Archie Comics Publicity Mastermind Alex Segura On Marketing, Management, And His Time At DC Comics
Interviews, panel appearances, fan mail -- artists and writers understandably get much of the focus when we talk about professionals in the American comics industry. But beyond the front lines there's a whole host of people working hard to keep the business running: accountants, lawyers, publicists, librarians, production staff and many others. Most of these people don't have the opportunity to talk about their work with the people who read the comics they help put in their hands, but the work they do is important -- often integral -- to this industry. Whether it's making sure creators get paid, designing logos, or even planning a convention, these people affect how the whole package of our industry comes together.
In the first of what we've planned as a series of spotlights on the behind-the-scenes comics pros, we're speaking with Alex Segura, Archie Comics' Senior Vice President - Publicity and Marketing. Segura started his career in comics as a journalist but has spent nearly a decade doing publicity at DC Comics and Archie, the latter of which has been especially praised by this site and others for revitalizing its brand. One of the architects of the new Archie Comics, Segura sat down with us to talk about how he ended up as a publicist and what exactly that job entails.
ComicsAlliance: You are currently working at Archie Comics. What's your official job title and what are your responsibilities?
Alex Segura: My current title is Senior Vice President - Publicity and Marketing. The shorthand I like to use is that I oversee all external communications for the company in terms of the press, marketing materials, panels, etc. If there's a news break or preview or interview, that originated from the Archie Publicity office. I'm also the Editor, Dark Circle Comics, which means I'm the head of editorial for Archie's superhero imprint, Dark Circle, which is still in the early stages of development. We announced a first wave of titles in advance of San Diego: The Black Hood, The Shield and The Fox. Unofficially, I also write some comics for Archie from time to time [like Archie Meets Kiss].
CA: Where are you from originally?
AS: I'm from Miami, born and raised. In my past life as a journalist, I worked at The South Florida Sun Sentinel as an intern, The Miami Herald (twice) as a copy editor and online news editor, and in writing and editorial roles at Newsarama and Wizard Magazine. While at Wizard I lived in Westchester County, NY for a few years, then back to Miami. I've been in New York for about nine years now, having moved up in 2006 to take the Publicity Manager job at DC Comics. I then moved to Archie as Executive Director of Publicity and Marketing, eventually rising to the title of VP. Then I hopped back to DC and now I'm at Archie again.
CA: What was your first job in this career path?
AS: I started as a freelancer at Newsarama, writing interviews and short news pieces. My first interview was with writer Ed Brubaker, discussing Point Blank, which was kind of a prelude to Sleeper from WildStorm. Ed was very gracious and answered my silly questions. My next interviews were with Peter David on the end of Young Justiceand with Jimmy Palmiotti and Justin Gray on The Resistance from WildStorm. So, that gives you a sense of when I started. Matt Brady and Mike Doran, who ran the site together back then, were really helpful guiding me through those early days - just learning the basics of the industry and how to handle myself when dealing with creators - always be professional, polite and hardworking.
CA: Did you want to specifically work in comics? How did you end up in the industry?
AS: I wanted to be a journalist after college - I was the editor of my school paper and did a reporting internship after school. But I'd always loved comics and kept up with the news via sites like Newsarama and CBR. So the idea struck me kind of out of the blue to merge my chosen career path with my passion for comics. I remember IM'ing Matt and Mike out of the blue asking them if they needed writers. I don't suggest messaging your prospective bosses like that, but I was 19. The Newsarama gig started out as a trial thing, kind of "Let's see if this kid is legit" and after they realized I could string a few sentences together and knew the meaning of a deadline, it became a regular, part-time job.
It was that experience, coupled with more traditional newspaper jobs that I think helped me land my job at Wizard, where I was an Associate Editor for a few years and met many great people and got my first, full-time industry job.
CA: You worked for DC Comics for years. What was your typical day at DC like while doing publicity?
AS: I was at DC twice - first, for about five years, as Publicity Manager, then I came back for a while as Executive Director of Publicity. Similar but different. The best answer I can give you is that there was no such thing as a typical day. There's really no typical day in publicity. It's like the rush of journalism - the great story, the deadline, the "we're in the trenches" together feeling - but instead of reporting on what others are doing, you're externalizing what your team is doing. On any given day, you could be listening to Grant Morrison explain Multiversity to a roomful of reporters, in a cab to a 6:00am morning show taping, or stuffing envelopes to make sure a review mailing is going out.
CA: What was the most important thing you learned at DC?
AS: I learned a lot, and I was lucky to have a wide range of mentors and friends I could talk to. Publicity as a job runs the gamut - from the glamorous to the mundane but equally important. I'm really grateful for my time at DC - I made lifelong friends, I learned so much from my bosses and I got to hopefully share some of my own knowledge to the people that worked with me. Coming to New York to work for DC was a dream come true, and I felt extremely lucky to have a second tenure there, where I got to not only reconnect with old friends but also make new ones. It really cemented for me that publicity is so much more than just a rolodex of contacts - it's relationship-based, and you have to maintain those relationships because you never know how circumstance can change, whether it's a reporter moving from a small website to CNN or your own life situation.
I can't speak to how others do publicity, but in my experience, it's always best to not only temper expectations internally but also externally. A reporter is only going to believe you've got "THE BIGGEST STORY EVER" once. Because that's what it means. The same thing applies to when you're trying to promote something to your stakeholders - you have to be clear about what it means and contextualize it. If everything is big and important and a game changer, then nothing is. So, to answer your question - I learned that the job of a publicist is as much about communicating information correctly as it is about getting the press hit. You could get a huge story but if no one knows what it means and if it doesn't achieve your goals, then it's like a tree falling in a forest, you know?
CA: Was there anything about your work there that gave you trouble?
AS: Every job has its things. I think someone would be lying if they said a job doesn't have stresses or moments of frustration or anxiety. But I like to think I'm fairly easygoing and solution-oriented, so if things ever got hairy I'd try to take a moment to myself or talk to a friend or take a walk. In the grand scheme of things, we're working on comic books - a medium that entertains so many people and brings joy to a lot of lives, so you have to remind yourself of that. This should be fun. I'm really thankful that I haven't had a job where I wake up hating the prospect of going into the office in a long time. Even if things were hectic or extremely busy, as they often were at DC, I always tried to come in excited and eager to work.
CA: You're currently at Archie for the second time - what brought you back to the company?
AS: Well, I wasn't expecting to switch jobs so soon after returning to DC, but we (my wife and I) weren't really ready to make a move to Burbank, so that kind of changed our circumstances a bit. Once the news about DC's move broke, I heard from my old boss at Archie and we got to talking and worked something out. It's interesting to me because the job is very different from the job I left a few years back - there's more responsibility in terms of properly messaging out who this company is - a brand that's no longer steeped in nostalgia and is, in fact, very vibrant and connected to today's reader. Archie's become one of the most timely and progressive publishers out there, which I think is amazing. So, it's really exciting to be able to steer the ship of information for our CEO Jon Goldwater and my boss, President Mike Pellerito. Then you have stuff like Afterlife With Archie, the "Death of Archie" story - just so much going on. It's really a publicist's dream to have this much stuff, with mainstream hooks waiting to be promoted.
I think the added duties of editorial really made coming back enticing, because it's the one part of comics I've always been curious about and never really understood how to get into, having started my career as a publicist. It's very hard to shift tracks. But this job allowed me to do PR and also oversee an entire imprint. It's very much a situation where I have to think about what role I'm in when sending certain emails - is this from Alex the PR guy or Alex the Editor? But getting the chance to look over these great characters and work with really talented people like Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa and Paul Kaminski, plus talented creators like Duane Swierczynski, Michael Gaydos, Adam Christopher, Dean Haspiel, Chuck Wendig and Mark Waid, to name just a few... is really amazing and gratifying.
CA: Can you describe a typical day for you at Archie now?
AS: It depends. Like I said earlier, publicity is kind of a roll of the dice. There are some days where you're on the offensive - pitching, mailing, calling, meeting - in an effort to get the word out on something. Other days you're in a more defensive role, reacting to a story. I think both are equally important skills for a publicist to have. Now I have the added wrinkle of editorial duties, and I'm really trying to learn the nuts and bolts of it as much as I can - from the mundane stuff like filling out invoices and contracts to top-line, universe-building stuff. Luckily, guys like Mike Pellerito and Paul Kaminski have been very patient with me and I think we have some exciting stuff coming up.
Archie's also different because it's a smaller company and moves much faster - we can pivot with great ease, which is exciting and useful in a publishing climate that is always changing. It makes my job fun because we can adapt and react on a dime, which is very rare.
CA: Part of your job includes being at many conventions - what sort of work do you do during conventions? What are your top priorities during a convention weekend?
AS: I hate to say "it depends" to every question - but it really does! If the show is major, like San Diego or New York, we have to figure out how we can make our news stand out and rise above the noise. If it's a smaller show and we're not breaking news around it, then it's more about how we can maximize our presence there and keep our talent happy and also integrate into the industry in a way Archie hasn't for a long time - with fans, retailers, talent. At cons, I usually moderate panels, staff interviews, sit in on meetings with partners who happen to be in town for the same show. Cons can be exhausting but there's also a marathon-like feeling to the bigger ones, like SDCC, where by the end of it, you almost can't stop because you're so used to going full-blast.
The key thing for me in terms of cons is making sure our news stands out and finds air to breathe, because a lot of publishers - smartly - use cons as a time to break their big news, and we have to find those pockets where we can break our news for maximum impact. So far, I think we've been successful. But it changes from year to year and your strategy has to reflect that.
CA: What sort of responsibilities are at the top of the list for someone in your career?
AS: You have to be a good communicator, writer and people person. I've met people who are very organized, detail-oriented and know a lot about comics, but they can't have a conversation. That's fine, but you're probably not going to be a publicist. Like I said before, you can have all the contacts in the world, but if you don't know how to talk to them - as honestly as possible - then it's pointless. Writing skills are key - you have to be able to craft convincing text, whether it's an email to a reporter, a pitch letter with a review copy or a presentation to your internal staff - you have to know how to string sentences together that are clear, easy to understand and that have a point of view. We're on a 24-hour news cycle now. I know that's a tired term, but it's true. If that email you send to a reporter is long-winded, doesn't get to the crux of your pitch right away or is confusing, you've lost that moment and you may have lost that reporter.
Also, if you make a mistake, own up to it. We're all people, we all have bad days - I think being human in a situation where your job is all about interacting with people inside and outside your office is really important. I'm not perfect at this, but I try to be as understanding as possible. You have to be a social creature. You have to know how to have a conversation with a complete stranger without too many awkward pauses. You should be a good listener, because publicity isn't just about telling, it's a conversation. You should go into a pitch knowing that the detailed thing you're offering isn't going to come out exactly the way you planned it because it's going through the filter of someone else. But, knowing that, you should let the people who are also waiting on the story from your side know the chance of this. Transparency is important. One of my best bosses told me that publicity isn't just about opening a door, it's about telling people (i.e. your bosses, or whoever is in charge of your pitch) that you plan on opening the door. Then telling them your hand is on the doorknob. Then opening the door and explaining why opening that door was important. It sounds very simple, but it's all about communicating what your doing to all the people who are invested in the process - the stakeholders, the reporters, the audience.
Also, don't burn people. Don't over-promise on stuff you know you can't deliver, and if you do, apologize.
CA: What are your top priorities when marketing a new book?
AS: The first step is figuring out the audience and then how you can go beyond that preconceived idea. What are the hooks beyond "this is a new book and it is good." What tools do we have available? Author interviews? Preview pages? Character designs? We live in an asset-based publicity world, so that's one of the first things I try to determine - how many bits of the apple do we have? It's hard to speak generally about something that's very book specific, but I think you go in, get the lay of the land and create expectations for yourself that you can then distribute internally. If you promise The New York Times for everything, people will eventually realize you're not getting The New York Times for everything. So, gauge where you think the book will land and try to figure out how to top that.
CA: What advice would you give someone looking to enter your career field?
AS: Well, I think my path was somewhat unique in that I started off as a journalist and then entered publicity, but I found that experience to be really important. I know how a newsroom works, I knew what it's like to have five stories to write in a day and I get what it's like to work terrible hours - for the most part. So I can speak the language and I know my window of time to pitch something by phone, email or a quick conversation is small. I would suggest that anyone interested in comic book publicity should spend some time in the press, either pop culture or comics. Get to know the industry you want to be a part of. A lot of reporters cover comics as a side gig - they do it for the love of the game. They'll appreciate it if you're in the same boat. Which isn't to say you'll love every minute or every book you work on - that's impossible. But you should pitch the book you don't really like but that has great media potential as hard as the one you love but isn't going to sell. It's a job, first and foremost, so do your best not to get caught up in the fan side of it. That'd be my second bit of advice - don't treat it like a calling. It's a job. You got the job because you have skills your employer wants. Some of those skills may include knowing the inker of every issue of Uncanny X-Men. That's cool. But it's a job. Be professional. It's good to be a fan, but be a pro first.
CA: You're also a novelist - how do you balance your day job and your writing career? What is that like for you?
AS: It's not always easy - I get a lot of "How do you sleep?"-type questions from friends. But it's about dividing - and in turn, managing - your time. I work hard at my job and then try to carve out time to write. In an ideal world, I'd sit down and write every day, so that's what I strive for - even if it's just 20 minutes. You also have to be aware that not everything you put on paper is going to be gold and you have to churn through the crappy writing to get to the (hopefully!) good stuff.I also try to keep things separate. Interviews like this, where I talk about everything I do, are kind of rare, because I don't want my day job to influence my novel writing and vice versa, in terms of exposure. If that makes sense. Though that's becoming more challenging as I move toward my second book coming out and doing more author appearances - including some where I'm working as a publicist and a writer. But those are all ideal problems, where you're dealing with a bounty of good things and just trying to manage them, as opposed to serious problems.
Overall it's great fun. I've become a part of a really friendly, welcoming and engaging writing community in the mystery/crime fiction world, and I feel like I've built another career for myself as a novelist that I'm really proud of, while still able to maintain my day job as a publicist and now an editor, too.
CA: Is there anything you wish the comics industry knew about the work you do that may not be common knowledge?
AS: Good publicists make their job look easy and natural, I think. Where the reader or fan doesn't spend a minute thinking about how this piece of press came to be - they're just sitting back and enjoying the result and are becoming engaged in the work and the anticipation for the comic or graphic novel, you've succeeded. When the reader is pulled out of that moment and is thinking about the act of publicity, then something's off. Being a publicist is the most "out there" role while also being the most behind the scenes, which I really enjoy.