Multicultural Entertainment Marketing Series: Perils & Rewards of the “Ethnic Niche” in the Entertainment Industry (Part 3 of 4)
By Yayoi Lena Winfrey, AAV Contributing Editor
Publicist Irving Der
Irving Der, 29, a second-generation Chinese American, is Senior Publicist at the two year-old Duvernay Agency in Beverly Hills. He began his career as assistant to Ava Duvernay, an African American, at a large conventional public relations firm. Its three divisions were Film, Internet, and General Entertainment, the last “a hodgepodge of television and video” where Der and Duvernay labored.
“One of the first movies we worked on was Slam, about spoken word [culture],” says Der. “[The agency] didn’t know what slamming was…(that) there’s this whole underground with slamming…”
Before long, Duvernay and Der were assigned any project with an ethnic cast or storyline.
“[They’d say], ‘We need to exploit the Black actor. Give it to Ava,'” Der recalls. “The light bulb that went on in Ava’s head [was that] we’d be working on every Black project. Anything ‘ethnic,’ they’d throw it to Ava.”
Unbelievably, no agency was handling ethnic public relations or marketing films that were “strictly African American or Asian or whatever,” says Der, so Duvernay started her own firm specializing in media outreach and publicity for film, television, and home video. It also handles corporate and theatrical projects, but not music nor celebrities, although they assist their publicists.
In the Duvernay approach, the key “to getting and developing relationships in [ethnic communities]” is to build connections to both the mainstream and smaller, ethnic-specific media – a specialty and a strength of the agency and of Der personally.
“We treat all press the same way, [whether] you’re the L.A. Times or the L.A. Watts Times,” says Der.
Some of the larger studios, which choose media targets by large circulation numbers, often “don’t know those [ethnic community] papers exist,” says Der. As a result, ethnic media are frequently left uninvited to the big press junkets. Film reviewers for local weeklies, African-American and Asian-American newspapers, are ignored or forgotten because “[studios] don’t spend enough time to research.”
This difficulty in connecting with under-the-radar can equal lost opportunities for big studios.
When Duvernay was assigned What’s Cooking, written and directed by South Asian filmmaker Gurinder Chadha, Der set out to find the largest Indian papers in Los Angeles.
“Obviously, there’s only one or two,” he says, but he took the time to research, locate, and personally call their entertainment editors.
Duvernay is also able to leverage its special community relationships to projects that are not obviously “niche”. The film Spy Kids “was as mainstream as it gets,” Der observes, “but we had Robert Rodriquez and Anthony Banderas [directing and starring in it]. Scary Movie: again, very, very mainstream, [but] everyone saw that Keenan Ivory Wayans was directing it.
“If the film has that ethnic angle,” Der continues, “we go to the core audience and help build it up. [While studios] may not identify them, or think they’re not that important, we definitely go out and try to build our lists and to include all these papers and identify their markets.”
Connecting with under-the-radar media can be difficult, but rewarding. As the only agency on the West Coast specializing in “urban entertainment,” Duvernay has staked an important, growing space for itself. Ninety-nine percent of its work comes from word-of-mouth referrals and repeat clients.
“We have never had to go out and solicit any of our projects,” says Der.