Sharon Pannozzo '91
Managing media relations for the biggest names in TV
By Rachel Farrell
As publicity director for NBC Entertainment, Sharon Pannozzo '91 knows how to handle any media catastrophe that comes her way.
During the fall 2009 premiere of "Saturday Night Live," for example, new cast member Jenny Slate was performing a skit when she accidentally dropped a four-letter word. The expletive was immediately broadcast across the Central and East coast markets.
"I was watching [Slate] from the control room," Pannozzo recalls, "and this woman sitting next to me says, ‘Oh, you're going to be really busy.' And she was right."
The next day, Pannozzo's phone was ringing off the hook with calls from reporters who were wondering if "SNL" was going to fire Slate for the incident. Pannozzo, who had more than 25 years of experience in media relations, handled the onslaught with ease.
"It was about getting in front of it and saying, ‘No, we're not firing her,'" she recalls. "It was an unfortunate incident and we needed to end the speculation right away about her future."
These sorts of incidents are the nature of live television — an arena in which Pannozzo has spent her entire career as a media relations professional. Before joining NBC in 2008, she spent 24 years with the Chicago Cubs, beginning as an assistant in the public relations department and ultimately serving as director of media relations. In these roles, Pannozzo managed everything from press coverage of the games to interviews with players to promoting celebrity guests for the seventh-inning stretch.
One of Pannozzo's most memorable moments with the Cubs occurred in 1998, when right fielder Sammy Sosa broke Roger Maris' long-standing record of 61 home runs. "I'll never forget that President Bill Clinton called [in the morning] to congratulate Sammy," recalls Pannozzo, "and I had to tell him that I don't wake Sammy up before 12:30 p.m. because that was his game-day routine. Clinton was so great about it. He was like, ‘Oh, I totally get it. Here's my number; just tell him to call me.'"
Five years into her career with the Cubs, Pannozzo decided to enroll in the Kellogg School's Part-Time MBA program. Keeping up with her schoolwork while working full-time and traveling with the team was challenging, but Pannozzo says her classmates served as an enormous support system — taking notes for her when she had to miss class or keeping her abreast of upcoming projects. In the end, Pannozzo graduated from Kellogg with two invaluable skills: networking and managing other people.
"As the director of a department, you can be the best publicist in the world, but you need to know how to manage other publicists," Pannozzo explains. "It's so underrated as a skill set. People don't give it the time and energy that it deserves."
In her current role, Pannozzo is the primary publicist on "Law and Order: SVU" and "Saturday Night Live," and manages several publicists and shows based out of New York City, including "Late Night with Jimmy Fallon," "30 Rock" and "The Celebrity Apprentice." Her team also oversees publicity for special events, such as the "Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade," "4th of July Fireworks Spectacular" and "Christmas in Rockefeller Center."
It's a high-stress environment, but "I feel very fortunate," Pannozzo says. "For 24 years, my office was Wrigley Field. Now my office is 30 Rock."
She laughs, "I used to get paid to watch baseball games. Now they pay me to watch TV."
This article originally appeared in the Summer 2010 issue of Kellogg World alumni magazine.