By KRISTIN SANCKEN, JUL. 2016
While there is no denying the ubiquity of PR powerhouses like Andrea Schwan, Nadine Johnson and Fitz & Co., a handful of young professionals are forgoing the traditional agency model and establishing smaller, full service public relations companies that work closely with clients to develop individualized marketing and communications strategies, set long-term career goals and source professional opportunities. Instead of job security, these younger “at home” PR specialists place greater importance on flexible hours, work-life balance, digital communications, and — most importantly — the quality of their client relationships.
One of the ambitious women spearheading this alternative PR movement is Molly Krause, a 25-year old communications strategist whose notable clients include superstar street artist Swoon, the Lepore Savage Gallery (an alternative art space in the home of Nanette Lepore and Robert Savage), and artist Anne Spalter (founder of RISD's original digital fine arts department), among others. Molly sat down with me to discuss her budding business empire, alternative marketing tactics, and her plans to permanently change the way we think about art-specialized PR.
Kristin Sancken: First of all, could you explain what it means to be an "Arts, Culture and Lifestyle Communications Strategist"?
Molly Krause: Projects I work on range from comprehensive institutional or career counsel to concentrated press campaigns for individual exhibitions, art fairs, launches, and events — the latter of which is what you’d call traditional PR. The former is where I sit down with a client, often an artist or principal of an institution or brand, and identify their immediate and long-term goals. Coming up with the strategy to achieve those goals is sort of like a fun puzzle with tons of creative steps along the way. Those steps depend on the client. Sometimes I’m speaking with a museum or gallery to secure an exhibition, loan, or partnership; other times I’m in Photoshop working on an invitation for a press event I organized. I’ll always be working on brand messaging and press strategy, thinking about which particular writers could be interested in which particular story. When I’m representing a client, I’ll also be a full-service project manager for executing our long-term strategy, which can include components like visual branding, advertising, and social media. I’m sort of a one-stop-shop.
KS: How did you end up choosing art communications as a career?
MK: I think it was a natural progression. I have always loved creative nonfiction writing and studio art, and when I was younger, I wanted to be either a professional artist or a journalist. When I applied to boarding schools at 13, I remember lugging physical canvasses of my oil paintings to the interviews and including a narrative essay in my application. Several years later, I think half of my college applications were to visual arts programs and the other half were to journalism programs. The latter is how I ended up as a communications major, and my college had a really great art history program so I picked that up as a minor. During college break, I interned in the PR department of Christie’s. My senior Spring, I was hired as an assistant account executive at one of the major arts and culture PR agencies. I started work two days after graduation.
KS: You briefly worked at an agency before leaving to start your own communications business — which became a huge success. Can you briefly describe that journey if possible?
MK: I was only there for five or six months. Which was long enough for me to learn sort of the “gold standard” of high-end arts and culture PR practices, like how to write an “artspeak-free press kit" and how to work harmoniously with in-house communications departments as an external consultant. I had some extremely talented supervisors from whom I learned the best practices on accounts like Miami Art Museum’s 2013 transition to Pérez Art Museum Miami and general communications counsel for Rolex’s philanthropies. The role itself wasn’t a long-term fit for me, though. My career interests were so heavily weighted in a creative approach that I had trouble properly prioritizing the actual responsibilities of an agency account executive, like spending time polishing formal written materials that were intended for exclusively internal circulation. It was a really diplomatic departure and I’m quite grateful for the experience.
KS: You were 24 at this time, correct? Were you worried about the risks of flying solo or confident in your decision?
MK: I was actually 23 when I left the agency. I have continued support from some of my former colleagues and supervisors at Resnicow, which has been really helpful. At first I was subcontracted by a couple of boutique publicists to work on press and events on behalf of their clients, either remotely or onsite with flexible hours. The publicists who subcontracted me recognized my specific strengths and accordingly gave me a lot of freedom as to how I spent the time that I billed them for. For instance, if I saw a unique angle in a client’s narrative, they would let me run with it and spend hours writing custom pitches to individual journalists whose interests I’d had time to thoughtfully research. At a larger agency—and I’m not saying this is a bad thing, just a different method — you don’t have as much time to write custom notes so you’ll often be sending the same pitch to a spreadsheet’s worth of blind-copied reporters. It was during this freelancing phase that I got to experiment and hone my approach to things, so by the time I started independently taking on clients, I was confident in my deliverables.
KS: You’re quickly becoming a very sought after publicist. How do you pick and choose who you work with?
MK: I like to work with people who are both quirky and humble. For artists, it’s great when I can immediately see an unexplored narrative in their story. For example: Anne had her academic background at the bottom of her artist bio — but I was blown away when I sorted out that she had actually founded RISD’s and Brown’s original digital fine arts programs. I thought it would be fun to flesh out the message that though she is an “emerging artist” by mainstream definition, she’s really a “blue chip” arts academic who’s made a recent decision to focus on her studio practice. Her incredible talent is rooted in serious technical understanding, and I was instantly attracted to that. On a logistical level, the best kind of proposal is one where a person or organization is looking for long-term representation, but has a specific project or event in the immediate. It’s a good opportunity to calibrate things.
KS: What does your typical day look like?
MK: I mostly work from home; I have a lofted home office that’s my primary perch. Daytime is a mix of being at my computer/on the phone and venturing out to meetings and studio visits. Most evenings I’ll have either an event or a dinner/drinks meeting. I have an incredibly supportive network of friends in the arts, so we’ll always go to each other’s openings and events when we can. I’m involved in some arts groups like Whitney Contemporaries Patrons and the Guggenheim YCC Acquisitions Committee, both of which have frequent programming. I’ve recently been excited about a new organization called Young Women in the Arts, which was founded by Sarah Cascone and Katya Khazei earlier this year. The other evening, I co-hosted the organization’s inaugural round table discussion at Artnet featuring Marilyn Minter. I’m on the board of the Israeli humanitarian foundation Save a Child’s Heart, as well as on the Council of Young Jewish Presidents, so I have occasional meetings and events for those. Certain semesters I take NYU continuing education classes, which meet once a week in the evening, though I’m not taking any this semester, so have a bit more time for other engagements. My parents live uptown, so if I’m free, I will sometimes go there for dinner and hang out with my family’s three Cavalier King Charles Spaniels.
KS: I’ve been hearing a lot about your emerging art collection. From a curatorial perspective, your taste in art is quite sophisticated. What is your collecting mentality? Any recent acquisitions or new artists we should look out for?
MK: I collect what I love and a thread of cohesion has naturally emerged. Two main themes are the idealized female form and contemporary plays on classic iconography or subject-matter, whether that be a doodled-on retro eye chart or a photographic lenticular work depicting a scene more characteristic of a seventeenth century Dutch still life. My apartment walls are a hodgepodge of salon-style-mounted acquisitions from the past four or five years — ranging in medium from acrylic on canvas to a text-based neon — mixed with family hand-me-downs; antique mirrors; my own work; and prints from my childhood bedroom. A lot of my favorite pieces are from artists I’ve worked with. This Fall I may be getting a 12-foot-tall Swoon piece called Ice Queen that she created for her 2014 Brooklyn Museum solo show, Submerged Motherlands. It’s my spirit piece, I think. Each of Swoon’s portraits has a beautiful back story. Ice Queen is about her maternal grandmother and really resonates with me. I have a lot of my own work up — small illustrations and paintings as well as these 3x4’ mixed-media-on-canvas works of World War II-style pinup girls made out of newsprint, plaster, and acrylic gel medium. At one of the fairs last year, I got this 4x4’ piece by Jean-Paul Donadini that looks like a Mondrian but with an actual paintbrush going across it, scrunching up the canvas. Lately I really like frameless aluminum Dibond with gloss plexi as a presentation for prints and photographs; my first in this camp was a 3x4’ alu Dibond c-print from a Dutch photographer named Jenny Boot that I got from a gallery that just showed at Art New York. Its composition clearly references classical court portraiture (Torso-up; conventionally posed; eye contact) but the model is very glam and modern — she’s dressed in just a bra, cardigan, and an Elizabethan collar that’s made out of pads and tampons. It’s kind of empowering to have that type of thing up in my living room.
KS: Final question: where do you see yourself in 5 years?
MK: I see myself doing the same thing, but with a broader scope of services. I take a lot of classes and seminars at NYU, most of which cover material that equips me better serve the types of clients I already have. Last year I took a graded 10-week art handling course at NYU with Chuck Agro, an adjunct professor who is the manager of packing and art services at the Met. I have a strong interest in appraisal and would like to study toward formal accreditation in that as well. Maybe in five years I’ll be also be doing more private collections advisory and curatorial work. WM