Red carpet events can seem intimidating – how do I handle all those flashing light bulbs, will I look like a fool, isn’t this really just for Angelina Jolie? But in our modern age, it’s not just movie stars who can end up making an appearance on the red carpet facing the media – gala events can be crucial to raising the profile of your organization’s work or your latest project. These can include film premieres, tech launches, gala fund-raisers, opening nights, award shows, book launches, even high-profile conferences. And while your celebrity patrons, VIP awardees and keynote speakers may be the primary focus of attention on the red carpet, you may very well need to be photographed too and speak to the press, on behalf of your organization. And a striking group photo, an exciting news video or a well-delivered interview on the red carpet can make the difference in getting your project the kind of publicity that really gets it out there and gives it momentum.
So if you need to be Red Carpet Ready, here’s a few tips to not only shine, look good and do yourself justice, but also have a lot of fun and feel a little glam!
How the Red Carpet Works
First off, this is the essential structure of what you'll encounter. The centre-point will be a branded Step-and-Repeat, which is that wall of glossy cardboard or cloth you see behind people, with the organization’s and event’s logos. There will definitely be a step-and-repeat, though there may not actually be a carpet beneath your feet, red or otherwise. Even if not, there should be a clear path marked out in front of the step-and-repeat, possibly fronted by those stanchioned red velvet ropes you see outside nightclubs.
Usually the red carpet should be set up so you’ll encounter photographers first, then video crews and finally print and online journalists.
When you arrive, there should be a member of the PR team there to greet you, mark you off the list and lead you to the “holding area,” which is a space usually to the right of the red carpet, where you’ll stand and wait before being directed to step onto the red carpet. There may be separate holding areas for celebrities and ordinary folks – this is nothing to be offended by, it’s just that the more high-profile people may need to come back and forth onto the red carpet multiple times for different necessary group photos.
Ahead of time, make sure you know:
(a) The Dress Code: essentially if it’s black tie, business formal, business casual or something like “creative casual” where you can get away with fancy jeans. Or “crazy creative” like the Met Gala! If you’re not sure, see if you can find photos from the previous year, and see what the majority are wearing.
(b) Your Expected Arrival Time: you should be provided with a scheduled time for when you’ll be expected to arrive. Often this may be one hour before the actual event is supposed to start. Make sure you know, and arrive fifteen minutes earlier than that. The red carpet schedule is finite, and corralling all the people needed to be photographed and interviewed can quickly get hectic, so if you are early and then prepared to be patient and available, you'll be a big help to the PR team (and be more likely to be put on the red carpet at a moment of low-stress, and be used and featured!) The red carpet often takes place at the same time as the pre-show cocktail hour, so grab a drink – and you never know who you might get chatting to in the holding area!
(c) Who Else is Attending: you should be able to get a list of who is attending – who is being
honoured, who are the VIPs who have confirmed to attend, who else has RSVP’d. Then, look for photos of those people (if you don’t have time, an assistant or team member may be able to prep a “lookbook” for you). Then you have more ability to say hello at the event and not be surprised if you are suddenly positioned beside a stranger for a photo.
In the Know for Photos
So you’ve been patiently waiting, and now our friendly publicist says it’s your turn. First of all, if you have a purse, a drink and any paper paraphernalia, any good PR team will have someone who can hold those for you while you go on the red carpet, so you don’t have to suddenly go looking for somewhere on the ground to dump them! Once hands-free, the publicist will announce your name to the photographers and you’ll step in front of them. (One of the PR team may also be holding out a sheet of paper with your name in big bold letters for the photographers’ reference).
If you’d like a photo taken with your spouse or date, ask the publicist if that can be done first. That’s usually no problem, and that frees you up for singles and group shots. By the way, if a photographer asks for a “fashion,” that means a photo of you alone. Note that PR may want to arrange paired or group shots, such as you with your celeb honoree, or a group shot of all award recipients – follow their lead. As well as the photographers from various agencies, like Getty, there will also likely be a “house photographer,” hired by the event, who is often key to getting controlled shots for use afterwards. And a member of the PR team will likely be taking some shots on their phone, that are less formal but also useful, for example a candid shot of you on the red carpet being photographed!
When you hear “thank you,” or you see all the photographers have their cameras down and are smiling at you, they’re done with you, so gracefully step aside. Any good PR person will already be moving you along (and they will always bring you back if you went too early!) Oh, and do have some business cards with you – a photographer may need a reminder of your name, and it makes their life much easier, and your name more likely to be printed right, if you can just hand them a card, rather than their scribbling your name down amidst all the noise.
Posing Like a Pro
First of all, a little secret: it’s totally okay to practice your poses at home beforehand! In fact, it’s beneficial – you’ll feel less nervous and more confident with a little pre-practice. In general, the key thing is good posture, while being relaxed. And take a tip from models: put one foot in front of the other, rather than parallel.
For men, shoulders back, chest square to the camera. Hands by your side, or one hand in your pocket. Another hands option is rub your hands together (much better than behind your back or covering the family jewels!). Girls often find one hand on their hip, other by their side, and feet crossed is a flattering shape.
And learn from the pros, like Lady Gaga – look from left to right, each camera one at a time. If it’s a long line, hold your feet in place for 5-10 seconds, moving your eyes along the row of
photographers, then take a step to the side and repeat with the next group (that’s why it’s called a “step-and-repeat!”) Smile, imagining you are being photographed by your best pal. Look into the lens – eye contact means a better photo, one that is more likely to be featured. Occasionally look away or down for a second to clear your head, then look back, deep breath, and smile as you exhale.
Ace your Interviews
As with posing for photos, pre-practice your answers – do your research and rehearse answers to the obvious questions, so you confidently know what you are talking about to reporters.
If nothing else, know your answers to these 3 questions:
(a) Why are you here? This is about the event, so big it up – your gang if this is your event or your great friends if you are a guest at someone else’s function. Research why this event is happening and what it does? Is it supporting a cause, and if so, what is their goal this year? What’s the history of this event, and what successes has it led to in the past? Why is it so important to be part of it this year? They may have some standard talking points to help you out – ask for them. And key – how all that is relevant to you?
(b) What are you working on? Here’s your chance to shine a light on what you are keen to share – what you want to promote? What do you have coming soon?
(c) Where can we find you? In this era of social media, it's important to have the handle ready you want to send people to, and let them continue their interest in you from there. So make sure you know which outlet you want to send people to and the right name, e.g. you can find me on Twitter @yourname.
There should be a publicist to lead you through the interviews – directing you as to what order to do them, listening in to block any spurious or rude questions, and to watch the time, often noting to the reporter when they are on their “last question.” Don’t worry if one or even all the outlets don’t want to talk to you – good PR will match you with opportunities that fit your profile and the goals of the event. Even one good video or blog interview can be really useful.
On-camera, three good tips:
– Be yourself: the camera can tell if you're lying, and who you really are is much more
– Talk to the reporter, not into the camera lens.
– Stay positive and enthusiastic throughout, without snark, sarcasm or complaints.
Be a Star for PR
Big events can get hectic, confusing and exhausting, so do yourself a favour – work with your
publicist, be patient and positive with them, and you’ll have a much better experience. Know that everyone gets herded – even the huge stars – there is an order, there’s often a shot-list to be ticked off, there’s very limited time and many balancing parts, it’s easy for things to go wrong. Follow these three rules and you’ll be a star for PR:
– Don’t go astray: don’t leave the red carpet area until PR tells you that you are no longer needed. Always ask before heading on to the rest of your night. And be aware they may need you again later in the event – often certain media outlets, like society pages, like “party shots” rather than red carpet photos, so a photographer may come to your table at the dinner and ask for a photo there with various people. Or you may be asked to be in a picture with an award-winner after the presentation. So don’t rush off without double-checking with your publicist.
– Don’t crowd the VIPs: if there’s a star you’d love a photo with, ask PR to arrange a nice shot rather than taking a selfie. And if you end up standing next to a celebrity, for example in the holding area, talk to them like real people, don’t gush – in fact, show your class by giving them a breather from the gushers.
– Do be nice to PR: they will help you. It’s hard work, this big night is often the culmination of a long campaign engaging the media. If you breathe, wait and stay nice and calm as all around you gets crazy, you’ll be on the road to red carpet success.
And most of all, remember this is a time to be playful: we don’t get that many little tastes of
glamour in our lives, so take on the role of a star and have fun!