In 1998, when Los Angeles was still very much a “boy’s club,” Siri Garber set out to start her own public relations company using the money she had saved in college. In a field she knew nothing about, Siri hit the pavement with only a vision, while also dealing with industry bullying for being young, and a woman. Within six months, she received a “Best Personal Publicist” accolade in “Best of L.A.” by Los Angeles Magazine and has since been voted as one of the top six publicists in Los Angeles by LA Confidential. Platform Public Relations recently merged with Serge PR in NYC and now serves more than 180 clients with offices in Los Angeles, New York and Sydney, Australia.
You own Platform Public Relations. Tell me about the PR firm you founded, in L.A., nonetheless.
We are a boutique talent firm mainly specializing in representing actors and music artists. I started the company in 1998 because I felt the bigger firms were all similar and a little bit generic. I had a vision of how I wanted to run my own company and the types of talent I wanted to work with. I wanted to be creative and to have really fun press kits. This is aging me because we actually used paper press kits back then.
How has PR evolved?
We used to put press kits in the mail and send them to editors. Now, everything is digital. I had a vision of what I wanted my company to become, and I knew that if I worked for a large agency or someone else, I wouldn’t be able to do that. So, I took the money that I had saved in college and started my own company. I had no idea what I was doing. None whatsoever. I looked in the newspaper to figure out how to do a DBA (doing business as) for my name. I had never represented talent. At the time, we used media source books called Bacon’s. We now use Cision which is all online. Then, we went through volumes that were thousands of pages long. If you wanted to lookup an editor, you had to go through a 1,500-page book and look up addresses and phone numbers. When I started, there weren’t even emails because email was new. My first email was an EarthLink email, which I don’t think anybody has anymore. I had only done “event PR” before I started my company when I handled the PR for a celebrity golf tournament that we did out in La Costa. There were six actors there, and every single one of them told me I should do talent PR. “We all love you,” they said, and each one told me they would be my client. When I decided to start my company, I went to each of them and said, “Hey, remember what you told me at the golf tournament. Well, I’ve decided to start my own company.” I started my company with that handful of clients, and within six months, I was awarded the “Best of LA” in the LA Magazine. We grew from there and became the firm that was known to represent hot, young talent or the new Hollywood publicists.
Do you focus primarily on young talent?
We target young talent, although our age range in talent goes across the board. We represent Jon Voight, and a slew of clients over 30 as well. We have clients that are in their mid-twenties to forties, but we also represent talent as young as six. We represent a lot of tweens, but teens seem to be where we land. We represent talent for the younger Netflix shows. We are open to any talent of any age. It just depends on the project.
Siri Garber, how do you get clients? Do you work through an agency or through individual referrals?
We often get referrals through an agent or a manager. Sometimes our clients refer friends. We also seek talent out. We watch the casting announcements each day at Variety, Deadline and the Hollywood Reporter. When there is something we are passionate about or projects that we’re excited about, we look for whoever’s been cast who doesn’t have representation or reach out to the agent or the manager. Sometimes they don’t have representation at all yet.
What’s your client base at any given time?
We have about 180 to 200 within the company and about 30 that are actually active with us at a time. Clients come on and off based on projects. When they are actively promoting their TV show, film, releasing a single, whatever the case is, they are active. When the project ends, if they don’t have another season or another project booked right away, we do what we call hiatus where they’re not actively paying us, but we are managing events and young Hollywood stories that come up. Our contracts are not targeted to any specific timeframe because we still make sure that everything that needs to be done gets handled when they’re not actively on with us. So, our active client base varies from month to month based on how many projects are on at a time.
How large is the team working with you?
We recently merged with the firm Serge PR and now have an office in NYC. We also are now officially Platform, not Platform PR, and we updated our logo. Our joint roster now includes Samira Wiley from The Handmaid’s Tale and Daniel Radcliffe from Harry Potter. We also have an office in Sydney, Australia, run by Jane Negline, who was here in the U.S. with me for eight years. She has amazing clients like Miranda Tapsell from Top End Wedding, Danielle Cormack, Nicole da Silva and Zoe Terakes from the award-winning Wentworth and Geraldine Hakewill from Wanted.
Your parents divorced when you were 21. Was it a surprise for you?
When it happened, yes it was. My parents had always seemed like the perfect couple. All of my friend’s parents that were separating and divorcing would fight and have all kinds of craziness. My parents were always super chill and always doing really fun things. I had the house that everybody wanted to hang out at because I had the fun parents. My parents were also very mellow, kind of ex hippies. I came home from school one day, I was at USC, and one was sitting on this couch, and one was sitting on the other couch. “My God, I’m busted,” I thought. “What did I do?” I was trying to think of what I had done wrong. I’ve never done drugs in my life. I hadn’t been drinking, so I couldn’t figure it out.
They asked me to have a seat and announced to me that they were separating. It was a total shock because I had never seen my parents even argue. It was bizarre. They divorced, and my dad remarried. He has now divorced again. My mom is remarried too. I found my mother’s husband on Jdate, the Jewish matchmaking website. My mom wanted to meet someone, and I took her photo and wrote her profile because she didn’t know what to do. A few days went by, and she called me because she couldn’t figure out who to approach or how to pick someone to approach. I went over to her house, and I picked five or six men that I thought were possibilities. I wrote her emails. She has been married for over 15 years to one of the ones I picked.
What a great story. You did a good deed, and you are a yenta?
I was an online yenta, yes.
You are Jewish. Practicing?
I’m a terrible Jew. Terrible Jew. We’re having a Rosh Hashanah dinner with my family next Monday. I had a bat mitzvah. I was not very happy about it. I was sort of forced to go to Hebrew School, more of a cultural thing. I love the culture of Judaism. I’m not really into the prayers, and I’m one of those who’s not sure what’s out there. I don’t believe that there is God, or one God, but I do know something is out there, but I don’t know what it is. I’ve always felt so strongly about that. When I was about 11, my parents sent me to this very Jewish sleep away camp out in Simi Valley, and it was kosher. It was like blue plates for dinner or yellow . . . I don’t remember which was which. You couldn’t have your meat and whatever together. I absolutely hated the camp. But they had this day where they decided to make us do this exercise. They asked us all to draw God, and I was horrified. I said, “I don’t even know if there is a God.” They thought I was the devil. They replied, “There is a God, and you need to draw him.” I thought, “Well, if there is a God, I don’t know if it’s possible to be female?” Everyone was drawing the same thing, a man looking down from the clouds or a man in a throne. I refused and decided I could not do this. They took me to the office, and I called my dad who picked me up and took me home. That is my stance on religion, even today.
Is your daughter being raised in the Synagogue?
No, not at all. My husband is not Jewish. My daughter is Jewish by birth which she knows. She knows about Hanukkah and as she gets older—she’s six—we will teach her the culture and the events that have happened. If she wants to be Christian, if she wants to be Jewish, if she wants to be Buddhist, I don’t care. When she is older, she will gravitate towards something that makes her happy. We celebrate Hanukkah and Christmas. So, who knows? I would
never force anything on her.
You and your husband have been married over 9 years, and you have one daughter. Is that forever?
I believe so. We have a child, and I think that kind of seals it. My daughter will be eight in January and is the center of my existence. When this business gets really difficult or someone screws you over, which is probably three times a day every day of the week, I just look at her, and it just makes it all disappear. I remind myself that I have created this creature, and she’s amazing. She puts everything else back into perspective. If I never had a child, I possibly would not still be doing this.
Siri Garber, both you and your daughter are only children. Did you ever think maybe another child?
My husband would like another child. He has baby fever. Every time there’s a baby anywhere, he notices. My problem is I started late. I was pregnant at 43, which is a high-risk pregnancy. While I didn’t have any issues, I retained a lot of water and was blimpish. People would ask me if I was expecting twins. I had so much water in my body that, for a while, I couldn’t even feel her kick because she was just floating. I was not a happy pregnant person. I love kids, and I’d love to have another one if someone else carried her for me.
You mentioned changing career paths if you had another child. How hard is the work?
It’s hard. It’s stressful. I would probably have another career or join a big firm because it is very hard to be a woman in this business. When I started this company, it was pre #Metoo and pre the movement that we’re in right now. I was starting a company in the middle of what was very much a boy’s club in this town, and women were not treated well. For example, I walked into one conference room, and there were eight agents around the table. I brought a presentation and press kits because I wanted them to start working with my company. I was really young and looked young, and as I walked in, one of them said, “What are you, 12 years old?” There were many moments like that, and some of them were a lot of worse. I came up through the worst time to be a single white female and was constantly abused.
Gender was your primary impediment?
Yes. But we’re a small firm. I don’t have partners, venture capitalists or a big corporation backing us, so we compete against really big firms when we’re trying to sign clients. It’s tough for us. We always have great talent, and we curate a great roster, but we do not have the Brad Pitts the J.Los or the massive superstars of the world. Unfortunately, that is what a lot of new talent is looking for. We come up against these big firms, and sometimes new talent is under the impression that they’ll get better opportunities if they sign with a firm that has the bigger stars, but it doesn’t work that way. That is old school thinking. I have the same relationships with the same editors that a big firm has. We have the same connections, and very often we work harder and give them a lot more personal attention. Nobody ever gets lost in our roster because not only do we have a small roster, but we don’t take on clients that are similar to each other. Some firms have six or seven girls that all fall into the same age bracket and category and have projects at similar times. I cannot imagine how they divvy up who they’re pitching for this page in Vogue or this page in W when they have five or six people that are competing for the same things. We try to be very careful that we don’t do that. I think that we have a great reputation and are always included in the same meetings as bigger firms.
But the world is changing.
Yes. The interesting thing is that the PR world is shifting right now with everyone splintering off and starting their own firms. There are more boutique firms than there ever have been, in the sense that they have fewer employees because they’re leaving huge firms and taking half of a roster with them. They have as many big stars as a big firm would, but they have that advantage of being smaller. I never worked at a big firm, left and took a bunch of their top clients with me. Instead, I started my firm from the ground up and had to pound the pavement to get my own clients and grow the business.
It must be heartbreaking for you when original clients, (who started with you and reached a certain stature) decide to leave. You have loyal talent, like Jon Voight, but what about the others?
I’ve been with him since day one. We do have some. But this is the sad part of the business. We are really good at elevating our clients who remain with us for four, five, six, some seven, eight, nine years. We get them to a point where they finally hit the pinnacle of their careers; covers for Vanity Fair and Vogue and nominations for top awards. They are in every young Hollywood portfolio or Elle’s Women in Hollywood. Then one day, they get that really big starring role or someone new on their team, like a new manager. They leave their agent and go with a big agency.
Doesn’t that bother you? The lack of loyalty?
No one is loyal in this town. It’s very difficult. People behind the scenes are loyal. We have amazing agents, managers and lawyers that we work with who are great at referring clients and are constantly helping us. But the actual talent is different. There is always someone in their ear. There is always someone telling them that they could be bigger and better. Often what happens is they get to a point where they’re hugely successful, but maybe they’re not booking the roles that they want and are looking for someone to blame. They cannot see that they are responsible for flopping auditions, and their team is not going to tell them that. It is really painful when you’ve started someone’s career from scratch, and then it’s over. We are very good at giving discounts and working with talent financially to help them when they’re coming up because sadly, the younger you are the less you get paid in this town. When they finally get the big paycheck, they are willing to pay the large firms four times what we were paid. It is insulting. They say, “I wouldn’t be where I am without you,” and we get all the accolades, but we aren’t worth it now? When we take somebody on at a discounted rate, the goal is to grow together. We are in this long term, but memories are short.
How do women stay so thin in Hollywood?
I don’t think I want to know most of the time because so many have to really struggle. Some use means that we don’t want to know about . . . and it is definitely a battle. But, I think that it is changing. I remember, when I started in this business, a lot of young actresses were being called ‘lollipops’ . . . because many of their bodies were so thin that their heads became exaggerated. And now, thank God the industry is embracing all kinds of body types.
You really do believe that?
One hundred percent. I’m not working with her now, but for the past two and a half years, I worked with Danielle Macdonald, who is a plussize woman. She is so talented and so beautiful, so stunning. We had her on the cover of Australia’s version of Elle “Women in Hollywood.” She did one of the four covers. She was the first plus-size woman to ever be on the cover of Elle in Australia. We did that. She had an amazing photoshoot in Elle magazine where she just looked beautiful. Vanity Fair. She did the cover of Teen Vogue. We did so much great stuff. Part of my excitement in working with her was not only was she talented, but I loved the fact that she wasn’t this waifish cutout looking like everybody else. She had her own look, and her own vibe and was totally comfortable in her own body. I hope this is the way the world is moving, and Hollywood seems to be moving towards that as well. There are so many women that are powerful now in Hollywood that are leads in TV and film and are not the size 2 body that was the standard in Hollywood for so long.
Many women in this industry that have ascended have done so by keeping a protective core around them—their inner circle. Who is your core?
Because we rely on the referrals from agents and managers, my “core” is a small group of agents and managers that have supported me and always given me business—a small handful of them.
Do you trust them?
Always. They are great. Here is an example. I called someone saying I have a bunch of covers that I need someone to fill because a client left. The next day, I get a call. “Can we send someone over to you right now? She’s leaving tomorrow to go back to South Africa.” I just threw together a meeting, and she signed with us before she left. I just said to a manager, “I really need a girl . . . ” It was someone who cares enough about us in our business that they thought about it overnight, and the next day, we had new wonderful talent.
What is success to you? Are you successful in your mind’s eye?
I am successful, but I’m very hard on myself. I’m a Scorpio. I don’t ever feel that it is enough. Other people around me, like my husband, my family, even my staff, constantly point out to me that I’m doing a great job, that I have created this company from scratch. I bought my own house. Everything that I have, I’ve done for myself. It didn’t come from my parents, a rich family, connections or any of that. But, I never feel like it’s enough. I still feel like I have so much more to do. I have ideas for a couple of shows, and I want to produce.
Ten years from now, where will you be?
I don’t want to fully retire, but I don’t think I’ll want to do PR anymore. I want to have sold my company and oversee it. I don’t want to be as busy and stressed out as I am now. I would like to be able to spend as much time with my daughter as I can in the next ten years. I want to travel. I want to produce. I don’t necessarily know whether I just want to be a producer or write a book about my life and my career and then turn that into a show. I have a couple of shows in mind and pitched a show to an agent last night. My ultimate dream is to be wealthy enough to have a farm somewhere, probably not in L.A. My husband and I both would love to have a sustainable farm; grow all of our own food, and have animals, a horse, and be away from people. I am definitely not a Hollywood person. It’s not the world that I want to immerse myself into for the rest of my life. If I can make money in it and be away from it, that is what I would want to do.
Tell your younger self a lesson or a piece of wise advice. Just your younger self.
I would tell my younger self, “Do not allow yourself to be bullied.” Now I know that I’m good at standing up for myself. When I started my company, I was walked on and suffered constant industry bullying. I’m not saying childlike bullying, but I was bullied by other people, other companies and people I dealt with in this business. I really let it get to me. If I had put all of that aside, then I may have even been more successful than I am now. I let it affect my work by not going after clients with really big managers because, in my head, I told myself they will think I’m too little, or I’m a peon. I still have a little bit of that, but it was a lot worse when I was younger. If that had been gone, I would have propelled myself quicker into the stratosphere that I’m in now.