Get Famous or Your Money Back
Four weeks ago, I was just another blogger. Now-thanks to a makeover by New York publicity powerhouse Lizzie Grubman-I might be the next Tina Fey. Or something like that.
One month ago, I was what people who care about the difference would call a nobody—no society connections, no celebrity boss, no trust fund to buy tables next to people who are people.
Then, last Friday, I was personally invited to Puffy’s annual White Party.
And in two weeks, I’m being shot as part of a buzz campaign for the new Boyfriend Shirt from SEW.
How that transformation happened is 30% chance and 85% Lizzie Grubman PR.
Several months ago, I was assigned a story for The Daily Beast about how much a publicist can change the life of a regular person (read: not Ivanka Trump) in one month. I called every PR firm east of the Hudson to secure a publicist for this exposé. Sabrina Levine—Lizzie Grubman’s longtime business partner and college roommate—was the first, and only, to say yes. I explained the piece I was writing. She said, “Who’s the someone?” There was no obvious way to lie so I said, “It’s me.” “Hmm, OK,” she said, “and who are you again?”
Within the first 10 minutes of our meeting, Lizzie introduces me to the entire staff, shows me pictures of her two little boys, and threatens my life..
I am a New Jersey-bred 25 year old with a 9-to-5 media-agency job. By early-morning-slash-night I write a blog called 20-Nothings—a dating/relationship/what- are-we-doing-themed account of the modern 20- to 30-year-old's life. The blog was recently optioned by Mercator Pictures for scripted television development. To my parents, that makes me Tina Fey. To people paying attention, that makes me most of Brooklyn. To Sabrina, that made me a story she and Lizzie could use to make me matter.
And so Lizzie Grubman—yes, that Lizzie Grubman, the consummate fame-maker with the MTV reality show PoweR Girls and unfortunate Hamptons incident (or accident)—will be to me what she once was to Britney Spears and Jay-Z, and still is to a laundry list of the A-List, including Rod Stewart, Janice Dickinson, and Shanna Moakler. She is as big and bold-faced as it gets.
I’m around 9-point, unbolded, in parentheses.
Week One: Trotting Around The Lizzie Grubman Ring
Within the first 10 minutes of our meeting, Lizzie introduces me to the entire staff (“Girls, Arthur"—the in-house messenger who’s been with Lizzie since day one in 1996—"did you meet our new client Jessie?”), shows me pictures of her two little boys (“How amazing are they?!”), and threatens my life (“Write about them and I’ll kill you”).
I’m sitting in her office saying things like, “So, I’ll do whatever–-tell me where to go and how to act.” Lizzie reads like a bleached blonde guidance counselor’s poster. “It’s about you,” she keeps saying. “I can’t make anybody famous. If you’ve got it, you’ve got it. You can’t just throw Paris Hilton up on a table and make her dance these days—things aren’t like they used to be.” So far, just being me has taken me to a 250-square-foot apartment and the overdraft protection black list. “We have a book launch party this Thursday,” she wraps up, “so you have to be there.”
Lizzie introduces me to 80 percent of the guests at the book party she’s hosting for friend and celebrity chef Stephen Hartigan’s No More Takeout. It’s, “You need to meet my new friend Jessie—she’s a writer with this great blog that’s in development for television… scripted!” over and over again. I take it from there with my life story elevator pitch (“Yep—it’s mostly dating and relationship focused…Uh-huh, I do some freelancing on the side…No, I haven’t met your friend Jessica who’s an editor at NYMag.com…”).
This is how it works. I’m the new girl; she’s the Regina Gorge minus seven inches, plus a lifetime of experience. On Lizzie’s arm, I’m positioned as someone interesting. So far I feel like someone faking. When you have a project that’s actually become something (a book, a movie, a blog with enough readers to support Google ads), you can point to that success and say, “See? I’m legit.” But I’m a whole lot of maybe. Lizzie calls that “incredible potential.” I’m still selling myself, in “judge me, like me, believe in me” mode. It’s the kind of pressure that makes you drink far too many dirty martinis. Lizzie’s drinking water.
Week Two: MTV PoweR Girls… Plus Me
Kelly Brady—a seven-year LGPR veteran and one of the five MTV PoweR Girls—is my social concierge for the next three weeks. Kelly is a professional introducer. “This is Jessie Rosen—she has an amazing blog that they’re turning into a TV show!” she tells every single person we come in contact with. Within 20 minutes of our first night out (drinks with InTouch magazine editors and a birthday party for longtime club promoter Jason Kim), I pick up five business cards, a freelance assignment, and some guy.
Again and again it’s: Full Name, Why I Matter, Full Name, What I’m Working On.
Again and again, it’s: Full Name, Why I Matter, Full Name, What I’m Working On. Then some form of, “You should totally work with her on X project you have going with Y.” Kelly is never not going 120 miles per hour and spewing PR strategies like they’re song lyrics. Our first night out ends at The Eldridge, that tight-doored lounge owned by veteran scene-molder Matt Levine. There, I’m introduced to John Legend—as in, John Legend John Legend. If meeting John Legend (one more time) was some week-two test of my cool factor, then I failed.
My approach was to drunk update my Facebook status (Jessie is wit john Legned), incorrectly tweet (J.Legend @ Edlridge w/#me), and pretend I don’t know who he is (“Oh, you’re in the music business?”). As such, we are not currently dating.
Week Three: Baby’s First Photo Shoot
My third week, Kelly tells me—no ifs, ands, or buts—I’m being shot for YRB magazine’s “How You Rock It” issue. And so, unlike everyone else there, I arrive at the YRB shoot sans my Ray-Ban wearing, neon-clad entourage because all my friends are in the cubicles of their respective accounting firms and ad agencies and don’t, as a general rule, wear neon. Within minutes, I’m plopped onto a stark white canvas and told to “work it.” In my head, Tyra’s screaming, “Long neck! Pretty arms! Smile with your eyes!” But before I can figure out what any of that means, it’s over, and I’m left deciding whether or not I’m allowed to ask to take a few with the lights less…on.
That shoot is Tuesday. On Thursday, I go out again with Kelly and Anne Watkins—two more of Lizzie’s long-standing girls—to a Hamptons magazine event where my picture is taken several times for Gotham magazine’s party pics section. The following Saturday at 11:30 a.m., Kelly convinces me to go to the Hamptons. “It’s really important for your progress that you be there,” she says. I want to say, “Define important?” But I know by now that meeting one person at one event can change your entire life. That’s not an I-drank-the-Kool-Aid comment, it’s a fact.
I meet Kelly at the South Hampton house she shares with a group that reads like a “30 Under 30” article. We head first to a Social Life magazine party for cover-girl Alexandra Richards (daughter of Keith), then on to Dune and Pink Elephant before heading back for a bonfire catered by housemate and Brother Jimmy’s empire owner Josh Lebowitz. For the first time, I feel like I 75% belong. Now I introduce myself with my full name and project and saunter off on my own to say hello to someone I’ve met earlier in the week. In the back of my mind, I’m thinking, S hit, I’m enjoying this too much. In the front of my mind, I’m thinking, oh that’s the producer who works with MTV—I should pitch her my female white rapper show Feminems (working title).
Lizzie checks in while I’m with Kelly out east (that’s how we say it). She’s busy at her East Hampton estate entertaining Martha Stewart types like Martha Stewart. She wants to be sure I’m having fun, meeting people, remembering to follow up with them. She asks if any cute boys were out. It’s not unlike a check-in with my mother except I can’t remember the last time my mother offered to set me up with one of the hosts from Extra.
Week Four: A Black-Tie Report Card
My final event is the black-tie St. Jude Chocolate au Vin Affair at Capitale hosted by Kristen Davis and featuring a performance by Tony Bennett—an event that brings out New York society in support of cancer research and getting their photos taken. Unfortunately, it’s only 18 hours prior to the event that I realize it’s black-tie, 1.5 of which I have free to find a dress. Fortunately, the 4’11” Indian woman tending the dressing room at Macy’s knows exactly who Kristen Davis is and thinks she will like the black dress better than the red.
After the event, we head to Hiro Ballroom for a Girl Talk show, where I receive my very first “Sure, Jessie Rosen—I’ve heard about your project.”
After the event, Team Grubman (save Lizzie, who avoids the night scene these days) heads to Hiro Ballroom for a Girl Talk show, where I receive my very first “Sure, Jessie Rosen—I’ve heard about your project.” I want to go full-on Publisher’s Clearing House on this person: “THANK YOU!!!!! What have you heard?! Do you want to invite me to lots more things??!!?” But I’ve been well trained. “Thanks,” I say, “I’m really excited about it. Give me your card and I’ll shoot over the blog for a read [wink].” Then I send four text messages and sneak a picture of him with my BlackBerry—save as: HEKNEWME.
Kelly and I have lunch the next day to wrap things up and Lizzie calls en route to the Hamptons to give me her assess.
I ask, “How did I do?” Lizzie Grubman, Life Coach, responds, “How do you think you did?” I tell her I was terrified to go through this process, that I thought she’d make me lose weight and date some B-list boy and flub something to Page Six because there’s no such thing as bad PR. She laughs at me, says, “It never has to be mean,” and that she was nervous, too. “You could have been really difficult! And it had to click between us,” she says. “It’s all about chemistry.” And then, “Listen, if it’s there, it’s there, and we can work to take it all the way. But we’re not phony—honestly, we just don’t care.”
What she means is, PR will never cure cancer. She might, technically, be wrong.