Professionals Offer Industry Advice During HFPA Grantee Cal State Fullerton’s “Comm Week”

Over the last 27 years the Hollywood Foreign Press Association has donated $50 million to a wide variety of entertainment-related nonprofit organizations, film restorations, and academic programs. More than 2,220 students have received scholarships to help them pursue their dreams.

In service of that broader mission, HFPA grantee Cal State Fullerton recently held its annual “Comm Week,” a five-day event that features guest speakers from a variety of communications industries, allowing students a chance to network, absorb practical advice and learn more about potential career options (since, of course, not all of those students have aspirations of becoming a director or cinematographer) which intersect with the entertainment industry.

As part of Cal State Fullerton’s Entertainment Capstone classes held on Thursday, April 28, two guest speakers provided valuable insights, drawing upon personal experience to give listeners a sense of what their respective professional fields entail.


Rebecca Wolfson, Director of Global Publicity for Universal Pictures Home Entertainment for the last eight years, has crafted and overseen more than 100 release campaigns for some of the biggest franchises out there, including The Fast and the Furious and Jurassic World. But the California-born and bred graduate of the University of California Irvine had no particular connections to the public relations or entertainment industries when she began her working life.

Figuring out her career path was challenging, she said. Drawing upon her work experience at agencies of all sizes — from boutique firms Kirvin Doak Communications and Bender/Helper Impact to one of the world’s largest global communications companies, Hill + Knowlton Strategies — Wolfson sought to explore some of the differences, and pros and cons, between in-house and agency publicity positions.

One big example she explored in detail was her work on the 50th anniversary home video release of Cleopatra for 20th Century Fox, which she described as the crown jewel of her professional life. “Usually, studios don’t spend too much time and energy on home entertainment releases for catalog titles, but this one was different,” she said.

Noting that public associations with the film still centered around its expensiveness (Cleopatra was the costliest movie ever made, with a runaway budget of more than $42 million) and the tempestuous real-life love affair of its stars, Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton, Wolfson’s team settled on a campaign which leaned into luxury.

“The cornerstone of the campaign was the partnership between Fox and Italian jeweler Bulgari, who teamed up for several exclusive activities,” said Wolfson. “Burton was known to shower Taylor with many pieces from Bulgari’s. So, it was a natural partnership fit. To commemorate the golden anniversary, a screening of the remastered version of Cleopatra was held at the Cannes Film Festival, along with a star-studded after-party hosted by Taylor’s son, Christopher Wilding, and Burton’s daughter, Kate Burton, along with Bulgari spokesperson Jessica Chastain.”

There, special jewelry pieces were displayed. Golden Globe winner Chastain even wore a famous emerald-and-diamond necklace which Burton gave Taylor during the film’s production in Rome. A special commemorative piece was designed by Bulgari and auctioned off for Taylor’s charity. This work generated thousands of headlines around the globe.

Next, Wolfson talked about collaborating with brand management teams to craft specialized campaigns which leverage new home video content. She shared a video highlighting special press events and activations, including an influencer trip for How To Train Your Dragon and journalists recreating an action sequence from Hobbs and Shaw.

Additionally, Wolfson touched upon some of her work as a freelance senior consultant for lesser-known technology, nonprofit, and lifestyle clients, and how she felt those experiences rounded out her skill set. Smaller budgets sometimes take more time and effort to maximize, she noted. “You have to work harder to place those stories. You have to work harder to build those press relationships. It’s not as easy to land the big splashy stories as to when you have a big-name talent. Those were good lessons,” said Wolfson. “I found it easier to build press relationships at agencies too. If I hadn’t spent all that time at an agency, I probably wouldn’t understand the press landscape in the way that I understand it now.”

Wrapping up, Wolfson highlighted some of the key differences between in-house public relations work and working at independent agencies. “At agencies, you do have access to lots of different types of clients, which helps when you’re trying to figure out which one might be most exciting for you to work on.”

“A lot of times people will get consulting roles at studios, and it doesn’t always turn into a full-time position, but it gives them opportunities to network with other divisions. They’re able to find employment with other places or even other studios. It can be beneficial to take these consultant roles.” She acknowledged that such a pivot came with a pay cut, since it didn’t include benefits associated with a full-time position in-house.

In a candid and perceptive question-and-answer session, Wolfson noted that she wasn’t prepared for the “big personalities and big egos” one encounters on the creative side of the industry. Still, she found that her more slightly introverted style drew respect for its counterbalancing groundedness. She wished that, in interviews early in her career, she’d asked more questions about workplace culture and management style, in order to discern which job opportunities might best suit her personality.

In a later session, Jerry Caraccioli, former Executive Director of Communications for CBS Sports, talked about “Comm Week” resonating with him as an undergraduate student at Cal State Fullerton.

In a highly empathetic speech studded with biographical details, Caraccioli extolled the virtues of both preparation and persistence in finding the right type of job opportunities. While acknowledging that everybody is different, and thus motivated by different goals and ambitions, he served up a collection of useful aphorisms drawn from a professional resume that includes work on eight Super Bowls, the 1998 Olympic Winter Games, numerous Masters and PGA Championships, several World Series, and countless other sports world touchstones.

Among his core advice for young people was to have a plan — and then, when you get chances to do something new, saying yes. Encouraging students to think big, Caraccioli talked about following through on commitments and embracing the sometimes scary or awkward feelings surrounding networking. “I remember being exactly where you guys are. When somebody would say to me, ‘Hey, whenever you’re in town stop by,’ I would. Sometimes it’s a throwaway line that people use but I would stop by and let them know that I’m out there,” said Caraccioli. “Also, I don’t think there’s anybody that will turn you down if you’re asking them for advice. They may. But to me. It’s an honor to be asked for advice.”

Caraccioli also stressed the importance of staying abreast of company information and general industry trends. When proper opportunities arose, one would be prepared to make a good conversational impression. Sharing a memorable anecdote, he talked about, as a fairly new hire, finding himself at a company event face-to-face with the Chairman of CBS. When he reconnected later with some of his peers, they noted in awe that Caraccioli had been with the executive a fairly long time — and actually doing a good bit of the talking himself.

“I found myself in that position several times,” he said. “It was of such value to be aware of what was going on throughout the company, just knowing the business and being able to discuss that. Being well-rounded is important — knowing what’s happening not just in your area, whether that’s sports or entertainment or politics, but knowing other areas too so you can be conversant with all kinds of people.”

Wrapping up his remarks by circling back to the mantra that “Every no brings you one step closer to a yes,” Caraccioli closed with additional pointers applicable to professional workspaces. “My last bit of advice would harken back to some homespun wisdom. Dressing appropriately and presenting yourself appropriately goes a long way,” he said. “When I type tweets and send out messages on social media, I still like to write in complete sentences. Developing those habits of writing properly, with the right punctuation and grammar, is important too — maybe that’s just the editor in me.”