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It's a T.G.I. summer

In the high-pressure world of publicity, Friday is a play day from Memorial Day to Labor Day.

August 15, 2003|Gina Piccalo Times Staff Writer | Times Staff Writer

Their work is never done. Hollywood publicists wrangle the press, book the stylists, court the sponsors and chaperon the evenings out (pre-party, party and after-party). And in the morning, they pitch it all to the gossip columnists to keep the hype machine humming.

These caffeine-fueled folks live and die by the cellphone and the whims of the media, arriving early and leaving last. So after the awards shows, fashion weeks and film festivals, before the fall TV pilot season and the Oscar campaigns, they're ready for mercy.

Hence "summer hours," an unofficial policy among Los Angeles and New York publicists and some entertainment media that says Fridays are optional workdays from Memorial Day to Labor Day. Consequently, if you're speaking with publicists on Friday, they're calling from the road. If they're Manhattan-based, they're in the Hamptons. In L.A., a famous summer destination, the possibilities are endless.

"It just gives everybody a sense of 'summer's here,' " says publicist Simon Halls, a partner in the celebrity powerhouse PMK/HBH. At the personal publicity agency that represents a slew of stars from Russell Crowe to Tom Cruise, staffers may leave by 1 p.m. on summer Fridays. "Everybody from myself down to the receptionist counts the minutes to Friday in the summer."

The practice originated in Manhattan, where, publicists say, magazine writers routinely head out of town on Friday afternoons to beat traffic. With no journalists to pitch, the story goes, there was less work for publicists. "The media, at the best of times in New York, is in on Tuesdays, Wednesdays and part of Thursdays," Halls says.

Conde Nast Publications and the Hearst Corp. are widely considered the originators of summer hours. (Hearst acknowledges that it observes them but says the practice is "outdated." Conde Nast says it has no such policy but that writers keep odd schedules.) And the PR world happily adopted the tradition as its own.

Some agencies take the whole day off on alternate weeks; others just leave a little early every Friday. It's minor on the perk meter, but a major morale booster because it gives publicists the one thing they lack: free time.

"Stand in a subway station on a Monday morning waiting for the R and you will know why you need summer Fridays," says Los Angeles publicist Jill Eisenstadt, who worked in New York for a decade before moving west.

But L.A. is an escapist's dream. "Where do you go here?" publicist Howard Bragman asks. "Everybody comes here on vacation."

On a Friday in late July, publicist Monique Huey of PMK/HBH was trying to get tickets to an Angels game. But usually, she says, she and her colleagues use their free time for a long lunch. "It gives you a little bit of breathing room," she says. "It's like a mini-vacation."

After 3 p.m. on summertime Fridays, the Beverly Hills office of BWR Public Relations is unusually quiet. Office manager Neal Cohen heads for the beach, while his colleagues take time for a haircut, a manicure or a golf game. "Some make it a long weekend and take a flight somewhere," he says. "Actually, people go back to the East Coast, take a red-eye on Friday night and they're back by Monday. There are more options."

For other entertainment industry types, summer perks are more communal, even nostalgic.

At CAA, scores of hard-nosed talent agents and their overworked assistants are treated to ice cream on Tuesdays and Thursdays.

UTA periodically holds an "old-fashioned summer picnic" in Franklin Canyon with football, softball and other games.

And on one day every summer at E! Networks, management hosts a midweek concert with free breakfast, lunch and dinner. This year, Barenaked Ladies performed for 900 staffers in the courtyard of the network's Wilshire Boulevard offices. "We bring in the portable In-N-Out trucks," says Ken Bettsteller, chief operating officer. "They're still working during the day, but they're counting the seconds until the next serving."

Perks aside, most everyone interviewed for this story emphasized that the work still gets done and the phones are always covered.

"In the end," Bragman says, "people give more than they take."

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