Ally La Mere is one of the founders of Route 504 PR, a Toronto-based boutique public relations firm specializing in entertainment and small business. With over thirty years of combined experience, she and partner Angie Power help clients reach their target audiences by a combined strategy of integrated publicity, promotions, social media and digital marketing. Ally took time out of her busy schedule to talk to us about how her business adapted and grew in 2020.
What events led to your working in the Public Relations industry?
I went to McMaster University for a general arts degree and loved my film class so much that I declared it my major after my first year. While in university, I started to organize events with a classmate for students and had so much fun doing it. PR encompasses all things I loved about those events; strategizing, organizing, promoting and executing. After graduating with my degree in film, I applied for a post-graduate program in Public Relations at Humber College and instantly fell in love with all things PR. Nearing the end of my program we had to apply for internships to complete our post-grad. District PR, a former boutique film PR agency in Toronto, posted about an internship available and I remember thinking “Film? PR?” I knew on my first day at that job that I’d be doing it for the rest of my life.
What led you to establish Route 504?
Route 504 kind of fell into my lap. Four years ago I was working in online reputation management when I received a phone call from the head of levelFILM asking where I was and what I was working on. Level had been a client at two of my previous agencies and was starting up again after a short hiatus. On the call, I decided to take level on as a client on the side from my full-time job. After a year or so, level was expanding quite a bit and needed full-time PR support. The idea of starting an agency with level as a principle client came out of a meeting about the number of upcoming releases they had coming up. Having left the film world for a couple of years, I was very eager to get back into it full time and immediately handed in my resignation.
What were some of the challenges of getting it up and running?
I was fortunate in that I didn’t have to go out looking for clients from the beginning, which can be the hardest part of running an agency. I had my hands full with levelFILM and their quickly expanding catalogue of films. Fast forward to TIFF 2019 and level had 5 films premiering at the festival – I had been lingering in the space of “too much for one person but not enough for two for a while” and this was the perfect opportunity to bring on extra help. I approached a longtime colleague of mine, Angie Power, about working together at TIFF – she already had 4 films she was repping and we decided we could manage them together. It was a match made in heaven and following TIFF we partnered full time and expanded our client base together.
Tell me about your responsibilities and duties at Route 504. What is a typical day like for you?
Every day is completely different. We work in a variety of sectors in and out of the film space so in any day I could be working on pitching the media about new film releases or new events for our clients, designing social graphics for campaign, social content creation and execution, social ad buying, compiling press breaks for clients, organizing and executing interviews with available spokespeople or talent, sending out screening links for reviewers or writing press releases and pitches. The art of PR is learning how to juggle without dropping a ball.
How did your business adapt in 2020 in response to COVID-19?
Things changed and things stayed the same. We were very lucky in that while theatrical business was dramatically affected – people began watching a lot of movies during the lockdown. Our release schedule was packed with VOD releases and we had to find a way to break through the noise of all the movies being released digitally. We did find that we had more access to actors for interviews than we did before. In a pre-covid world, to do a press day with an actor in a movie you had to speak to their team to make sure they were available, fly them into town, put them up in a hotel, organize car services and take them around on a press tour around the city which can be expensive and hard to sync up schedules for release dates. Plus we can run an entire press day from our desk!
How did the events of 2020 affect your business overall?
2020 was a year of big growth for us and we expanded into sectors outside of the film distribution space including small business, BIAs, construction and casting. Small business has been a passion of ours during the pandemic as they need more help than ever before getting their name out there to stay afloat during these hard times. My advice to others is to keep building those relationships! Cliche, I know, but it’s even more important in 2021 to have a great relationship built with media & clients. Starting your own business can be very scary but if you’ve developed strong relationships with people you can call on when you’re not sure of something or need help on a project – it’s invaluable.
Things have changed a lot for the Public Relations industry since COVID started. Although publicists are not spending their days running events, attending premieres and holding press days, they still have the same goal: finding a unique way to bring their clients products to the right audience. Things have been teetering on digital for a long time, especially in the film industry, and COVID gave it a massive shove into the digital space. This makes PR even more important than ever, since it is now even harder to break through the noise online.
PR can help your brand, product, film, business find your key demo. Everyone in the industry hopes that things will go back to normal, especially in the theatrical space, but no one can know for sure. PR is an ever-changing industry with a single concept at its core – storytelling. The story might change but they will be there to tell it.
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