In our final installment of the Women Leaders series, we profile Beth Jacobson, senior director of PR at Entertainment Weekly. Jacobson started with a love of music and turned that into a PR career steeped in entertainment. But it wasn’t a straight line from college to career. Rather, Jacobson went with the thing she loved and ended up with a career she has always enjoyed.
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Beth Jacobson, senior director of PR, Entertainment Weekly
From the time that Beth Jacobson was in middle school, music was her thing. When she got to Syracuse University, she indulged this passion in every way possible, going to concerts and hanging out in the bars, restaurants, and shops where music was central. She even used her semester in London to take a course focused on music and to go to reggae shows, the ballet, and other music events. According to Jacobson, “It was the early 80s. The music scene was vibrant.”
When she started to think about a job, immediately music came to mind.
Making a career in entertainment, no matter what area of entertainment you aspire to, is difficult. To do it takes, as Jacobson says, “perseverance” and a willingness to stick to your guns even as time passes and it seems you’re only taking baby steps toward your goal.
“I started thinking about where I could make money and be involved with music,” she says. “I followed music journalists because it gave me so much pleasure. It was something that wasn’t work for me. I thought maybe I could somehow or another find some way in and work in this industry.”
Jacobson went on many “informational interviews,” and worked hard at networking with radio stations and music management companies. It took 18 months for her to find an entry-level job working at Atlantic Records, writing ad copy.
Soon, Jacobson was once again thinking about the music reporters she used to follow, and how impressed she was with the “skill” they used to “describe what’s happening at a concert or on a record.”
Stepping away from writing print and TV ads, Jacobson decided to freelance, writing artist bios. From there, PR became an option.
“I loved media in general, and PR seemed like the right place for me,” she says, noting that the openings for writers interested in music are limited to being a reporter. “And I would have the opportunity to work with artists and media outlets, two of my ideal scenarios.”
By 2006, after years of working in media and artist relations at places like Tommy Boy Entertainment and Wind Up Records, Jacobson was publicity director at Rolling Stone and RollingStone.com. Jacobson says the move from the labels to the media “was not that much of a stretch” because she had been pitching music and entertainment editors for years.
“I not only gained knowledge about how magazine editors work and what makes for a good story, I also started to think that I wouldn’t mind being on the other side of things and to have some input on the actual media part,” she adds. “And more and more, artists are looking to hire independent publicists, have more autonomy, and be less tied to record labels.”
During her time at Rolling Stone, Jacobson had the good fortune of working with producers across a wide scope of media (from MSNBC to Jon Stewart) and was there at a time when Britney Spears shaved her head, Rolling Stone celebrated 40 years, and Kanye was making a start.
After a few more pit stops (at OK! Magazine, Lucky, and her own PR firm), Jacobson landed at EW in September.
The music industry today is much different from the one that Jacobson navigated years ago. Though there are fewer chances to make a way in some areas, a new crop of opportunities have opened up in others.
“Record labels don’t employ as many people as they did at one time when physical CDs, cassettes, and vinyl were the main way that consumers consumed music. They needed large marketing teams,” she says. “Now… the roots of the tree have expanded. It would be an interesting area to look at Pandora, Spotify, and the different music services. Those are the places that are going to be growing areas for the music business.”
The same could be said for terrestrial radio, which has shrunk and been digitized.
But, with music being used in advertising, sans the “sell out” label, there are other avenues. Moreover, the artists themselves are crossing over and opening doors, with actors cutting albums, singers appearing on TV, and celebs of every stripe doing a little bit of everything.
“Whether you go the agency route, go to a big PR firm, a talent agency, or a streaming company, you have to be willing to put in your dues, learn from someone with expertise, and be a really excellent assistant,” says Jacobson. “And don’t feel like that’s a compromise. That’s how you can really shine.”
These days at EW, Jacobson’s obsession with music has expanded to include film and television. Her work requires attendance at editorial meetings where she learns what’s happening across entertainment. At the same time, she has the chance show her PR prowess when dealing with the EW brand.
“Entertainment Weekly is about the projects, not the people,” she says. “We regularly get calls from broadcast shows asking if someone can come on and talk about Demi Moore, [for example]. If you’re asking us to talk about her career as an actress, but not about her 911 call. That’s the huge line in the sand for this brand.”
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