Seated at a banquette at Balthazar on a snowy March afternoon, publicist Lizzie Grubman was remembering a previous joint effort with Peggy Siegal, her brand-new business partner.
“She did the majority of the work for Two Guys and a Girl at Moomba,” said Ms. Grubman, between sips of diet Coke. “I got her the location and that sort of stuff-”
“That was Jimmy Toback,” interrupted Ms. Siegal from across the banquette, referring to the film’s director.
“It was great,” said Ms. Grubman, “because we were able to, at that point-”
“… very old, dear friend of mine,” continued Ms. Siegal, “and he’s best friends with Warren Beatty, and he wrote Bugsy, and he’s written a million things for Warren.”
“It was probably the best premiere in New York,” said Ms. Grubman.
“There was a photograph that appeared in the Post the next day of Madonna, Warren Beatty …”
“Leonardo DiCaprio,” said Ms. Grubman.
“And Leonardo DiCaprio, and it said, ‘It doesn’t get any hotter.’”
“It was amazing,” said Ms. Grubman. “And now, looking back on it, that was a very good … example …”
” Indication ,” said Ms. Siegal.
“Yeah, of what we could do.”
A week into the newly formed Lizzy Grubman Public Relations-Peggy Siegal Company, the two women were eagerly making the point that theirs was the best formula in the best of all possible worlds. The sunny view of the merger: The beboppy Ms. Grubman, a dark-rooted 29-year-old with a successful 3-year-old public relations company and a Rolodex full of music and nightclub clients (Britney Spears, Quincy Jones, Tommy Mottola) would join forces with Ms. Siegal, the 50-ish doyenne of the Manhattan movie premiere with a penchant for sit-down dinners at Le Cirque and a direct line to Regis Philbin.
Less generous souls might question why the famously quick-tempered Ms. Siegal had agreed to any sharing or potential dilution of her power. Despite speculation that Ms. Siegal might technically be working for Ms. Grubman, both women insist their partnership is “50-50.”
“Peggy doesn’t like to take orders from anyone, whether it be a studio or a boss,” said a former employee of Ms. Siegal who requested anonymity, “and I would have to assume that something rather dire put her into the situation of answering to someone else. She beats to her own drummer; that’s why she’s so good at what she does.”
Ms. Siegal said she joined up with Ms. Grubman because she wanted to “diversify and expand and ultimately be involved in a different generation.”
“It is weird,” said Jake Spitz, a former employee of the Peggy Siegal Company who last year co-founded his own company, Network P.R. “I think it surprised a lot of people. Peggy’s so autonomous, and it’s always been ‘The Peggy Siegal Company.’”
He added, “It sort of makes sense. Lizzie has the bicoastal thing down, the young generation down, and I think she understands press. I think Peggy has unbelievable contacts, but could really use the youth that Lizzie has behind her to bolster her projects. Which is why I think it’s a good match.”
Norah Lawlor, president of Lawlor Media Group, said, “I think it’s good for Lizzie, because it gets her right away to work with the film companies. I think it benefits Peggy, but I think it benefits Lizzie, really.”
“What’s great about me and Peggy is, we really complement the other one,” said Ms. Grubman, who was dressed in a black turtleneck sweater and tight, dark bluejeans. “O.K., we totally have-not totally, to a degree -we have different lists, and when we put them …”
“No, no, excuse me. We don’t know the same people,” Ms. Siegal said. “Would you write that down? We … do … not … know … the … same … people. O.K.”
“Yeah, we don’t, O.K.,” said Ms. Grubman. “I’m more young Hollywood, she’s more established Hollywood.”
“She was gonna say old,” Ms. Siegal said, eyebrow raised. “But she held her tongue.”
Gwyneth and Nora
Ms. Grubman and Ms. Siegal say their first conversation about merging took place in January, when, it seems, Ms. Grubman offered Ms. Siegal some insight into lesbian chic. They had both been hired by HBO to handle the premiere of If These Walls Could Talk 2 , a provocative drama about lesbian relationships.
“I was very nervous about the subject matter,” said Ms. Siegal. “I just thought, it’s just going to make people uncomfortable, to watch it, right-”
“And, of course, I think the complete reverse,” said Ms. Grubman. “‘Cause I’m like, ‘Everybody loves it! Everyone loves to watch it, it’s gonna be great!’ And that’s when we knew that the two of us should be doing something together.”
“She knew something I didn’t know,” said Ms. Siegal. “She knew to totally embrace the controversy, which is gonna make everybody want to come, and I knew instantly, when she said that, that she was absolutely right.”
Like the media and entertainment industries, public relations-and especially its most high-profile element, special events-has fallen prey to consolidation fever. Last year, Bobby Zarem-who trained Liz Rosenberg (Madonna’s publicist), Jason Weinberg (now a manager in Hollywood) and Ms. Siegal herself, abandoned his publicity gig for the more reliable consulting business. And, after telling New York magazine that what black rap stars needed was “two big-mouthed Jewish girls to tell it to these guys straight,” Jen Posner disbanded her own publicity firm, PB&J, which she had founded with hip-hop specialist Ally Bernstein, who is professionally known as Ally B.
Ally B. found a home with Ms. Grubman, whose initial client list has not suffered from the fact that her father is music attorney Allen Grubman. Since 1997, Ms. Grubman’s list has grown to include personalities such as Ms. Spears and corporate clients such as America Online, as well as dot-com companies and restaurants and nightclubs in New York, Los Angeles and Miami. She is known for attracting a hip crowd to parties, and her friends include actor Omar Epps and nightclub owner-Madonna pal Ingrid Casares.
Vying for the same business are several Manhattan-based firms, run largely by 20- and 30-something women: Harrison & Shriftman, London & Misher, Loving & Weintraub, not to mention the traditional powerhouses, such as Nadine Johnson Inc.
Enter Peggy Siegal, who throughout the 1980′s and 1990′s dominated the turf of New York movie premieres. Ms. Siegal’s discerning taste and up-to-date mailing lists included the likes of Nora Ephron and 60 Minutes producer Don Hewitt, and, more recently, Gwyneth Paltrow’s family.
But in the late 1990′s, Ms. Siegal’s personal hands-on style of doing business may have lost a bit of ground to the corporate-backed package deals the new P.R. firms were offering to the movie studios. This February, for example, longtime Peggy Siegal client New Line Cinema used Harrison & Shriftman to open Boiler Room in Manhattan, even though Ms. Siegal had recently been on a chartered cruise arranged by New Line chairman Robert Shaye. Asked about this during a joint phone interview, Ms. Siegal handed the phone to Ms. Grubman, who said, “From my understanding, during all that stuff, she was planning on being out of town.” Ms. Grubman pointed out that they are doing another New Line premiere, Love and Basketball , in April.
“Peggy used to be the only game in town for premieres,” said a former Peggy Siegal employee. “But then, when Lara Shriftman broke into doing movies, she had corporate clients like Mercedes and Motorola, so instead of the studios directly paying P.R. companies a fee, it almost changed, so all of us now pitch to studios with the underwriting of us included. You know, ‘We want to do this premiere, and we have a corporate client that’ll pay $40,000.’”
Meanwhile, say former members of her staff, Ms. Siegal could sometimes alienate the movie studios’ in-house publicists. “She’d be working with someone, and try and go over their head,” said a former employee.
Ms. Grubman handled that one, too. “Can I say something here?” she said. “Peggy’s relationships go far beyond the in-house P.R. departments, so she socializes with the heads of these companies. So to say that she would go over someone’s head is not really, accurately, fair.”
“I have developed very strong business and social relationships with the heads of studios,” said Ms. Siegal. “They call me on a regular basis to pick my brain and see what’s going on around town. Just because I’m hired to work on a film doesn’t mean I’m not going to speak to the head of a studio.”
Ms. Siegal denied industry rumors that, prior to shaking hands with Ms. Grubman, she had been feeling out a few different firms, including Harrison & Shriftman. But, according to Elizabeth Harrison, the 34-year-old co-owner of Harrison & Shriftman, Ms. Siegal did reach out to her. “I worked for Peggy, and I have a lot of respect for Peggy,” she said. “I got a call from Peggy about the second week in January. I think she was trying to explore a lot of different options … And she said, ‘Would you be interested in forming something? I don’t know if it’s a merger, if it’s a partnership, I don’t know what it is. But would you want to explore that?’ I said I was flattered, I didn’t say Yes or No … I didn’t feel right at this moment that I needed to merge with anybody, but I was flattered, I really was.”
“I absolutely, categorically deny that,” said Ms. Siegal. “Never happened. I never asked her over the phone if she wanted to merge with me.”
Ms. Grubman’s offices at 270 Lafayette Street are being renovated to accommodate Ms. Siegal, who has brought two publicists and her longtime assistant, John Medina.
Because of the renovation, Ms. Siegal balked at a reporter’s request for a tour.
“Peggy, it’s fine,” said Ms. Grubman.
On the evening of March 16, Ms. Grubman and Ms. Siegal were greeting guests at the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s Temple of Dendur. The occasion was the launch of real estate magnate Andrew Farkas’ building-service Web site, Edificerex.com, and Ms. Grubman had been retained to help Loving & Weintraub with the guest list. Though Ms. Siegal had been mostly uninvolved in the event’s planning, the venue was classic Peggy Siegal: a cultural institution, located well above 14th Street. But the scene was of an entirely different sensibility: sushi buffets, gospel-choir entertainment and 1,400 media types in their 20′s. The only apparent celebrity in view was fashion designer Mary McFadden.
At 7:30 P.M., Ms. Siegal, dressed in black pants and a shimmery suit jacket, left for the opera. Ms. Grubman, surrounded by a coterie of young friends who were sneaking cigarettes, remained behind.
“I just had surgery,” said Ms. Grubman, who was wearing a black sweater tank top and black pants and was sitting on the edge of the temple’s platform next to her colleague Ally B. “I had a hernia operation. The doctor says it comes from lifting or working out, neither of which I do!” She said that because of the sugary foods she had eaten while recovering in bed, she was on the Atkins diet.
Asked what she thought about having Ms. Siegal on board, Ms. B. said, “Peggy’s awesome. She’ll, like, stuff envelopes until 12 o’clock at night. She stays in her own little area. But sometimes she’ll come into your office and be like, ‘We need to talk.’”