Most little girls growing up were almost guaranteed to have some type of doll collection they played with daily; for LaShirl Smith, she was no different than any other little girl at that age. But as time moved on, so did she. Enter the sports game. At the age of 16, she had no interest in playing sports but realized she loved watching the game of football. She decided then, she would pursue a career to become a sports broadcaster.
In today’s sports world, women are quickly becoming a force to be reckoned with; there are top female sports agents, professional female coaches, and referees as well as top female executives from professional organizations and an abundance of female sideline reporters.
Come take a ride with her on a continuous journey as she explains what it’s like to play and stay relevant in a boy’s game. Boasting a diverse background of over 25 years of public relations in the sports and entertainment industry, this President/Lead Publicist of L Group PR has a lot to thankful for.
IN THE BEGINNING:
In 1984, Smith began her career in the field of journalism as a Research Coordinator for “Insights,” a local community affairs television program for FOX4 (KDFW) in Dallas. The long-running show was geared towards community happenings around the Dallas and surrounding areas. After a year of working on the show, the producers decided to change the format of the show. “I felt this was a perfect opportunity for me to pitch my idea of adding a two or three-minute sports segment for the show. The segments would feature athletes from the professional sports teams in the area as well as college and high school players. To my surprise, the producers liked the idea and decided to add the segment and I began booking local and national talent for the show. I had always been a sports junkie and loved everything about sports since I could remember; I think I can go back as far as the Los Angeles Thunderbirds roller derby team back in the early ‘70’s”.
In 1985, Smith took sports on with a ‘full-speed ahead’ approach. She convinced the nightly sports anchor to give her a shot at producing the TV station’s weekend Sunday night sports show, “Sports Weekly”. The show, which consisted of an entire week of sports highlights, gave Smith an opportunity to shine not only as a producer but also as a fan. “My strength was in the NFL and the NBA, but I quickly learned to love other professions such as Track and Field, Bowling and Golf”.
Sports was a given for Smith for she was raised as a Dallas Cowboys fan. “I had no choice, my godbrother Drew Pearson (the original #88) played for the team; so, while most girls were busy playing with barbies, I was busy learning slant routes”.
In 1986, she formed Lash Productions, a publicity company representing athletes in the capacity of public relations. As the old cliché’ goes, “I was at the right place at the right time,” she chuckles. “I really lucked up on getting started as a publicist, which at that time I didn’t know that was the job was. I did a favor for a friend of mine, Nate Newton, who at that time played for the Dallas Cowboys. I booked him as a speaker at a banquet and he paid me for it. It was that simple and I found myself booking him at appearances every week,” explains Smith. Afterward, it seemed as if the ‘Sauve’ effect came into place (he told two friends, they told two friends, etc.) and I found myself doing the same for a few other guys on the team.
Smith worked with most of the players from the Dallas Cowboys in some capacity from the late 80’s through the mid 90’s. “In 1990, I had the pleasure of working with cornerback Larry Brown who was named Super Bowl XXX MVP. It was really kind of cool getting to experience all the perks that come with winning the title, you really do get to go to Disneyland”.
Wanting to add a hint of entertainment to her company, fast forward to her relocating to Los Angeles in the summer of 1991. She worked temporary at a few odds and ends jobs to get her feet wet in the entertainment industry. After about six months of being in Los Angeles, she lucked up and landed a job at a music management company. “I worked side-by-side with some of the hottest music artist at the time such artist as the late George Michael, Morris Day, Karyn White, Jody Watley, and Atlantic Starr. My primary responsibility was handling each artist fan club as well as coordinating the VIP guestlist for each artist’s domestic and international tours. It was a dream come true for me to be working with people that not only did I grow up listening to but was a true fan of their music”.
Although she was enjoying the perks of working with such A-list talent, she admits that she’s not a ‘9-5’ type of person, so after a few years at the music management company, she decided to strike out on her own. In 1992, she renamed Lash Productions and created Absolute…PR! “The name changed seemed more fitting because I was totally concentrating solely on PR. As it turned out, the situation couldn’t have worked out better.
Smith took the bull by the horns and signed her first client Teri J, Vaughn (Lovita from The Steve Harvey Show) in the fall of 1992. “We were both new to the PR game; her as a talent, me as an indie publicist…we basically taught each other”. After the nerves finally settled for Smith, she began working with other talent and eventually started building a name for herself. “It was like a domino effect, talent started to fall into my lap. I worked with Shemar Moore (S.W.A.T.) on publicizing his newly released calendar setting up ‘meet and greets’, the first place I booked him was my hometown, Dallas (smiling). As time went on, she continued to surround herself with such talent as the late Kristoff St. John (The Young and The Restless), Darius McCrary (/Monogamy/Family Matters), Robert Christopher Riley (Dynasty), Ken L (In The Cut), Lester Speight (Norbit/Terry Tate Office Linebacker) and Dorian Gregory (Charmed) to name a few.
Things were going great for Smith for she had established herself as an ‘indie publicist with a workable entertainment clientele list; but it was her love for sports that kept pulling her back in that direction.
Los Angeles at the time was not considered a ‘sports’ town, even though they had two professional football teams in the city, the Los Angeles Rams and the Los Angeles Raiders; the entertainment industry still trumped EVERYTHING.
But as time would reveal, the sports industry was slowing making a play to enter the entertainment industry. Smith recognized the shift and decided she would incorporate her sports clients into the entertainment industry as well. She dissolved Absolute…PR! and formed L Group PR, a boutique PR agency. “It gave me an opportunity to separate the two entities, so I established a sports division and an entertainment division”. This was the perfect scenario for her because she could work in sports with a twist of entertainment.
Realizing she wasn’t going to be able to handle everything she convinced her longtime friend Cammie Johnson (who was also a publicist), to come on board and handle the music artist under the entertainment division. Johnson, who had worked in the music industry for over seven years was the perfect match. “Cammie is a go-getter and I know with clients in her care I can rest easy and don’t have anything to worry about”. Johnson also plays a pivotal role in producing company events, where she handles all the sponsorships and marketing.
So far everything has worked out as planned. As far as sports side, she has been affiliated with some great athletes including 2x Super Bowl Champion Billy Davis, Drew Pearson (former Dallas Cowboy), Charcandrick West (former Kansas City Chief), Michael Brockers (LA Rams), Jarran Reed (Seattle Seahawks), Matthew Judon (Baltimore Ravens), Willie Roaf (Hall of Famer), Tim Brown (Hall of Famer), Robert Griffith (former Minnesota Viking), Anthony Dorsett (former Oakland Raider)and Michael Johnson (Olympic Gold Medalist), Dez Bryant (former Dallas Cowboy), Darrell Henderson Jr. (LA Rams), Tyrone Swoopes (Seattle Seahawks) just to name a few.
As in any industry, marketing and branding always plays a key role in any strategic move in the sports and entertainment in the world when building a brand for talent outside of their profession. Smith made sure her clients stayed heavily involved in the community by producing a variety of fundraisers and charitable events for each client. “We created all types of celebrity events ranging from golf, tournaments, bowling tournaments, poker tournaments, comedy shows, award shows to football and basketball camps. A few events included the First Annual Emmitt Smith Celebrity Golf Tournament, Alex Thomas Celebrity Golf Tournament, Billy Davis All-Star Pool Tournament and the Robert Griffith Celebrity Weekend to name a few.
IF THAT WASN’T ENOUGH:
Developing a knack for creating great events, Smith started to dabble in producing a variety of special events. In 2005, Smith kicked off a 10-city comedy tour, The Laugh Your Ass Off Comedy Tour, which toured the southern states during the summer. “I had worked with a few comedians in the PR capacity and thought showcasing the up and coming comedians would be a great way to get their name out to mainstream audiences”. A few of the comedians Smith worked with on either the comedy tour and other charitable appearances included Kevin Hart, Chris Spencer, Damon Williams, Joey Wells, Earthquake, Cocoa Brown, Nema Williams and Tony Roberts.
Smith did not limit the special events only to the Los Angeles area, she increased the visibility of her brand by taking the events to a variety of cities and countries. “For the past several years, we have produced a variety of events including the Bermuda Mother’s Day Weekend, Bermuda Easter and Labor Day Festivals, All-Star Super Bowl Comedy Extravaganza and the Comedy Explosion during NBA All-Star Weekend”.
Although those events are great, Smith is most proud of her annual Men’s Style Gifting Suite event. The event is produced three times a year (Super Bowl, NFL Draft and ESPY Awards). “This event is unique in style for it caters to men ONLY; the male athlete, male celebrity and male tastemaker. We’re coming up on our 7th year and I couldn’t be more excited, each year it gets better and better. At first, I was somewhat concerned if the guys would go for a day of pampering, but once they saw what all was offered and how it worked, they were all for it”. Guest attending the event, receive free barber services, massages, facials, mani/pedis as well as free gifts from all participating sponsors and vendors.
A SECOND LOVE:
With the business taking care of itself, Smith wanted to tap into her second love, ‘writing’ so she launched an independent production company, RonSean Productions, LLC in 2008. The company will produce feature films, TV shows and documentaries.
“Writing has always been a passion of mine, besides the creativity, it relaxes my mind”. Smith penned her first novel, “Confessions of the Twelfth Man” in late 2006. “I wrote the book as a past time and didn’t do anything with it; it basically set on the shelf for months”. Fast forward, to the evening when a relative spent the night and read the manuscript before he went to bed, the next morning he had convinced her to go to print.
Smith self-published the book and promoted it through expo’s participating in autograph signings and meet n greets. “It was fun but a bit different being on the ‘celebrity side. I remember the lady who was my first purchase and she asked me to autograph it; I signed it, but I signed ‘LaShirl’ and she said, “who is LaShirl?” I had forgotten that quick I was there as ‘Jusbee Jones’, my pseudonym in which I had written the book…we both had a good laugh”. The novel was the first release from the trilogy series, “Confessions” in which she created. “I had enough material I was able to write three books as a continued storied”.
In 2013, the production company released its first indie feature film, “Sideline Confessions” which is based on the novel. “I was proud of what Sideline Confessions did; it was my little engine that could. We were able to get domestic and international distribution, it was sold at Walmart, Redbox, a few mom/pop video stores as well as online through Amazon, Target and Barnes and Noble”.
Currently, the production company has several projects lined up. “We are gearing up for pre-production for “Jaded Confessions”, the 2nd installment of the trilogy lineup and follow up to Sideline Confessions. We are also working on a reality show entitled, “The Boss Ladies Club” and our first drama, “Damage Control”.
Smith has come full circle in both the sports and entertainment industry; two industries that are hard to survive if you don’t have the drive and perseverance. “I am thankful for how long I have been able to stay above water ‘so-to-speak’; yes, it had been a struggle at times, but I wouldn’t give it up or trade it for anything. I admit, I sometimes feel bruised but never broken, I put on a band-aid on and keep it moving (smiles).
Smith belongs to various organizations and has received several awards and recognitions from the City of Los Angeles and the City of Long Beach. Her hobbies include traveling, creative writing and watching a variety of television programs and hanging with her pet chihuahua dog (son), Frampton.
She currently splits her time between Los Angeles and Dallas.