Image Credit: Christopher Mellevold
Today we’d like to introduce you to Ashton Lunceford and Mia Hansen.
Thanks for sharing your story with us Ashton and Mia. So, let’s start at the beginning and we can move on from there.
Mia: I attended UCLA and while I was there tried some internships. The first one was with The Villines Company which helped studios with press junkets, press screenings and the like. I loved it, got to work with great people, hang out with actors I loved like the dearly departed Patrick Swayze and see movies in advance. After a little bit of time where I wondered for the first and last time ever, what would look better on my resume: staying with the same place making it clear I was doing a good job or having some job variety.
I opted for variety and moved on to an internship at ABC working for the greatest guy Scott Barton, who was the publicist for the daytime drama “General Hospital.” I LOVED that job. Scott was amazing to work for, the cast was incredibly welcoming and kind and I got to be on set every day which was super exciting. I was about 21 (had just finished college) and Scott had moved on, so for a few months as an intern, I was basically the main publicist for both “General Hospital” AND their other show at the time “Port Charles.”
After that, I worked for ABC Primetime and then got my first job in personal publicity working for the legendary Dick Guttman. I worked for Guttman Associates for about 4 years with legends like Martin Landau, Jaqueline Bissett, Tom Skerritt and Robert Forster but ultimately decided that as someone in my early twenties I would like to work more with up and comers. In 2002 I started my own company called Aquarius PR, just me in an office inside the LA Models building and later in a guest house on my property and worked with some incredible people over the course of about 8 years.
One of the incredible people was my current partner Ashton, who started out in the business as my part-time assistant at Aquarius. I worked with a few other PR firms after shutting down Aquarius but ultimately decided that having my own company was what I wanted and Ashton and I formed Portrait PR together in 2016.
Ashton: My story is a fairly unique – it was my original love for performing that actually got me to where I am today as co-owner of Portrait. After moving to LA from South Carolina to pursue my dreams as an actress and singer, I found myself at Cal State Northridge majoring in Journalism with an emphasis in PR. At the time I had essentially moved on from acting but was still singing in a band. The band was releasing an EP and I thought, I could do PR for this myself … and so I did – formulated a pitch, wrote a bio, gathered artwork and got to work. Through that, I realized that 1 – I enjoyed the work and excitement/creativity that came along with it and 2 – I was good at it!
The rest I suppose is history. Later that year I met with Mia (my now partner) about an internship in PR at her boutique company Aquarius PR and we immediately clicked. I ended up working as her part-time assistant for a while and she became my original mentor – I really admired her honesty and down to earth personality and unique approach. After college, I held full-time junior publicist and publicist positions at a few different firms. After growing a roster of my own and learning everything I could in my 20s, Mia and I partnered back up in May 2016 but this time as co-founders/co-owners of our own company, Portrait PR.
We’re always bombarded by how great it is to pursue your passion, etc – but we’ve spoken with enough people to know that it’s not always easy. Overall, would you say things have been easy for you?
Ashton: I think that most of my struggles came at the beginning of my career. As a girl from a small town, it took me awhile to get my bearings and learn the ins and outs of the industry and ultimately know who to trust. I used to take things to heart much more and at some point, I realized that it’s not worth the stress. If things don’t go exactly how you planned, it’s okay. If a client doesn’t treat you well, stop working with them. There is a huge amount of responsibility being your own boss but there is also a huge sense of liberation knowing that you can choose who you work with and what sort of clients you want to represent.
I really pride myself (and I know Mia does as well) in working with a certain type of person: a down to earth, good human that isn’t in this for the fame. Our clients love what they do for the art of it and that makes my job super fulfilling. There are plenty of people that would hire us purely to walk some carpets, meet ‘important’ people and maybe get in a weekly magazine. That’s not the sort of work we do. Integrity and moral standards are something that can be lost quickly and easily in the PR world and it’s very important to us that our company and our clients stick to those standards.
Mia: I think it has been a pretty smooth road for the most part. Starting your own business is always scary and I have done it twice now, but I feel like this is something I am really good at and ultimately that is what will shine through. One struggle, if you can call it that, was figuring out what I truly wanted out of this job and realizing a few different times along the way that I wasn’t getting it. If at all possible, people should love their jobs, and I love my job, but there were moments when I didn’t and I was lucky enough that I could rectify that fairly easily.
The only other struggle that comes to mind from over the years is that some people still have the perception that “bigger is better” and in my experience, that has been proven to not be true. It is about who is representing you, the person, not the company. I had one situation where a client thought they needed to be somewhere bigger, left and over the course of a few years went to two other large corporate PR firms and ultimately came back because they just felt they weren’t getting the same level of service that they had gotten with me.
So, as you know, we’re impressed with Portrait PR – tell our readers more, for example what you’re most proud of as a company and what sets you apart from others.
Mia: Portrait PR is a PR firm representing mostly actors, but also musicians and other types of artists. I’ve heard many times over the years, as a compliment I’m told, that I am not like other publicists. Everyone has their own way of doing things that work for them and their clients, my way is to make sure my clients are happy and taken care of but without infringing on someone else’s job. There have certainly been times where I have to take over a bit but nine times out of ten everyone on the set, or at the junket or wherever is great at what they do and so I just let them do it and don’t interfere unless I feel there is the potential that my client will be unhappy or misrepresented. What am I most proud of as a company? That I have a company and clients that I can be proud of.
I am also very proud that most of the business we do is incoming, meaning we are recommended to potential clients by agents, managers, studios or other clients because we have done such a good job with someone else. I think what sets us apart is that we are very present with our clients. For the most part, Ashton and I cover all of our clients ourselves – shoots, events, pitching, etc. We want to be the people that our clients are working with, talking to, emailing. There is no wrong way as long as the job gets done I suppose, but I think our clients appreciate that it is our faces that they see, and our voices that they hear 99% of the time.
Ashton: We form well-rounded campaigns for our clients surrounding TV, film and music releases. We cover everything from coordinating publicity with the network and studio publicists to pitching and executing features in print and online as well as appearances on talk shows, radio shows and podcasts. We coordinate spec shoots so that there is varied art to use in the press, secure meaningful red carpet invites, connect clients with stylists and glam teams and help find worthwhile charities and organizations to get involved with when needed. With my music clients specifically, I am sort of known for opening them up more in the lifestyle/fashion world as opposed to just straight music press.
Mia said it really well, the extended time we put in face to face with our clients is so important to us and something that we pride ourselves on. I also think we are really good at getting creative and thinking outside of the box, especially with clients that may not have the most straightforward projects. We welcome challenges and like for our clients to have fun and feel comfortable with publicity. Sometimes we have clients that are initially be opposed to it or that have had a previous negative experience with a publicist – it is always a welcome and rewarding challenge to turn that around and show them a good experience.
What quality or characteristic do you feel is most important to your success?
Mia: Kindness. There are many ways to get things done in this world but being kind has worked for me. I think there have been times where an editor/booker decides to do something with a client of mine who may not have the highest profile project or the largest role simply because they have enjoyed their other interactions with me in the past. Most of us are taught to “treat others as we want to be treated” and that is what I try to do.
I’m not perfect and there have certainly been times where I have had to be more aggressive but it doesn’t feel good at the end of the day so I avoid it at all costs. I also work very hard to only work with clients that are kind as well. We work with some really incredible human beings here at Portrait. I have been doing this long enough to know that if someone is not kind I should just stop working with them. Life is too short to work with people whose phone calls you don’t want to answer.
Ashton: I would have to agree with Mia here … we started a company together for a reason after all! I’d say that we function in a similar way in our interactions with others and come from the same sort of moral grounding. Kindness goes a long way. I’d like to think that our success is rooted in that. Loyalty is a big one too. We like to look out for not only our clients but the great photographers, hair stylists, makeup artists and stylists that have been there for us from the start.
This job is a group effort a lot of times and every piece of the puzzle is important. It can be tough and sometimes stressful but at the end of the day it’s an incredibly rewarding and fun job and I’m super thankful I get to do it every day. It’s important to not forget that.
- Website: www.portraitpr.com
- Phone: 818-386-2907
- Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
Ashton and Tom Cavanagh (The Flash, Ed, Scrubs)
Mia, client Sophia Lillis (IT, Sharp Objects, Nancy Drew), Ashton and Jamie Pillet (Sophia’s agent) at the IT premiere
Hair and makeup artist Travisean Haynes, Ashton, client Eloise Mumford (Fifty Shades of Grey) and photographer Catie Laffoon.
Mia and client Shannon Purser at the Emmys (Stranger Things, Riverdale, Sierra Burgess Is a Loser)
Mia and client Ashton Sanders (Moonlight, The Equalizer 2)