The Top PR Firms for the Performing Arts

This year’s roundup of stand-out PR firms in the performing arts is a testament to the power of storytelling—both on stage and off. 

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The performing arts have struggled in a post-pandemic world. “Audience patterns have changed,” Adrian Bryan-Brown of New York’s Broadway comms mainstay Boneau/Bryan-Brown tells Observer. “Theater avids are attending less, and international tourism still has to return to the levels of a decade ago.” Though live music has bounced back better than before—at least according to new data released by concert and event producer Live Nation—it’s unclear how much of that comes down to the Eras effect. Outside of top-tier tours, recovery has been slower. New York’s Metropolitan Opera had to dip into its endowment fund—again. And many dance companies are only beginning to see audience numbers recover.

Amid these and other struggles, however, there is much optimism. The people who bring us drama, music and movement—whether they are performers, designers, directors and stagehands or board members and comms specialists—believe wholeheartedly that art produced by a diverse array of people with stories to tell and talents to share will be ever more vital in our increasingly virtualized world. Theater, in particular, is expanding its community, Matt Polk, founder and president of Polk & Co, tells Observer. “It’s also advancing the ways it’s telling stories through stagecraft, magic, illusions and technology, and I hope my role continues to find new ways to communicate the diversity of storytelling and the ingenuity of how the stories are being told.”

A common thread uniting the firms on this year’s PR Power List Performing Arts Honor Roll is their commitment to innovation. These companies are not only open to exploring new ways of promoting their clients but eager to leverage new technologies, new channels and new collaborators in their work. “Looking forward, we’re excited by the many opportunities to breathe fresh air into the way theater productions are promoted to today’s audiences,” Vivacity co-founder and vice president Whitney Holden Gore tells Observer. 

Albert Imperato, founding partner and managing director of 21C Media Group, is thinking along similar lines. “Technology is going to be increasingly important in finding new ways to distribute content and reach new audiences and are particularly interested to see what role A.I. will play in creating new opportunities,” he tells Observer, but adds that there’s more to this work than talent discovery and recognition. Cultural diplomacy continues to be an important part of communications in this space. “Sometimes when words fail, music speaks,” he says, “and we continue to search for ways to bridge cultures through music, whether through our work with Afghanistan, China, Ukraine, the Middle East or here in the USA.”

Today’s PR leaders in the performing arts are telling bigger, better and more diverse stories across disciplines and geographies. “We know the appetite is there,” says Bryan-Brown, speaking of theater, but we can reasonably infer the same is true in the world of music, opera and dance. “We are now aggressively educating and teaching fresh voices to celebrate the theater in traditional and new media.”

People, he reiterated, want the visceral experience of sitting in an audience enjoying a live performance—there is no multi-tasking as an audience member. All that’s left to do is remind them of how much there is to experience. As Bryan-Brown put it: “The industry changes, but the goals remain the same.”

Visit our Power Index to view the entire 2024 PR Power Series.

Boneau/Bryan-Brown (BBB)

David Byrne and Fatboy Slim’s Here Lies Love, Moulin Rouge! The Musical (with Boy George) and Six are on the roster of Broadway’s longest-serving public relations firm, Boneau/Bryan-Brown. Chicago, Broadway’s longest-running musical, continues to break box office records thanks in part to BBB campaigns featuring stars new to the theater, like Jinkx Monsoon and Ariana Madix, generating not just awareness but also ticket sales. Steady PR support from the firm helped Harry Potter and the Cursed Child, now in its fifth year, become the most financially successful Broadway play in history. And that’s just some of what the firm has been up to in the past year.

Founded in 1991 by Chris Boneau and Adrian Bryan-Brown—who jointly have more than four decades of theater comms experience between them—the firm represents Tony Award winners, Drama Desk Award winners, Outer Critics Circle Award winners, Pulitzer Prize winners and fan-favorite productions. According to Playbill, they’ve been Broadway's go-to press team for more than a quarter century. In 2018, Observer described the duo as ‘as much a Gotham fixture as theater marquees.’ Legendary is another descriptor not infrequently applied. 

Summing up the secret of BBB’s success is impossible, but two key factors stand out. First, Chris Boneau, Adrian Bryan-Brown and their team are all in, all the time. “We are relentless and tireless on behalf of our clients, some of whom we have worked with for more than 20 years,” Bryan-Brown tells Observer. “We are honest and transparent at all times, which we believe gives comfort and confidence to our clients. And our office is never closed.” Second, Boneau/Bryan-Brown might be one of the OG Broadway comms firms, but they strive to keep their approach fresh. “Every Broadway show has a thousand stories which can be told in many ways: as a seven-minute segment on CBS Sunday Morning, in a Vogue photo spread or a punchy TikTok post.”

Come spring, Boneau/Bryan-Brown will also represent three of the most anticipated new Broadway musical productions: The Notebook, The Outsiders and a new staging of the already acclaimed The Who’s Tommy, along with the Broadway premiere of Amy Herzog’s Mary Jane starring Rachel McAdams. Then there’s the much-anticipated Betty Boop musical Boop! directed by Jerry Mitchell, along with the world premiere of Ali based on the life of Muhammad Ali. 

The Boneau/Bryan-Brown team Boneau/Bryan-Brown

21C Media Group

Nearly every star in classical music, and most orchestras of significance, rely on this New York firm to keep their profiles a crescendo. Look no further than the GRAMMY Awards for a quick who’s who of 21C Media Group clients. Winning 21C artists in 2024 included pianist Yuja Wang with the Louisville Orchestra and conductor Teddy Abrams (who has had recent coverage in the New Yorker, New York Times, PBS News Hour and other major media outlets); vocalist Julia Bullock; bassist and composer Edgar Meyer; and the Chicago Symphony Orchestra. The firm is excited to work with Yo-Yo Ma, Joshua Bell and several other big names on TikTok-focused initiatives. 

“Socials for our clients have risen more than 400 percent in 2023 on some platforms,” Albert Imperato tells Observer, “so we are very focused on more video storytelling and continuing to reach new audiences for classical music using all the tools available.” A year ago, the firm landed its first Executive Producer credit on the Paramount+ documentary, “Last Song from Kabul,” which profiles the nail-biting rescue of the Afghanistan National Institute of Music (a pro-bono 21C client since 2012) from the Taliban in 2021. 21C also worked with Apple Music to introduce the Apple Music Classical app to North America.

Founded in 2000 by Imperato and record executives Jessica Lustig and Glenn Petry, 21C Media Group was launched with the mission to develop new audiences for classical—too often erroneously labeled a dying genre when, in fact, it has a thriving audience among those gifted with an appreciation for it. Today, 21C Media Group’s full roster includes not only artists and soloists (jazz legend Pat Metheny, American soprano Kathryn Lewek, violinist Tessa Lark, multi-Tony-winner Audra MacDonald), ensembles (the San Diego Symphony, the Dallas Symphony Orchestra) and performing arts institutions but also record labels, nonprofit organizations and even Fortune 500 companies. For a firm known for working with talent in what one might term old-world genres, their work is remarkably forward-thinking and adaptable.  

One area in which 21C Media Group—largely made up of music lovers and musicians and has received both a Jim Henson Honor and a “Webby” Award—excels is spearheading major digital campaigns that take on a life of their own, aka virality. “Global Ode to Joy,” a celebration of Beethoven’s 250th birthday launched in partnership with YouTube and Google Arts & Culture, inspired people from more than sixty countries to upload thousands of their own joy-inducing videos. Then, there was Yo-Yo Ma’s “Songs of Comfort” initiative, which inspired a global movement of social music sharing in the early days of the pandemic. 

“When I left my old job as Senior VP of Universal Classics in 1999, I wondered what our new company might be able to achieve,” Imperato said. “Looking back over nearly a quarter century, I can honestly say we have in many ways surpassed my hopes and aspirations. I still wake up excited to hear and promote music that I truly believe has the power to transform our sense of ourselves and enrich our social connections and communities.”

Glenn Petry (left), Jessica Lustig (middle) and Albert Imperato (right) 21C Media Group

Polk & Co.

Polk & Co. has earned standing ovations for work on Funny Girl, Back to the Future and Kimberly Akimbo, along with personal campaigns for Broadway composer John Kander and actor—and now memoirist—John Stamos. “The past eighteen months have been particularly exciting,” the firm’s founder and president Matt Polk tells Observer with disarming humility. It wouldn’t be hyperbolic to say that every year since the firm’s founding in 2013 has been exciting. Unsurprisingly, this isn’t the first time Observer has dubbed Polk & Co. a PR powerhouse in the performing arts.

As with show business, it’s all about the talent. Matt Polk launched his career in 1998, working with the Tony-winning production of The Lion King, Disney Theatrical Productions and DreamWorks, and with Polk & Co., he has built up an agency with decades of Broadway and Off-Broadway experience.

“The deep bench of incredibly talented press agents in my office, as well as the strong strategic and creative thinking we apply to each project, is why our clients continue to work with us,” says Polk, who adds that he’s looking forward to finding new ways to leverage media to raise the profile of theatrical entertainment and develop new audiences. The creative thinking of Matt Polk and his team has led to national television appearances, magazine covers and print features, as well as the first NPR Tiny Desk Concert for a Broadway musical. 

Most recently, the firm has mounted campaigns for Funny Girl and Back to the Future (among other Tony- and Grammy-winning shows) and helped John Stamos’ memoir stay on the NY Times Best Sellers list for over a month. It also led the PR launch for the Perelman Performing Arts Center, which saw former New York City mayor Michael Bloomberg and Tony-winner LaChanze (who lost her husband on 9/11) tour PAC NYC with NBC’s Stephanie Ruhle. And Polk & Co. signed several new clients, including Alicia Keys’ new Broadway musical Hell’s Kitchen, Elton John’s upcoming Broadway musical Tammy Faye, the stage adaptation of Prince’s Purple Rain and Gloria Estefan’s new musical Five Notes.

Matt Polk Photo by Matt Murphy

8VA Music Consultancy

With a roster of clients that includes the Emmy Award-winning All-Star Orchestra, internationally recognized conductor Gerard Schwarz, Beijing Music Festival, composer-of-the-moment Andy Akiho and Pulitzer Prize-winning composer Anthony Davis, 8VA Music Consultancy is involved in the careers of the contemporary classical giants. One of the few PR firms specializing in classical music, it takes its name from the abbreviation for all' ottava, Italian for “at the octave,” which instructs musicians to play an octave higher than written. 

In the past year, managing director Matt Herman tells Observer, the firm has had an incredible seven GRAMMY nominations among four clients, two clients (Anne Akiko Meyers and Marc-André Hamelin) booked on NPR's Tiny Desk series, several artists appearing on magazine covers, multiple major features in the New York Times and Wall Street Journal and a client appearance on The Today Show.

Co-founded in 2012 by Patricia Price and Herman, the firm represents major orchestras and exceptional soloists, along with chamber groups, conductors, composers, festivals and related organizations around the globe, elevating each client’s impact with thoughtful, tailored outreach. 8VA Music Consultancy greatly expanded its capabilities and staff in 2023 by opening a Los Angeles office headed by vice president Allison Van Etten and adding new staff members in Philadelphia, Chicago and Florida.

“2023 was a remarkable year for us in terms of major new clients,” Herman says. The firm onboarded the foremost music conservatory in the country, Curtis Institute, clarinetist Anthony McGill, composer Anthony Davis, the Dover Quartet, legendary conductor Leonard Slatkin and violinist Rachel Barton Pine and the National Children's Chorus, among many others.

Unsurprisingly, this isn’t the first time the firm’s work has caught Observer’s attention—in 2018, 8VA Music Consultancy made our list of the Most Powerful Entertainment and Media PR Firms. “Part of the 8VA ethos has always been a focus on long-term relationships with clients. We only take on clients we believe in and feel confident that we can help,” Herman says. “We prioritize truly becoming a part of the artist or organization's team and support them with our entire firm's resources.”

He added that this year will be a big one for 8VA clients, with Curtis Institute's centenary, Leonard Slatkin's 80th birthday, Sun Valley Music Festival's 40th anniversary year, and, one can surmise, the continuing GRAMMY momentum. Through it all, the firm will continue to “serve as an ever-growing connector between the artists and organizations creating and producing great art—and those who appreciate and thrive on the power of music in their lives.

Patricia Price and Matt Herman Photo by Fadi Kheir

Vivacity Media Group

The Broadway industry’s first women-led PR agency is behind sold-out runs for comedians Alex Edelman, Liz Kingsman and Leo Reich, along with the long-running hit musicals Titanique and Little Shop of Horrors, Britney Spears’ musical Once Upon a One More Time and Melissa Etheridge’s acclaimed Broadway residency. Vivacity Media Group, secure in its niche, also represents the Obie Awards and American Theater Wing. 

Ten years ago, theatrical publicist Leslie Papa’s then newly launched firm led the publicity campaign for the highly anticipated New York debut of Heathers: The Musical and represented the Tony Award-nominated musical Rock of Ages. In the decade since, Vivacity Media Group has built up an impressively high-profile client list encompassing a diverse array of productions from groundbreaking musicals to compelling dramas. The firm specializes in theater and live entertainment and strives to embody its name—“We have a deep passion and enthusiasm for what we do,” says Vivacity co-founder and vice president Whitney Holden Gore, “and we have found that when you roll up your sleeves and immerse yourself in a client’s world, it makes for the strongest kind of client-agency-press relationships.”

Vivacity Media Group is not just enthusiastic but also results-driven. Last year, Little Shop of Horrors‘ Maude Apatow was profiled in Vogue; Titanique creator Marla Mindelle was featured in Vanity Fair; Edelman was in The Atlantic; Etheridge talked Broadway on Live with Kelly & Mark; and Justin Guarini and Briga Heelan with the cast of Once Upon a One More Time wowed audiences on Good Morning America. Most recently, Vivacity Media Group is spreading the word about the world-premiere musical adaptation of the acclaimed novel by F. Scott Fitzgerald, The Great Gatsby, which stars Jeremy Jordan and Eva Noblezada and will debut at The Broadway Theatre on April 25. 

Whitney Holden Gore and Leslie Papa Vivacity Media Group

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