Full Circle Moments: An Interview with Big Picture Media’s Dayna Ghiraldi-Travers

Dayna Ghiraldi-Travers of Big Picture Media
Big Picture Media represents some of the biggest names in alternative music: Meet Dayna Ghiraldi-Travers, the company’s founder and a huge part of why you found your favorite band!

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Unless you’re some sort of emo mystic, you probably only know about your favorite band or the latest song you’ve been listening to because of a great public relations team behind it.  Founded by Dayna Ghiraldi-Travers in 2007, Big Picture Media has been an integral part of many artists’ beginnings and growing careers.  Ghiraldi’s story is one of taking a risk, and it continuing to pay off twelve years later.  She has cultivated a team that provide support for any walk of artists from pop-punk vets like New Found Glory to emo rock-rappers like Lil Aaron, and events like The New York and LA Coffee Festivals and Warped Tour.  The scope and variety of artists that BPM represents has made them one of our favorites to work with, and it’s always exciting to see something from BPM in our email inboxes.

Big Picture Media

Big Picture Media

Besides arranging interviews and press releases, BPM has helped us shape what to explore with the artist.  Lil Aaron isn’t an artist I would’ve bothered to explore without their introductory email, or Emo Nite didn’t seem like the type of event we’d typically cover until receiving their invite.  Big Picture also helped set us up with Spirit Houses, getting us an interview with Mikey Ireland in the back of his bar; it was a very Almost Famous moment in one of my favorite interviews of the year.  BPM has been an important part of Atwood’s growth, having worked with us since we began five years ago, helping us establish ourselves as a voice in the music industry.    Today, we’re pulling back the curtain a little bit and showing one facet of the music industry that is integral to our discovery of many of our favorite artists.

Atwood Magazine got a chance to speak to Ghiraldi and her team about Big Picture Media’s, well, big picture.

In 2007, Ghiraldi was a publicist at New York-based PR agency Press Here. “I would get to work on all types of projects, but regardless [of] if I was passionate about them or not, because you do what you’re told.”  After having to turn down working with Dustin Kensrue of Thrice on his solo album, she thought, “If I’m going to do this, I’m going to do it now. If I fail, I’ll get another job.”  Leaving the company on good terms, she started Big Picture Media, and it grew quickly. Within three months, Ghiraldi’s clients included the likes of Thrice, Circa Survive, and The City and Color. “I didn’t necessarily have big dreams about being rich… It was just me so I was able to charge a very minimal fee and be very cautious of their budget.” In BPM’s first year, Ghiraldi tells us, “I worked around the clock-seven days a week, twenty hours a day.  I would close my eyes, wake up, [and] pull my laptop up.” Ghiraldi’s first employees were a freelancer and her now-husband, but Big Picture only grew from then: moving into an office, bringing on employees and interns, and still going strong twelve years later, “which is crazy,” she tells us.  In the early days, Ghiraldi’s biggest obstacle to overcome was finding her voice, which came after being “afraid I was going to wake up one day, and someone was just going to [say], ‘Haha just kidding! You can’t have this company’ and pull the rug out from under me.”  This served to motivate Ghiraldi to work the long hours.  “I was so driven, and I was so afraid of failure that I thought that was a normal amount of hours to work.”

Dayna Ghiraldi-Travers of Big Picture Media

Dayna Ghiraldi-Travers of Big Picture Media

A natural leader and dedicated to her work, when asked what the biggest obstacle she has now is, Ghiraldi responded:

“I didn’t treat myself good enough to know about work-life balance, because all I did was work.  Now, the difficulty is dividing my time, because now I have a family.  I have a daughter.  I have a husband.  I’ve got other responsibilities outside of the company that I have to tend to.  It’s sticking to my timelines and cutting off work at a certain hour.  It’s tricky.  I think that some people, at the end of the day, they’ll put on TV to relax.  That’s not fun for me.  If I sit down and watch TV for an hour, I feel so unproductive.  I feel like I just wasted an hour of my life.  I’d rather be doing something else that is [productive], than watching television.”

Running a successful PR agency isn’t a small undertaking. As in any career, it takes as much dedication to the work, as it does planning and preparation:

“It’s so easy to get in your own way.  I’m all for setting goals.  I don’t set these massive, unattainable goals, because I feel like I’ll just be disappointed if I don’t reach them.  I have trouble thinking of what the next five years will look like.  I just want to get through today and do a really great job today, and we’ll deal with that when it comes.”

Sitting down with Ghiraldi, I also wanted to learn more about the many tasks of being a publicists, because my main interaction has been on the receiving end of emails to set up reviews, premieres, interviews, etc. When I asked about getting insight into what it’s typically like in the life of a publicist and what skills are needed to do well in the ever-changing music industry, Ghiraldi says,

“Part of the talent of being a publicist is being able to multi-task and being able to focus on one thing and pivot and focus on the next thing simultaneously.  In college, I was a bartender.  I was such a good bartender, because I was able to do five things at once.  I was a great waitress, because I was able to multi-task. I think those are innate qualities publicists have where you can have six windows open, and you’re working on six different tour press schedules in six different cities of six different bands.  There’s a way to make it work.”

Ghiraldi relies as much on instinct as she does in her experience, and breaks down her philosophy in the simplest terms, “I really trust my gut.  If something feels good, I pursue it; if something feels bad, I run in the opposite direction.”

Speaking to Ghiraldi, it’s obvious that Big Picture Media is so much more than just a job.

When the conversation turns to music, she states:

“It’s the music that made me feel really good.  I’ve always loved music.  I used to put music on to clean my room.  I would put music on to lift my mood.  I’d put music on to make me sad.  I was someone that could feel a song.  I’m such an empath that I can hear the lyrics and I can relate on so many levels.  Those were my formative years.  My brother took me to my first concert; it was Green Day.  It was on the Dookie tour-crazy, impactful to my life.  When I was in college and got to intern, I decided I wanted to intern at a record label.  I went to Island Records, because of Thrice.  I went to Network Management because of Brand New and Sum 41.  Those were the bands that made me feel something.  They made me feel really good.  They raised my energy levels up.”

When you look through all the artists BPM works with and has worked with, it’s incredibly impressive with both the young, up-and-coming talent and established acts.  BPM’s roster boasts all sorts of artists like New Found Glory, As It Is, Neck Deep, and Bayside, while some of their past clients include The Wonder Years, All Time Low, Tonight Alive, and Senses Fail.  Ghiraldi tells us, “When I’m in the car, what am I listening to? All of those bands: Moose Blood, Have Mercy, Sum 41, Brand New, Taking Back Sunday, The Used.”  When I ask Ghiraldi if the type of bands she works with are important to her, she says,

“Those were the bands I love, then and still.  Those were the foundations of the company.  As we hire different publicists, who came in with different passions, I want to cater to them, so we diversified the company so much more.”

And that passion has remained: “There’s still bands that I started listening to back when I was a teenager that we’re working with now.  Stuff that can make my parents proud: we’re working with The Eagles.  We’re working with Kansas.  We’re working on the Halloween reboot.”  A similar feeling resonates with her staff, Katy Cooper, a publicist and Ghiraldi’s assisstant who’s been with BPM for two years, told us:

“It’s been really cool to have a lot of full circle moments. Including Warped Tour, I’ve been able to assist Dayna on The Used, New Found Glory, and Senses Fail-stuff that was very important to me getting into music.”

Granted, BPM handles far more than musicians.

Ghiraldi broke down the differences between working with an artist, working on an event like The New York and LA Coffee Festivals, and handling something massive like Warped Tour.  On working with an individual artist:

“It’s so different, and I can tell you that I love them all equally. Like a New Found Glory record, that’s something that we would probably start four to five months prior to album release.  I’m involved every step of the way.  They’ll be in the studio, and I’ll get a text from one of the band members-just a random thought about something. I’m already thinking about the press angles and what’re the themes of this record, and who are the journalists that I want to approach about it.  Leading up, we put together a plan: we’ve got this music video for this, we’ve got this tour and this.  It’s a lot of organizing and having an agenda we stick to and hitting our goals.  We get to go and see them live in concert, and we get to take them on press days and hear them tell their stories.  It’s very hands on.  I feel the most pride in the universe getting to be this band’s voice to the world.  That to me is something that I’ll never take for granted.  They’ve worked so hard to make this record, and they’re trusting me with being able to share that with people.  It blows my mind every day.”

On coffee festivals:

“There are so many different pieces to that.  This last one, we got to work really close with this specific coffee machine that sponsored the latte art.  Publicists could not possibly run without coffee, so it all interjects.  We get to invite those music journalists to cover those coffee festivals.  We love that, because we get out of the office.  We’re onsite for three days from 8:30 AM until 7:30 PM, and we do not leave that press junket desk.  When press are checking in, we talk to them about who they want to interview onsite, and we orchestrate that.  That’s a lot of prep leading up to that festival, and the onsite management isn’t that difficult, but then the post-coverage: getting everything to go live and presenting it to a client.”

On Warped Tour:

“We get to go out on the road, which is insane.  I’ve never lived on a tour bus before. We’d go out and come back and go back  out.  The Warped Tour is its own beast where we divide it up between multiple publicists in the company.  Warped Tour is myself, Natalie and Becky, where coffee fest is usually just Becky and Hayley.  Becky does the coffee festival. Haley does the music component of the coffee festival.  We try to work on as many projects together as we can, but Warped Tour is a beast, because of its size.  There’s so many different cities, and so many bands, but that is an experience I’ll never forget.  I don’t know how these bands do it, to be honest.  You wake up in a different city every day; you have no idea what time zone you’re in, then you have to perform and do all this press. It’s exhausting.  There were days where you forget who you are and what all your responsibilities are.  It’s wild, but that’s one of the most rewarding things that we get to work on.”

Ghiraldi spoke extensively about Warped Tour, as it was such a huge part of the world of punk and metal.  The tour, which ran from 1995-2018, is a rite of passage for young bands and is notorious for long, occasionally hectic days:

“It’s hard to find quiet corners on the road during Warped Tour.  This year specifically, it was day 2 of Warped Tour, and we had a little bit of a crisis here [in New York]. I was in Portland or something, and I was on the phone with Shoshie.  I was literally tucked underneath a trailer trying to find quiet so I could give her advice and talk to the client.  It was all these things happening simultaneously, and those are the moments where you have to take a deep breath, and you’re just like, ‘Okay, look how insane my life is right now, but I’m so grateful and lucky.”

As Warped Tour ended last year, it drew up a lot of conversation about sexual abuse and toxic masculinity at Warped and in the larger scene, especially following the #MeToo Movement.

As we’ve watched various allegations come out against so many musicians, actors, politicians, and more, it is an issue that a PR firm has to assess. As more criticism has come of Warped Tour and the pop-punk, metal, and emo community at large, I ask Ghiraldi what her perspective is:

“I’m very motherly in the sense that I always want to protect our bands, but there have been situations that have come up where it’s like ‘Okay, I don’t want to touch that.  I don’t want to be on that side. I don’t even want my name attached to a press release that’s a statement.  I’ll help you if you want to write it, but you’re going to post it on your socials, because that’s not coming from me.’ There is a responsibility of these artists. They are idolized by their fans, and a lot of them are very young who are very impressionable and I try to think back to being that young.  It’s hard, but I try to think back: if I was at a show, and I was watching this artist that I loved, and they were like, ‘Oh, do you wanna come back after?’ I’d be like, ‘Yeah! Of course.’ You lose yourself in what that is.  When we’re working with bands-and a lot of our bands are older now.  I get a lot of throwback, nostalgia bands. So, I don’t have to worry about it as much.  For our bands, we [say], ‘Just do the right thing.  Be a good person.’  There’s plenty of bands in the industry that I would never work with given their reputation and their history, as a woman and mother.  I just trust my gut. If I get heebie jeebies, I [say], ‘Hey, this isn’t going to work for us.'”

“I’ve been in many green rooms where I’ve seen bands do the right thing. ‘Pat yourself on the back for that.’  That person’s not supposed to be here, because they’re underage, and the band will have that person escorted out.  There’s been situations where I’ve been trying to get backstage to talk to one of my bands, and I’ve been stopped by security.  I’m like, ‘Oh no, I’m their publicist,’ and they’re like, ‘Okay, sure.  Get out of here.’ I’m like, ‘What do you think? I’m like an old lady! What do you think I’m trying to do?’ It depends on the band. It depends on the fan: they can be very persuasive, I’ve seen them sneak in.  I’ve seen them waiting outside. And then, I am, again, like an old lady that’s like, ‘Hey, you should probably go. You don’t want to be back here.’ ”

When discussing Warped Tour and an infamous incident involving acoustic singer-songwriter Jake McElfresh (who performs under the name Front Porch Step), who was accused of sexual harassment in late 2014 and dropped off the 2015 Warped Tour, only to play one date that July.  BPM were not the publicists for Warped Tour at the time, but the Front Porch Step accusations felt like one of the first times that some of the dark truths of the scene that many didn’t want to admit:

“With Warped Tour, I’m very defensive of Kevin [Lyman, Warped Tour founder], because I know how good of a person he is.  I know how much he cares, and he’s such a great father and such a great role model.  It does bum me out that some of those things get associated with Warped Tour, when they truly had nothing to do with him.  I think with Front Porch Step, specifically, where Kevin was instructed by therapists to bring him back on the tour.  He was just following direction from a licensed professional.  He had no idea what the repercussions would be on that.  It’s tricky, because as the publicist, I’m like, ‘Stay away from that,’ but then as a person, I’m like, ‘well, maybe he needs therapy,’ but I don’t know! That’s a tricky one.”

“I think Warped Tour gets a bad rap.  The demographic is younger, but I think there are bad people everywhere.  I think [it’s] in every industry.  We saw it come out with Harvey Weinstein in the film industry.  We see it even with Food Network people.  I think this is very much the world we all live in so we hear a lot about that.  My husband is also a screenwriter, so I hear a lot about it in film as well.  It isn’t anything that you can be prepared for.    It’s nothing that I can say, ‘I’ve studied crisis management so I know how to deal with this.’  We are always like ‘Be a good person.  Don’t do anything you’re not supposed to do, but if you did, be forthright with us.  Tell us: Be transparent, so we can prepare.’  It’s the times when we’re completely blindsided where we’re finding out the same time as someone else, because it’s up online. We need to prepare a statement, or we need to talk to our artists about it.”

As many reckon with learning awful things about artists they love, it serves as a reminder that publicists are just as much people trying to reckon not only with their clients but with music, movies, and art that they also love.

Big Picture Media

Big Picture Media

Even though Big Picture started as a one woman show, Ghiraldi now has a full staff of eight female publicists that all thrive under Ghiraldi’s leadership and in the environment she’s created. Becky Kovach, a BPM publicist of five years, states, “I am the publicist I am today, because of what she’s taught me over the last five years.”  When speaking to all the publicists, all had glowing statements of their experiences working at BPM under Ghiraldi; Shoshie Aborn, a senior publicist who’s been with the company for five years, told us:

“It’s a very homey space cultivated by Dayna.  Coming in every day and having the chance to open up to these people as friends and coworkers is an environment created by Dayna.  She brings the best foot forward for herself, for all her employees , and that trickles down to our company as a whole. The level of trust that she has in us is what makes us better publicists, because we get to make it our own.”

When we asked Ghiraldi if it was intentional that she had a staff composed entirely of women, she told us:

“No, and we have had male employees in the  past, and we have had incredible male interns who have gone on to do such great things.  We are all female publicists, but technically my husband is [still an employee].  He’s the general manager, but he is an employee.  No, it’s not intentional.  In today’s culture, [people ask,] ‘did you choose this?’ No.  Will I take full advantage of it? Yeah, we’re all women; that’s so cool, but it’s not intentional.”

Still, that doesn’t stop the team from inspiring each other, Katy Cooper tells us,

“I get to learn from 8 incredibly strong women.  We’re a team of all female publicists, and there’s never a sense of cattiness or fighting or drama.  As cliché as it [sounds], we’re such a family, and it’s so awesome that I get to look up to each one of these women and the strength that they have and see the way that they handle clients coming in, good, bad, stress, ugly, up and down, every single situation.  Seeing how everybody handles it and comes together.  If we have a problem, everybody will talk about it.  If somebody needs help, we all talk about it.  It’s such a collaborative team effort.  It’s awesome.”

Ghiraldi encourages her staff to be able to do things on their own and find their own ways to navigate the PR industry, with her guidance.

From Big Picture Media’s humble beginnings to representing a wide range of artists, Ghiraldi tells us, “I’m still being surprised every single day.” Entering its twelfth year, the PR agency has many exciting projects planned for this year from new records and label anniversaries to hot sauce expos.  In the ever-changing world of PR and the music industry, it appears BPM will continue to grow and adapt.  While that may seem like a large undertaking, Shoshie Aborn tells us, “The world is going to continue turning, if Dayna has her say.”

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James is a writer, currently in Human Resources at The New York Times. Besides Atwood, he's contributed to SensationsPress.com and his own blog BurgerADay.com. In his free time, James also writes poetry, performs stand-up comedy, listens to more podcasts than he can keep up with, and can be found floating around shows in New York City's punk scene.