As a publicist with credentials that include crafting publicity campaigns for financial advisor Suze Orman, supermodel Alek Wek, actress Suzanne Somers and mega-pastor T.D. Jakes, Gilda Squire is well known for her ability to bring great value to her clients. However, as great as her success has been in securing golden opportunities for her publicity clients, nothing can compare to her success as the manager of American Ballet Theatre superstar Misty Copeland.
Under Squire’s guidance, Copeland has been transformed into a true cultural phenomenon with major endorsement contracts with Diet Dr. Pepper, Coach and Under Armour, as well as high-profile media exposure—appearing on the cover of Time magazine, a major write-up in Vanity Fair, and a dedicated 60 Minutes segment. With the ballerina beginning the next stage of her career with her historic rise as a principal for the esteemed ballet company, EBONY.com spoke with Gilda Squire to learn about her Midas touch.
EBONY: So what was your motivation to leave corporate America to pursue building a business of your own?
Gilda Squire: I’d been working as a publicity director at a major book-publishing house for several years. Although I loved my job, the team and the authors, I really wanted to branch out to working with other types of talent, in addition to authors.
To be honest, once you’ve worked in book publishing publicity, people start to view your abilities as being only book publicity. I did not like the idea of being limited to only books and authors. I believe that the skills and experience that we gain in publishing is tremendous. And if you want to work with other types of talent, that should be an option. So I made the difficult but necessary decision to strike out on my own, and I’m so glad that I did.
I have the best of both worlds. I still work with amazing authors, both new and more established. I also have had the opportunity to branch out and gain experience working with clients such as TV One on the 2008 launch and several seasons of their now award-winning series, Unsung. For the past three years, we’ve had the honor of working with the historic Dance Theatre of Harlem, creating the publicity campaign for the return of the company and working with them throughout the course of national tours, their annual gala and New York City seasons.
Since 2012, we’ve had the great opportunity to manage the publicity efforts for American Ballet Theatre’s prestigious fall and spring galas. Thanks to Cassandra Butcher at Fox Searchlight, I had the chance to be the media trainer to Quvenzhané Wallis, the young star of the film Beasts of the Southern Wild, as she prepared for what would be an extraordinary road to the Golden Globes and the Oscars and the beginning of an amazing acting career. The main point being, I couldn’t have done any of it if I hadn’t taken that first big and scary step to go out on my own.
EBONY: What prompted the opening of your management division?
GS: It’s funny. I had not thought I would ever be anyone’s manager. It all changed when I met an extraordinary woman named Misty Copeland in January 2011. My boyfriend and I were at a New Year’s Eve party at the home of our friends, Clarence and Vernon. Misty came up because those who’d attended Prince’s Welcome 2 America tour in 2010 spoke about her performance with him. Vernon, our host, was familiar with Misty because of his work with her company, American Ballet Theatre, during their spring season at the Metropolitan Opera House.
Most others that night, including me, had never heard of Misty. I was curious, so the next day I Googled her because I wanted to know more. I was stunned that I wasn’t aware of this Black woman who was working to break down racial barriers in ballet. I contacted Vernon to ask that he put me in touch with Misty. I’d decided that I wanted to do some publicity for her, if she didn’t already have someone, on a short-term basis, maybe three or four months. It was the year of the film Black Swan, and the topic of ballet was in the headlines regularly because of the film at that time. I thought, I want to play a part in people getting to know the real Black swan that is Misty Copeland.
She and I met in early 2011 to discuss working together temporarily on PR, and she asked me if I’d consider being her manager. At that time, I was not comfortable with the idea because one, I knew very little about managing someone; two, it’s a huge responsibility; and three, I knew very little about ballet, other than going to a gala or two many years before.
But three or four short months of doing PR for Misty has evolved into a four-year managerial relationship filled with countless blessings and accolades. To date, two of my proudest moments were inking the Under Armour deal in 2013—a major accomplishment for both Misty and ballet overall—and initiating the partnership with the Boys & Girls Clubs for Misty in 2011.
Not to mention, two beautiful books in her memoir, Life in Motion, and children’s book, Firebird. We’ve built a really great team, one that will support all of our endeavors to come. I often say that Misty saw in me what I didn’t see in myself, and for that I will always be grateful.
EBONY: What skill sets are essential for being a successful entrepreneur?
GS: I think it can vary, but for me, it’s been the ability and willingness to see beyond the obvious. I find that those projects that might not seem like it’s got a lot of legs may be the very client that helps me expand and stretch creatively and strategically.
I would also recommend having the ability to multitask effectively and efficiently. At any given time on a day, I wear multiple hats. I’ve had to really learn how to multitask in a different way from being in a typical job. When you work for yourself, you are the person who is the go-to for both clients and those who work with you in the office.
Relationship building is absolutely a must. Relationships are everything to my business. In fact, it’s how I’ve built my business. The majority of my clients have been referrals, so it’s very important that I value and nurture our relationships. I wouldn’t be in business without them.
Having work-life balance is key. I’m still working to achieve this even today. I find that I’m no good to anyone when I’m burnt out, but then the work, and lots of it, has to get done. I’m learning to take breaks during the day, even if just for 15 minutes to decompress. If I have a week full of meetings or events, I try to make sure that the next week is lighter in terms of scheduling so I can build in some relaxation time in the evenings.
And finally, you must have patience. Some may disagree, but patience is a skill and I believe one that comes with experience and maturity. Being an entrepreneur is a wonderful experience, but it’s not for everyone and it’s not easy. There are highs and lows. There may be times when business is slow, and it’s during those times that you have to keep the faith, plan, be creative and have patience. That’s been my approach, and so far it’s worked very well for me.
EBONY: Why did you sign Misty Copeland as your first client?
GS: As I mentioned, management was ironically Misty’s idea. Misty is incredibly talented and has a compelling story, one that I knew would resonate with people everywhere. She really is the definition of the American Dream, but even more than that, I knew this was an opportunity to introduce the world to the beauty of ballet through her eyes and aspirations to become the first African-American, female principal dancer at a top tier classical ballet company. I knew that Misty could be to ballet what Serena and Venus [Williams] have been to professional tennis and Tiger [Woods] to professional golf. I was excited by the challenge of building an audience and fan base outside of ballet, and the idea that we could have the world along for the ride as Misty embarked on this historic journey.
EBONY: How have you overcome the challenges of being Black and female in business?
GS: There will always be people who make decisions to not work with you for a myriad of reasons. I don’t allow those people to deter me. I look for those who are open to working with me, clients who are on the same page, and my team and I keep doing the best work we possibly can.
I often partner with Simone Cooper, a publicist who also has her own PR firm and came out of book publishing. One of the things that works so well for us is we have very similar philosophies when it comes to business. We are serious about what we do. We do not take anything or any client for granted. And we have a great deal of respect for one another and the people who are our clients. With that in mind, I am always confident there are companies and people out there who can and will see past what I look like and the fact that I am a woman, because they’re more interested in what I have to offer. For those who can’t, they are not the clients I’d want to work with anyway.
EBONY: What’s next for your company?
GS: I think the sky is the limit. I am certainly open to taking on more management clients and growing that part of the business. The publicity campaigns will continue because there will always be a part of me that will want to roll up my sleeves for a good campaign. And there is so much more to come with Misty that I can barely stop smiling just thinking about it. And the fact that we are two Black women making all of this happen makes me especially proud.
Gil Robertson IV is an award-winning journalist, bestselling author and president of the African-American Film Critics Association.