Everyone sees the public figures attached to each series such as the voice actors and directors. But when you spend all day every day writing about all of those series, it’s the PR and marketing people who become your life line! Over the years on Otaku Review, I’ve gotten to interview some great guests but for once I wanted to turn the spotlight to the backstage area to some of the people who help keep all of us informed of what’s hot and new on our local store shelves; Jackie Smith from Funimation and Alison Roberts from Right Stuf.
~ What did you study in college to get into the Public Relations office of your company?
Alison Roberts (AR): I went to the University of Florida for its College of Journalism and Communications and started out as a journalism major in the early 1990s. To apply to the J school, within the university, you have to take an overview class that exposes you to all of the different majors inside of it: journalism (newspaper and magazines), photo journalism, advertising, television and radio, and public relations. After finishing the class, I realized I wanted to learn more about it all (and do it all). The public relations track offered me that opportunity. Looking back, it was one of the better career decisions I made because I learned how to apply and adapt my skills to a variety of different media and purposes.
Jackie Smith (JS): I was a political science major and radio/television/film minor. My plan then was to become a journalist, which I did. I spent more than 10 years in the newsroom working for CNN, FOX, CBS and radio stations. I fell into entertainment public relations purely by accident. An old co-worker of mine from FOX was working for HIT Entertainment, home of Barney the Dinosaur and The Wiggles, and they needed a PR person to promote live shows and book Barney on regional morning television shows. I got the job because I understood the inner workings of the media outlets I would be pitching. While I knew a lot about media I knew nothing about public relations and marketing! I had to rely on instinct and common sense at first and now I love having the knowledge and experience to back that up.
Unfortunately, one of the downsides of being in PR is that your skills are considered “soft” and are hard to qualify. It’s hard to prove your efforts have translated into dollars for your company. In December of 2004 the PR department at HIT was laid off and I was out of the job! Luckily, another former co-worker who was then at FUNimation let me know that they were considering expanding their in-house PR team and within a month I was calling FUNimation Entertainment home.
~ Did your love of anime and manga begin before or after you found yourself working in the industry?
AR: The short answer is best illustrated via diagram:
PR/marketing professional àPR/marketing professional and anime fan à anime fan and PR/marketing professional who happens to have a job marketing what she enjoys.
I was hooked on anime and manga years before I started working for Right Stuf and Nozomi Entertainment! As I kid, I watched Battle of the Planets on Saturday mornings, plus whatever cartoons my younger brother had on at the time.
A lot of fans get into anime through school clubs, etc., but I re-discovered it, several years after college, thanks to my brother. He started me off with the Tenchi and El Hazard OAVs, with a Sailor Moon chaser, but the series that turned my interest from “like” to “borderline obsession” were The Vision of Escaflowne and Neon Genesis Evangelion, followed by The Irresponsible Captain Tylor and cemented by Cowboy Bebop. How could I not fall in love with it? It didn’t take long for my interest in anime to extend to manga, too. These days, I’ve got a running backlog of both in my watching/reading queue.
JS: After. I had no idea was anime was before I joined FUNimation! Or rather, I didn’t know it was called “anime”. I, like the rest of the world, certainly knew what Dragon Ball Z was but I had no idea the length or breadth of the genre.
~ You get to interact with fans on a daily basis, what would be the most common misconception you run into from fans about working in the anime industry?
AR: I’d say one of the biggest misconceptions is that being an anime fan – while it certainly helps – is the only qualification that matters. The voice actors cover this topic quite regularly during their panels, but it extends into all facets of the industry. Work on becoming the very best actor, accountant, translator, script adaptor, audio technician, producer, or marketing and public relations person you can be, and then let your passion for anime and manga be what makes you the best all-around candidate.
(And for the record, most of the people who work for us are fans, on some level. ^_^)
JS: The first question I get, without fail, is “How do I become a voice actor?” I don’t know if it is because the voice actors are really the only people the fans may see or hear from at conventions or that it’s hard to comprehend the immense amount of work that goes on behind the scenes and the hundreds of people who work on each series. There are so many routes you can take that will lead you to work in the anime industry or the entertainment industry. Fans may not understand that it takes everyone from audio engineers, attorneys, accountants, licensing managers, sales representatives, inventory coordinators, package designers, marketing staff and so on to make a show and DVD release happen. It is the combination of our varying talents that make the business successful.
~ What is your favorite part of your career?
AR: That’s an easy one with a two-part answer.
1.) I can honestly say, in the two and a half years I’ve been here, that there’s no such thing as a “typical day.” There are always new challenges just around the corner.
2.) Through Right Stuf’s publishing division, Nozomi Entertainment, we have the opportunity to help introduce English-speaking fans to some amazing shows, and through the RightStuf.com store, we also have the privilege of serving as an advocate for all the anime and manga brought over by all of North America’s publishers. As both a marketing professional and a fan, in many ways, it’s the ultimate job!
JS: Sharing exciting news — especially when fans don’t see it coming! I love that. I, unfortunately, can’t keep a secret so the time between a done deal and the announcement of that deal is excruciating for me.