Thursday, September 27, 2007

Spin this: Hollywood PR guru passes torch at her firm

Pat Kingsley will step down as chief executive to devote more time to her clients. Kingsley and Tom Cruise
By Lorenza Muñoz
Los Angeles Times Staff Writer

September 27, 2007

Pat Kingsley, the grande dame of Hollywood spin, is stepping down as chairwoman and chief executive of the public relations firm she led for nearly three decades.

Kingsley's position at PMK/HBH will be assumed by partners Cindi Berger, who began her career as a receptionist in the firm's New York office 24 years ago, and Simon Halls, who was a founding partner of Huvane Baum Halls before it merged with PMK in 2001. Nate Schreiber, the firm's executive vice president of brands and events, has been promoted to president.

Kingsley, 75, said she wanted to focus on working more closely with her clients, including director Michael Mann and stars Will Smith and Jodie Foster, rather than managing the multimillion-dollar firm that has expanded beyond its core film and television businesses.

The agency, which Kingsley co-founded in 1980, rakes in more than $15 million a year, up from its initial $1.5 million annually, according to company executives. In 1999, PMK was purchased by Interpublic Group, a global marketing corporation that also owns publicity firms Rogers & Cowan and Bragman Nyman Cafarelli.

Although she insists that she is not retiring any time soon, this move in effect passes the torch to her younger colleagues.

"Business projections and financial reports are not what I enjoy doing most," Kingsley said. "I took accounting in college and my instructor suggested that I not continue the course. We are now a conglomerate and it's daunting. I want to be involved in the creative aspects of working with clients. That is what I enjoy."

PMK in recent years has taken on corporate clients such as American Express Co. and Reebok International Ltd., sports figures including Olympic downhill skier Bode Miller and musical acts like the Dixie Chicks. It was Berger who led the effort to recast the Chicks' image as a mainstream pop/country band that stood for freedom of speech when the country-and-western music establishment turned against them after lead singer Natalie Maines made a remark critical of President Bush.

"Now that there are three of us, there is three times more energy to grow the company in different areas," Halls said. "Pat Kingsley gave us a huge leg up. We are lucky we get to expand from what is already a huge business."

At the zenith of her power, Kingsley was feared for her tough negotiating tactics and respected for advising clients on topics others might fear to broach. For 14 years, Kingsley represented Tom Cruise and she consistently advised him not to mix his controversial beliefs as a Scientologist with his career. When Cruise fired her in 2004, he became embroiled in a firestorm of bad press after publicly touting his religion, criticizing Brooke Shields for taking antidepressants and appearing out of control as he jumped on Oprah Winfrey's couch during an interview.

Three years ago, Kingsley also made headlines when she unceremoniously fired longtime partner Leslee Dart. Dart, who presided over PMK's New York office, was passed over as Kingsley's heir apparent. Dart now runs her own company, 42West, and still represents such clients as Martin Scorsese and Nicole Kidman.

"Pat taught me how to up my game," said Halls, whose specialty was launching up-and-coming talents such as Gwyneth Paltrow and Russell Crowe. "She exposed us on how you do a film campaign from soup to nuts."