Myrtille Beauvert unwraps the rewards and challenges of freelance PR while navigating the nuances of a foreign culture.
Working in Paris is such an amazing opportunity that many people only dream of—including me, to be honest. What led to you working there?
I was born in Paris, grew up on the Canal Saint Martin, studied in Parisian schools and universities for the most part, [and] developed my professional network there. Working in Paris was actually the easiest option for me. Moving to Grenoble, Montreal, and New York meant getting out of my comfort zone, which was way more exciting, and challenging.
You studied photographic history for two years at the Ecole du Louvre, then earned a Bachelor’s and Master’s in Art History at the University of Paris. Did you originally plan to be a photographer? What led you to being a publicist with Catherine Philippot?
I never planned to be a photographer. I played a bit with my mother’s old camera when I was in high school, [but] the more I learnt about master photographers, the more I realized that I would never be a talented artist. I became more interested in sharing the creative work of others than becoming an artist myself. After getting a Master’s in History of Photography, I didn’t want to pursue an academic career or be a curator, so I did another Master’s in Cultural Management at the Institute of Political Studies of Grenoble. At the end of the Master’s, I did an internship at the Communications department of the Maison Europeenne de la Photographie (MEP) in Paris and worked there for about a year. After a brief attempt to move to Montreal, Canada, I returned to Paris, where Catherine Philippot, a PR [firm] specializing in photography, was looking for a junior publicist, and my former boss, the Director of Communications of the MEP, had recommended me. I worked with Catherine for two years and a half. The combined experience of working within an institution and an agency definitely helped me with my freelance career.
Why did you decide to go freelance, and how was that transition? What personal and professional challenges did you face?
The artist Anne Calas hired me to help develop her career. She is an incredibly dynamic and creative writer, singer, [and] actress, and I loved collaborating, producing, and publicizing her various projects, books, shows, albums, exhibitions, etc. I didn’t think about going freelance, but my schedule was flexible and soon enough, people started to reach out and asked if I would do PR for them on a freelance basis. I found myself working on a photo festival, a cultural NGO, a comic books concept store, [and] a contemporary art database, among other projects, and loved the challenge of organizing my time, being versatile and efficient. I was sharing an office with friends; there was a great synergy between all of us, and it helped me fight my tendency to procrastinate and [helped me] to stay focused! I missed a bit the steady paycheck, but the freedom was exciting. Being your own boss is incredibly demanding—and rewarding!
In honor of total transparency, I knew PR Consulting existed, but didn’t understand what the job actually involved until I did a Google search [before] this interview. What is an integral part of your job that someone may not necessarily be able to find on a LinkedIn or Google search of you or the position in and of itself?
Few people know what PR and publicity really entail, how it helps careers and businesses to rise and develop, or the percentage of content in the media that is orchestrated by publicists in collaboration with editors. Our mission is to send the information to the right people at the right time. On a day-to-day basis, there [are] in-depth conversations with the artists and institutions to understand the project, strategize, and organize the campaign; then a lot of emails [and] phone calls to reach out to reporters, follow-up, [and provide] press coverage round-ups. Relationships with the media is a key aspect of PR work; knowing who's interested in what ensures fruitful collaborations.
I’m an introvert to the core and going to a friend’s party is difficult enough, much less having to market my skills to influential people. What are some methods you use to find and form relationships with potential clients?
I’m a very social person; I’ll crash any party and make friends! But when it comes to selling my talents as a professional, my [self-deprecating] French nature takes over and it’s been a real effort to market myself, especially in the very competitive context of New York City. I rely on my social and interpersonal skills to establish a connection with people I’m interested in working with. Bonding over art, music, food, cinema, or any common interest makes it easier for me to talk about work and a potential collaboration. But I’m fortunate enough to have most of my clients coming to me based on recommendations, so I don’t have the tedious task to look for new clients too often.
The Bronx Documentary Center (BDC), which you’re currently involved with, opened around the time you moved to NYC. What drew you to working with them?
I was working at the time with a French photographer, and I was looking for venues to show his work. Someone told me about this new organization. I contacted them immediately, but the timing was not right to look at new work; they were in the midst of preparing the inaugural exhibition of the award-winning photographer Tim Hetherington. The show displayed the last images he shot in Libya before he got killed, a few months before the opening of the BDC. My interest was sparked, and I offered to help them: first with random errands, then as a publicist. The French news agency AFP did a story about Tim Hetherington’s show that was picked up everywhere and translated in several languages; it was the beginning of this incredible adventure with the BDC! I was living [on] the Upper West Side at the time and felt that New York was no longer the exciting and creative place it used to be, but what was happening at the BDC changed my perspective. I felt lucky to witness and be part of such a dynamic organization, to get to work with the community in the South Bronx and with renowned photographers. I’m proud to publicize their exhibitions, events, and education programs. It’s an organization that really makes a difference on a local, national, and international level.
You worked in Paris and moved to New York City in 2011. How does the professional atmosphere differ between there and here?
Paris’s pace is much slower than New York; it's also my hometown, where I had a lot of professional connections and knew the rules, so it was a familiar territory. That being said, the work environment in France is very hierarchical; responsibilities are rarely entrusted to young professionals, especially young women. When I moved to New York, I felt the American dream effect, when everything is possible if you work hard, think out of the box, and prove your efficiency. Being French became an asset; my European media network was of interest to American clients and I’ve grown a strong local network over the years. I learnt to say yes even if I was afraid I wasn’t experienced enough to take on a project, to hire people to help me on bigger accounts, to knock on doors of influential people if I knew I had something that would be of interest to them. I feel lucky to be familiar today with both [the] French/European and American way of working and media landscapes.
Now for my favorite question: what mistakes have you made, at any point of your career, that ended up helping you?
I once worked on a story with a big weekly magazine [that] wanted to feature images from a powerful book about war photography. I was really excited for the book to get such big exposure, and convinced some high profile photographers featured in the book to give a selection of exclusive images free of rights. When the story was published, the book was mentioned in a small credit line—almost invisible. Since then, I always have editors formally agree to the conditions of use of images in connection with the promotion of the project. And I try to get a licensing fee for the photographers whenever it's possible, which is not so often, unfortunately. I'm not an agent so my job is not to get them paid assignments, but it's a nice bonus when editors have a budget to run a portfolio.