Margie Korshak is a legendary PR maven in Chicago. She’s made a name for herself as the go-to PR person for pre-Broadway, touring and sit down theater projects. Margie is the founder and owner of Margie Korshak Inc. Margie and her team are hard at work getting the word out about First Wives Club the Musical, which is getting ready to begin its Chicago tryout, to get the press and the public interested and to bring in Chicago audiences.
You have a deep roots in Chicago. Can you tell us about that?
Margie: My family has been very instrumental in Chicago. I come from a long line of people who were part of the government of the city of Chicago and the state of Illinois. My father, Marshall Korshak was a state senator. He was the Director of the Illinois Department of Revenue and then he was City Treasurer when Mayor Daley was in power. I come from a long line of Democratic politicians. I grew up in Hyde Park, which is where The Museum of Science and Industry and the University of Chicago is located. My father was the State Senator from that district in the 60s, which is the same district Obama represented in the 90s. Obama lived in the same neighborhood that I lived in.
What is the difference between PR and advertising?
Margie: Advertising is where you are paying for space. You are buying the space, whether it is radio, TV, newspaper, or these days, blogging. PR is done without paying for it. It’s done as a token of what’s going on in the world. You pay the fee for doing PR, but there is no charge. For instance when I send out a release that a show is coming, in this instance, First Wives Club, we don’t pay for that. Now if we run an ad for the First Wives Club, then we pay for that.
Right, because you are doing a service, since people want to know that information.
Margie: Oh, absolutely. PR has changed over the years. I’ve been in business 47 years. The things that I did 47 years ago, I don’t do today. There was no email, no promotions, no Internet. The whole system has changed. When I started, I used to do releases with carbon paper. I’ll tell you one great little story – I’ve worked on every Broadway show that has come to Chicago since the 70s. One of the shows that I did was Jersey Boys, which had been here twice, and I was the press agent both times. In any event, when Jersey Boys came with Frankie Valli, one of the newspapers sent me over. I had sent out some press materials, this was before there was the play Jersey Boys. It was when Frankie Valli used to come with the Four Seasons. One of the newspapers sent me back the pictures that I had sent out for him for his appearance. This was in the 60s, and if you look at the back of the picture, it says ‘PR Margie Korshak’. It’s cute because then when the show came, of course I worked on the show. I also worked on it when it was in concert in the 60s. That’s how long I have been around.
What are some of the best examples of PR that really worked for a show that you have quarterbacked?
Margie: I’ve worked on every show that has come here, both pre-Broadway, touring shows and sit down productions. One that I worked on the most at one time was Wicked, which played in Chicago for three and a half years. You gotta be pretty creative and think a lot to promote something for three and a half years. You gotta come up with a lot of new ideas and a lot of new concepts to promote the show. Jersey Boys I worked on for two and a half years. That was another long one. Of course there was Book of Mormon, so that was about ten months. When you do these shows, especially the pre-Broadway ones, you start working on them almost a year in advance. We’ve been working on First Wives Club for a couple of months already and it doesn’t play until February, when we have the first preview. There is a lot of upfront time working on these shows before they even get here. Sometimes you are doing it a year out.
The PR opportunities for THE FIRST WIVES CLUB are many. What are some of the emphasis and stories that you see being the most attention getting?
Margie: Right now the three girls – Faith Prince, Christine Sherrill and Carmen Cusack, that’s the most interesting now. We are going to have stories in all five of our monthly publications, which is a big deal. These are advance pieces in magazines that come out monthly. We haven’t started to work on the weeklies, we are starting to work on those now. We have secured stories in all five of the local press: CS, which is Chicago Social, North Shore Magazine, Sheridan Road Magazine, Shore Magazine and Make It Better. The monthlies are the long leads.
Do you see the fact that the movie was so well received as a plus for this new adaptation or a challenge?
Margie: Absolutely a plus! Everybody that I see walking down the street that knows it’s coming loves the movie. They are just entranced with it. In fact, it was on the other night on Turner Classic Movies (TCM). I think this is a plus, and of course they are adapting it. There are lots of plays that were movies. Kinky Boots was a movie that became a show. There have been many movies that have been made into Broadway shows, as we know.
When you approach PR for a show in Chicago, how does that work from a philosophical and strategic point of view because I know Chicago has amazing audiences?
Margie: We have two major daily papers, so we try to approach each publication with a different story concept. We don’t want to have the papers all running the same story, so we try to work with the producers, the stars, the choreographer and all the different people who are involved in the show. We give each one of these publications something different so it won’t all come out and be the same story. We can pitch maybe the cast for one publication, and maybe the producer for another publication, and maybe even the composer who is writing the music for another. We also look to see if any of the people in the show are from Chicago, so that we do pieces on local stars being in the show and making good. That’s also very important. We always try to find people in the shows that live here or were born here, or are part of the fabric of this community. For instance, we’ve had a lot of people who went to Northwestern University’s theater school that ended up in shows here.
That makes sense. Everybody likes a hometown person.
Margie: Everybody does. We also try to come up with different angles. We use people who, let’s say go to sports games – we try to get the stars of the shows to sing the national anthem at the Bulls and the Bears games. We try to get them everywhere, not just in newspaper stories. We like to make them part of the fabric of the community.
What are the critics like who review shows in Chicago? Are they sensitive to the fact that some shows are in development and going through changes and refinement?
Margie: Our critics are very happy that we have so many pre-Broadway shows here. This is a big deal. Chicago has become the place to do pre-Broadway. We’ve worked very hard on cultivating that and we’ve been very successful. The critics have been very supportive of new work. They love it, and they love the fact that it is being done in Chicago. That’s a big plus for them. The New Yorkers, when they see something great come out of our two top critics here, that’s very good for them. It’s good publicity for the critics.
Will the Chicago theater community and audiences be excited that Christine Sherrill- one of the stars – is one of their own?
Margie: Yes, she was stunning in Sunset Boulevard. She was one of our girls. She is hugely popular here and well liked.
Some stories make a community aware of a show, and others actually get people to buy tickets. What’s the difference?
Margie: You just have to think up an angle and make people be excited to see the product. We try to get as much information out. We try to do stuff on television, to do performances, and as I say, not just a newspaper story, but to get them all over the place. Of course we are using the Internet like crazy now and we are using email and Facebook. There are all different ways to promote shows now. It wasn’t like that ten or fifteen years ago. It’s a whole new world. Look, I’m talking to you, and we never did this kind of thing before.
Bloggers and social media have a huge impact now. What role will contemporary social media play in the FIRST WIVES CLUB PR approach?
Margie: We are so busy with the bloggers. We have special blogger nights just for press. Sometimes we do two or three press nights and one night is just for bloggers. Bloggers are very important now.
Do Chicago audiences like to be a part of developing a pre-Broadway show?
Margie: We have 200 theaters here. This is a huge theater town. Think about it! We’ve had some great shows that have gone to Broadway from Chicago, not only from the theaters I work on but from Steppenwolf and other theaters where plays have gone on to New York. We have become a world-renowned theater town in my estimation.
What is the buzz so far about THE FIRST WIVES CLUB – even though we’re more than a month away from previews?
Margie: People are excited because everybody loved the movie. They are excited to see what we are going to do. And of course we have three songwriters doing such special new stuff, so everybody is excited about that, too. We had Holland-Dozier-Holland here recently and the press loved them. We did lots of stuff with them and they were just terrific with the press. They are a real trip, those three.
We all grew up with their music. When I first started in the business I worked for a Theater in the Round in Niles, Illinois called the Mill Run. It was the first piece of theater I worked on. Every one of these famous people today, I worked on. I did PR on the Jackson Five when Michael was five years old. Think about how long ago that was. Michael was the most adorable kid that you ever saw, and so talented. He was as cute as he could be, and sweet and nice. Michael and the family were fantastic. They were PR minded, and they did anything I asked of them.
It does sound like you have had an exciting life.
Margie: I have had an exciting career, no question about it. I worked on all Cameron Mackintosh’s shows. I’ve done all the pre-Broadways that have come here, and so I have had a good run, I would say.
How would you describe the casting and the actual three women who will be playing the leads?
Margie: I love all three of the girls. I saw Faith Prince in Guys and Dolls in New York. She won the Tony for that role in New York when she played Miss Adelaide. As far as First Wives, we aren’t going to separate them when we do interviews and things, it will be all three, always. That’s what it is all about.
What do you think it is about this story that resonates with so many people?
Margie: I think the themes speak directly to women, but also to men — the story is universal, about love, and the loss of it. That’s timeless. And there are a lot of first wives around. Every day you read about this settlement or that settlement. There was one guy whose wife wanted a billion dollars and he gave her a check for 974 million and she turned it down because she wanted a billion. Finally, she decided she better be smart and take it.
Is there anything else you want to mention?
Margie: I love show business and I love the theater. I’ve worked in theater since the 70s. I love it as much today as the first day I started in the business. I love the sale, the action and working on the things I find so stimulating and exciting. It’s aggravating sometimes, but it’s very exciting. I’m so excited about the First Wives Club. It’s going to be a trip. We are going to have a good time, and we are going to have a huge success.
I think so, especially with your help.
Margie: I hope so, I hope I am a good help.
About Margie Korshak:
Margie Korshak is Chairman of the company that bears her name. She has over 47 years in the business and she’s seen all the changes that have evolved in PR and adapted to them.
Margie started her career in 1967 with the public relations department of the American Furniture Mart in Chicago. She became established her own agency when she was 29 years of age, specializing in public relations and advertising for the entertainment, retail and restaurant industries, and corporate business.
Margie has worked with some of the world’s most famous creative people in theater. She was instrumental in the re-opening of the Chicago Theatre, the Oriental Theater, the Cadillac Palace Theatre and the opening of The Joan W. and Irving B. Harris Theater for Music and Dance. She has worked on all the hit theatrical productions that have played in Chicago. Margie is currently the press representative for Broadway in Chicago.