the film business. I started in on my first novel, Life Askew, and moved to Manhattan, and dreamed of living the writer’s life. Then, somehow, I landed a job writing and producing promos for Chris Spencer at The Comedy Channel (the network we now know as Comedy Central), then HBO & Cinemax. From there I moved into local and then network TV promos.
The thing is, all my jobs have been short-lived. I’ve never had a serious gig last longer than three years. I’ve jumped from cable nets to local stations, big networks and back, all in Greater New York City (aside from extended freelance stints in Philly for KYW, and Bristol for ESPN, and by then I’d moved my family to Connecticut). I have spent two separate three-year stints working for Frank Radice and Bill Hartnett at NBC News Marketing, and I would have chained myself to the radiator if it meant I could stay. Seriously, there is no more exciting place to work than 30 Rock – that building has a pulse to it. I was just there for a couple weeks, helping my friends at MSNBC during the conventions. Anyway, it feels like I’ve worked everywhere in this town, but there are still a few mountains to climb. Hello, Viacom?
You have 10 minutes to kill online. What sites do you visit? I’m so boring… Facebook, YouTube, Twitter, Linkedin, ESPN, HuffPo, Netflix (to update my watch list). The internet is more a tool than a toy for me.
Who would you like to spend “Five Minutes With”? Jesus Christ Himself
Mark Your Calendars and hats off to Raycom who is bringing attention to the devastating floods that have inundated Louisiana. No, a flood just doesn’t ‘go away’…the heartbreak lingers and the losses are incalculable. September 5, Labour Day, all Raycom stations and Bounce TV affiliates will broadcast a live concert hosted by Harry Connick, Jr and Randy Jackson featuring a dozen artists performing at Baton Rouge’s River Center Theatre. Called Louisiana Rising: A Benefit Concert for Flood Relief, it’s slated to run from 8/7 to 10/9 (Eastern and Central) and help out our brothers and sisters whose lives have been so horribly impacted. Well Dunne! to all the Raycom people at each of their stations and thanks LEC COBLE for the info.
Think About This: “The simplest acts of kindness are by far more powerful then a thousand heads bowing in prayer.” ~ Mahatma Gandhi
Copyright 2016 © Kate Bacon / Well Dunne! Talent