Chandler Poling is the passionate and cutting-edge co-founder of White Bear PR, one of the leading music in media focused public relations firms in Los Angeles. A born tastemaker with global consciousness and charm, Chandler is celebrated in his field for his consummate professionalism and his imaginative approach to public relations. His company is home to a broad diversity of world-renowned composers, music supervisors, and festivals in the realms of film and music. White Bear PR's illustrious clientele includes Dave Porter, Benjamin Wallfisch, Thomas Golubic, Season Kent, Dustin O'Halloran, Hauschka, ESKMO, Kyle Dixon and Michael Stein, Joseph Trapanese, Paul Haslinger, and many others. In our insightful conversation, Chandler discusses the difference between landing jobs versus building a career and the imminent rise of micro outlets.
I understand that you grew up in a musical household and attended the University of Wisconsin-Madison, studying theatre, drama, and Asian art history. Was there an alternative career path that you intended to pursue?
Yes, I did go to school at the University of Wisconsin-Madison and I was on the path to work in theater. My plan was to move to New York City. I wanted to be a stage manager for musicals. It was a combination of my love for music, my love of theater, my love of community, and everything else. I was going to move out there, but obviously, it never happened.
What happened was, I went home to Minnesota, where I'm from, and I moved back in with my father. Three months into living with him, he was like, and I’m paraphrasing of course, "You need to move on with your life. You just need to go wherever." Then he said, "Why don't you go to LA? I have a friend there. You can sleep in her guest bedroom and get started.” That’s how I ended up in Los Angeles. No goal, no dream. I just rolled into town with an open mind about what was going to happen.
After moving to Los Angeles, how did you begin to explore the world of public relations?
My first jobs in Los Angeles were in film and TV Production. First of all, I was an unpaid intern, working on set. After that, I became a PA, helping the ADs (assistant directors). One of my early jobs was working on a film in the Mojave desert for five weeks in August, which was crazy and such a great experience. It was very hot, but it was so beautiful to be working in these desert landscapes, especially the night shoots, watching the sun come up. It was just very inspiring and I loved it.
Eventually, it led me to work in production on a TV show called Heroes on NBC. I was hired as a temporary office PA to help them get their paperwork organized in the art department. In that position, I was working for props, set decoration, and art direction, helping them get their invoicing in order. Over the course of three years, I just became invaluable to their team. One of my jobs towards the end was in brand integration. So, I was calling up Apple, Dell, Nike, anybody that wanted to feature their brands inside the show because it was so popular at the time.
Through that, I had a friend who wanted contacts with these brands. He was like, “Oh, I think you’d make a great publicist. You should come work for me.” That was my way out of production. By that point, I felt ready to leave. I think I’d been in it for a good four years. I really loved working on it and I made really great friends with people on the set, but when this opportunity came to work in publicity, I took it even though I didn’t know what it meant. I’d never been a publicist before.
What events led to the creation of White Bear PR and what are your core competencies?
White Bear was founded in 2011. I started the company with my partner, Thomas Mikusz. We wanted to create a firm focused on film music. Prior, we were both working for another PR firm that had different types of clients. It had composers, which introduced me to the concept of publicity for composers, but it also worked with actors, photographers, chefs, all sorts of personalities. Through that, I really latched onto the film music industry. My father is a composer, and as you mentioned, I grew up in a musical family. I played music myself and can still read it. It’s a language I understand.
What instruments do you play?
I grew up playing piano, saxophone, a little bit of french horn, and guitar. I don’t play music anymore. I guess I could still play the piano, but I don’t own one. I never wrote original music myself, but I do miss playing instruments.
What are the criteria you use to ascertain whether or not you wish to represent a client?
A lot of it has to do with the project that they’re bringing to the table. The way our industry works, and the way the media works, is they’re pretty interested in the film, TV show, video game, or whatever if it is considered high profile. If it’s a studio film or an award-winning indie film or an anticipated show, it makes a difference. It really depends on the project and if we feel like there’s a story behind the music. If somebody comes to us and says, "I scored this movie." One of the questions we always ask is, “Well, what's unique about it? What did you do that might be different than the same story of somebody who wrote music for a project?”. We try to dig up that story and if they have a unique, compelling angle, then we definitely want to work with them.
What are the deal breakers?
Deal breakers…Well, this isn’t a deal breaker, but it doesn’t make sense to invest in publicity when people are too early in their careers. We always give advice. I give a lot of lectures at college and universities to help people build the tools for self-promotion and offer networking tips. These resources can build up their careers and then hopefully, they can come to us later when they become too busy to promote themselves.
A deal breaker is when the project they’re bringing doesn’t have a high enough profile or if they don’t have anything. Sometimes, people will come to us and say, “I need to move on to the next level of my career. Can you help?”, but they won’t have a film coming out or a project we can promote. We are essentially promoters. We need some sort of product that’s coming out.
The way we work with our client base is intermittent. People come on and off, we call it a hiatus. They’ll be on a campaign, and then they’ll return when the next project comes. However, even if the next project comes, we still talk about it before we just jump right into it because it always depends on the story.
Of course, many projects generate a lot of hype and anticipation in advance of their release. What happens when the film or television show doesn’t live up to its expectations?
Yeah, it happens. Unfortunately, there’s no way to predict that. We just try our best. When that situation comes, we try to make the most out of our client’s investment. If the project is flopping, we know we’re not going to get the media’s attention, so we try to utilize other methods. Whether it’s connections within the industry, social media support, or maybe finding a panel to speak on. Any sort of profile-boosting thing that’s separate from the media.
I understand that you set up events and produce panels in venues like Comic-Con, right?
Yes, we’ve been producing a panel at Comic-Con for seven or eight years now. We do Sundance. We do Cannes Film Festival - we’re always setting up opportunities for our clients.
I was just in Krakow, Poland for the Krakow Film Music Festival. Earlier, I was in Prague for Film Music Prague, I'll be going to Vienna for Hollywood in Vienna, and Gent for the World Soundtrack Awards. There are so many opportunities to travel in our business, so it makes a very exciting career.
How do you measure the effectiveness of your campaigns? How do you know when your efforts are paying off? What indicators do you look for?
Well, on one hand, there's no way to know because people's career spans are so nebulous. You never know precisely what the campaign is doing and how it's affecting. The only thing I can speak to is when clients give us feedback like, “Oh, this article or this opportunity brought new attention”. One example was when we got a client an article in Rolling Stone. He told us that a contact of his from several years ago had reached out to him and said, “I’m working on a project now. I hadn’t thought about you in so long, then I saw you in Rolling Stone”. Feedback like that is obviously great to hear.
Another client recently told me that they got a lot of great feedback just from speaking on a podcast we got them. It’s always different. Obviously, one of the main things we do is award campaigns. That’s obviously a very definitive campaign, either you win the award or you don’t win the award. You’re nominated or you’re not nominated. I always feel like it’s a great success when we can get that for a client. The nomination, or even better, a win. However, whether you win or lose, I always feel that the attention gained from award campaigning is beneficial overall – just to be considered a strong contender.
The rise of social media marketing and direct to fan communication has disrupted many industries. How has it impacted your role and approach as a publicist? What are your strategies to break through the noise and offer greater visibility to your clientele?
Social media is an amazing tool that provides a platform for our clients and their messages to reach broader audiences. Originally, people were very focused on building up their individual social media profiles and we definitely help with that.
One of our methods that we find beneficial to clients is utilizing social media in our community to expand the message, so to speak. If somebody gets an article in Variety, it's a wonderful opportunity, but if it's not being shared on social media, then the audience is very limited. The reality of people going to Variety.com, finding the article and reading it on their website is much more minuscule than if more and more people are sharing it and the eyeballs increase in that regard.
As a company, what we’ve been doing is building up our social media profiles, making sure that our followers, our interactions, and the interconnectivity of our industry increases, so when we share articles on the client’s behalf, it adds a lot of interaction to their benefit. We utilize Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, LinkedIn. We have our own website. Those are the primary channels of social media communication, so our network continues to grow.
What are the do's and don't's of publicity in the digital age?
I think the do's of publicity are to make sure to take your career into your own hands. I mean, I hear from a lot of inexperienced people that they expect all of these opportunities to come to them. It's really all about you going out and building up your own career. It's really important to just get out there, network, build your relationships, and expand your contacts because there's only so much your team can do. I mean, everybody's there to support you, but the nexus is upon the client themselves. Make sure you get out there, that’s a do. Obviously, the "don’t" attached to that is to wait around for great things to happen just because you have representatives.
Part of our job is career counseling, helping our clients navigate social situations. We definitely try to encourage the full package, so to speak, of how you're presenting yourself, how you're dressing, how you're coming across in a meeting, things like that. All of those things impact your career. It’s all dependent on your brand. There is something cool about an off the rails rocker and there is something very intriguing about an uptight preppy person. It all depends on where you are at on the individual scale. I don’t think there’s a right answer as to who someone should be as long as they are authentic. The moment you become disingenuous, people can sense that and they don’t want to be a part of working with someone they don’t trust.
We also encourage people to find their musical voice. If they excel at dark, electronic music, they should stick with that and not try to branch out so wide. Because while getting jobs and having range is great, building a career is a whole other thing.
Have you ever had a PR nightmare? How did you work through it and learn from the experience?
Luckily, in our business, we don't have to deal with many nightmares, you know? Most composers are very subdued, nice, and chill people. Off the top, I can't think of a good example of a PR nightmare, but I think that's by design. When we started this company with film music as our focus, I think we knew we were getting into a more mild-mannered industry. Whereas I'm sure if we worked with actors or more high profile people, those situations would definitely come up. I don't think there's been anything that's been out of control awful.
Anyone who has spotted you on the red carpet or in your daily life can identify your love for fashion. How did you develop your sense of style?
I don’t really know exactly how I developed my sense of style. My father is a very fashionable guy too. Early on in my life, he inspired me to make bold choices. He would go out to events wearing red plaid pants. Sometimes, they were very loud statements. I feel like I took a cue from him very early on. These days, I follow various social media influencers online. I pay attention to colors, patterns, accessories, anything that jumps out at me and pick things I really like.
Given that the entertainment industry is significantly image focused, what are some of your tips for cultivating a striking visual brand?
Something I used to do, more so early on, was to help my male clients shop. We would go shopping together to build looks. I always recommend having some essentials in your wardrobe. When it comes to red carpets and events, you obviously have to have suits. One in black, one in blue, and I try to encourage another color, whether it’s brown, or whatever it may be. It’s important to have these items to pull together a classic look. After that, you can add all the accessories. If you have a really good fitting black suit and white shirt, you can add embellishments to really make you stand out.
My other tip is to not be afraid of what other people think and go with your feeling. If you like something, you should wear it. When somebody has a real fashion moment, I always say, “First of all, go for it, but then never wear it again.” At least give yourself a breath afterward. When you become known for the exact same thing, it has an opposite effect.
I love bold choices. Take Tony Scudellari, the music executive at Sony ATV. He loves purple, so he always wears really great purple accessories. I admire him for that. I think it’s a great brand key to him. I also love Laura Karpman's fashion because she consistently goes big. You always want to do something that shocks and inspires people. There is a composer, Chad Fisher. He always wears a Star Wars related outfit to the BMI Awards. He did Chewbacca this year. I think that costumes can be really fun. I think he does it because he’s won for his work on Scandal for so many years in a row. Another year, he had on a Stormtrooper helmet. I love it.
Who are the legends in and out of your field that offer you inspiration?
Somebody that’s currently in our field is Jeff Sanderson from Chasen and Associates. He gave me some great advice early on that I’ll never forget. He’s one of the people in our field that I really respect and admire. He comes from a great, classic PR background and he’s a really solid person overall.
Outside of our field, I admire so many artists, actors, and musicians. There are so many people that stand out, but I really admire Hugh Jackman. He has such a great career. He’s been everyone from Wolverine to a musical man. All the while, he is a family man with kids. He seems like such a well-rounded, versatile person. When he hosted the Oscars, that’s when it really jumped out at it. I was like, “Oh my god, this guy can do anything. He’s so great.”
In terms of the media industry as a whole, what recent trends have you identified that have the potential to be transformative?
One thing that I find very interesting in media is the rise of micro outlets, blogs that are catered to a very specific audience. Rather than getting all of our music information from Rolling Stone or the like, now there are all these different areas online to get your news and gather your tastemaker influences from. What I’m finding is that people are very selective about where they go for information. There’s no longer a big umbrella publication anymore. It's all these small targeted areas. That’s transformative in the sense that people are going to have to be really clear about what they’re doing creatively, what kind of music they’re making, who their target audience is, and then use the PR and publicity to make sure they reach their goals.
Interviewer | Paul Goldowitz
Research, Editing, Copy, Layout | Ruby Gartenberg
Extending gratitude to Chandler Poling and White Bear PR.