Monday, March 25, 2013

The Question, March 25, 2013

Honesty, Integrity, Thoroughness and Timeliness
by Estelle Rosen
A Technical Theatre Arts Graduate from Niagara College, Odette Yazbeck went on to secure a post-graduate diploma in Public Relations from Humber College. She has held a number of positions in Marketing and Communications at the Shaw Festival over the past 27 seasons, serving as their Public Relations Director for the past nine.  Ms Yazbeck has also taught Media Relations in the Niagara College PR Program and has served on the Niagara Region Culture Committee. She has also served as a Volunteer Emergency Information Officer for the town of Niagara-on-the-Lake and is on the Communications sub-committee for the War of 1812 Committee of Niagara-on-the-Lake. She makes her home in Niagara-on-the-Lake with her husband and has two children in university.
CHARPO: What is most challenging about being the Public Relations Director for the Shaw Festival?
YAZBECK:  I think I’m safe in saying that most PR practitioners would call this one of the ‘dream jobs’ of the PR world – and they are right, at least most of the time! I have a unique perspective from other public relations practitioners in this industry; I started behind-the-scenes in theatre production. I came to the Shaw Festival straight out of Technical Theatre School, and shortly after joining this esteemed company, attended night school and got my PR diploma. 

The rules seem to be changing all the time and the PR landscape is constantly changing as well.

There are multiple challenges faced in my role as the Shaw Festival’s Public Relations Director. Though The Shaw has grown to become one of the most celebrated theatre companies in North America, the formula hasn’t changed much – 10 plays, running in repertory on four stages from April to October. The Shaw produces live theatre surrounded by the natural beauty of Niagara-on-the-Lake in one of the most historically significant areas of Canada amongst award-winning wineries, but these attributes are not enough of an angle to convince an often jaded media. As The Shaw’s Public Relations Director, the main challenge each year is to find new, interesting and creative stories that our patrons – and prospective patrons – will find compelling enough to prompt them to visit, then to convince the media that these stories are of local, national and/or international interest. Thankfully, I work with some of the most creative and talented artists in Canada – all of whom have great stories to tell about their work, their life and the journey that brought them to The Shaw. 

I started at The Shaw over 25 years ago, and the learning has never stopped, which leads to another challenge I face in this position – keeping up with the ever evolving industry of PR. The rules seem to be changing all the time and the PR landscape is constantly changing as well. Every day more and more outlets are ceasing publication or are restructured with less coverage on the arts, and yet every day I discover a new magazine, website or radio programme offering a unique perspective on some facet of our society — and my job is to find a place for The Shaw in those outlets. There are, however, some things that are eternal: honesty, integrity, thoroughness and timeliness. I try to keep those principles at the core of everything I do, and with any luck, no amount of lightning speed changes in trends will compromise these efforts. 

While The Shaw is a large organization with a $25 million-budget, it is still a very close-knit community of theatre practitioners. There is a great deal of heart, passion and joy that goes into everything produced here and those efforts are shared equally among the entire company. We get to know one-another on a deeper level than your standard office-mate relationship and because of this, one of the most difficult challenges as the PR Director is writing obituary releases. Having to keep your personal feelings in check while writing a media release that succinctly describes who this person was, so that the public can be informed via the media of your company’s loss can be an awfully numbing experience. Thankfully, this represents a very minor part of this rewarding position. 

Representing a theatre company inspired by the work of Bernard Shaw, producing plays from and about his era and contemporary plays that share Shaw’s provocative exploration of society and celebration of humanity – at times the biggest challenge is containing my utter joy!

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