Meet Sharbie Higuchi, Festival of Arts/Pageant of the Masters Marketing and Public Relations Director

Sharbie Higuchi PR Director Pageant of the Masters

For those of you who has never heard of Pageant of the Masters, it is one of the most unique productions in the entire world where “art comes alive“. This amazing event takes place every summer at Laguna Beach’s outdoor, Irvine Bowl as part of Festival of Arts. The living art performance is so impressive that it attracts over 500 volunteers. Every night POM features re-creations of classical and contemporary artworks with live models imitating the original piece of art – world famous sculpture, paintings, and figurines. The show includes a live orchestra and a narrator.

Festival of Arts also puts on special benefit events such as the reclaimed, reused or recycled materials Fashion Show, Celebrity Benefit Concerts that include Red Carpet arrivals. I’m honored to interview Sharbie Higuchi who has an impressive career in Public Relations and works as a Marketing and PR Director for Pageant of the Masters. Sharbie has been with the organization for 17 years.

In this interview, she discusses how her career started with POM, her challenges, favorite experience and her words of advice for those who want a career in Public Relations especially in the arts.

Sharbie with Neil Patrick Harris as one of the guests on the celebrity benefit show

Sharbie with actor Neil Patrick Harris as one of the guests at the celebrity benefit show

Ruchel: How did your career start with Pageant of the Masters (POM)? Is this the career path you wanted to take?
Sharbie: I am definitely one of those people who would have never predicted where my career would have ended up. I am originally from Morgantown, West Virginia. I went to George Washington University in Washington D.C. and received my BA in Psychology. I was also very interested in art therapy, art history and graphic design. After graduating from college, I moved out to California to live with my sister. I wasn’t sure exactly what I wanted to do, so I worked three different jobs trying to figure it out. The one that stuck was working for a local marketing/advertising company. I started in the graphics department and quickly moved my way up to Senior Account Executive. I had a boss who recognized my ability to develop marketing and advertising campaigns. All of my clients were travel and entertainment venues…. you probably can guess…. FOA/POM was one of my clients. When my FOA/POM predecessor decided to leave his position, he encouraged me to apply for the job. I felt very comfortable with the marketing aspect of the job, but I was lacking the public relations experience. Nonetheless with his reassurance, I applied for the job. After all, nothing ventured, nothing gained. I considered this a dream job opportunity.

It certainly was an unexpected path, I enjoyed the journey and I am so happy to be doing what I do at an organization that does so much good for the arts.

As a side note and many years before I began working here: The Pageant of the Masters was one of the first dates that my now husband of 25 years took me on. He wooed me at the Pageant knowing how much I loved the arts. It was the night I fell in love with him. So working at FOA/POM must have been fate.

Darren and Sharbie Higuchi

Darren and Sharbie Higuchi

Ruchel: How long you’ve been employed with POM/FOA?
Sharbie: It’s hard to believe, but I have been employed with FOA/POM for 17 years. I enjoy promoting an organization with a mission statement that I believe in.

Ruchel: Over the years working for POM what was one of the most stressful situations you encountered?
Sharbie: The most stressful situation was in 2000 when the Sharbie: Festival of Arts was nearly moved to San Clemente and the Festival Board of Directors was recalled. Fortunately, the Festival remains in Laguna Beach today – for the enjoyment of generations to come.

Bon-Ton- art at Pageant of the Masters

Volunteers in action on the famous Bon-Ton art

Ruchel: What was your most favorite experience?
Sharbie: Gosh there are so many it is difficult to pick a favorite. Some standout moments have been … securing stories in New York Times Magazine, “Somebody’s Gotta Do It” with Mike Rowe, The Wall Street Journal, and CBS Evening News. Part of my job is also touring the VIPS. I have met so many incredible people – Neil Patrick Harris, Joe Mantegna, Steve Martin, Teri Hatcher, Mario Lopez, Angela Bassett, Marcia Gay Harden and many others. But my favorite experience was being in the show posing as a living statue. My husband and both of my children have been in the Pageant of the Masters too!

Make up artist doing make-up on one of the  volunteers

Make up artist doing make-up on one of the volunteers

Ruchel: What are the challenges of being the PR Director of one of the most anticipated art festivals in the world?
Sharbie: There are many, but keeping up with the ever-changing world of technology and its impact on advertising and public relations is a big one. When I first started it was a pretty simple formula focusing on a combination of PR, print, radio, television and direct mail. With the growth of the internet and mobile platforms, relationship marketing has continued to evolve and move forward as technology opens more collaborative and social communication channels. Leveraging these new marketing avenues is very important for attracting new audiences; however, it’s not always easy to keep up with the latest trends. Also, I am always looking for innovative ways to market the Festival’s art show and to showcase our artists. In my opinion the key to a successful marketing campaign is based on a diverse promotional mix and knowing your market while growing new audiences.

Ruchel: What are the steps involved with putting together this yearly event?
Sharbie: There are way too many steps to list here. Believe it or not, I begin working on the collateral material for the following season before the current one is even over. Pageant tickets go on sale to our membership on October 1 and to the public December 1.

Ruchel: How is the theme chosen yearly? Do you have any involvement in that process?
Sharbie: The Pageant’s theme is selected by the Pageant of the Masters Director Diane Challis Davy. My responsibility is establishing the brand of the show based on the director’s vision. I develop the logo for the theme of the show, all the collateral material and merchandise.

Ruchel: How do you select the celebrities and guest performer for the benefit concert?
Sharbie: Our Special Event Director Susan Davis selects the guest performer and negotiates the contract. My responsibility is securing the celebrity host and celebrities to walk the red carpet. Some are fans of the Pageant of the Masters and look forward to attending every year, like the cast of “Criminal Minds.” Joe Mantegna comes every year with his family and has introduced many friends and fellow actors to the Pageant. Some celebrities I book myself and others are booked through a publicist.

Dee and Sharbie at Pageant of the Masters

Sharbie with POM Director Diane Challis Davy

Ruchel: What do you think is the most important part of your job?
Sharbie: Wow! That is a tough one. I wear a lot of hats here because we are a small non-profit organization. I am responsible for securing sponsors, public relations, marketing, advertising, promotions, branding, social media, development of all collateral, website and merchandise. I love to multitask and develop new concepts and ideas that benefit the organization’s finances and outstanding reputation. I am very fortunate to have a great team that supports me. I am passionate about relationship building and collaboration. I always feel most accomplished when I’m connecting the Festival of Arts with other arts organizations, sponsors, partners, vendors, patrons and/or the city of Laguna Beach. I guess you might call me a marketing matchmaker. There is a business side of art and creative side of art. I try very hard to bridge the two. At the end of the day, my goal in working with other individuals and organizations is to bring value to everyone involved, and I’m never more satisfied than when I succeed in that.

Sharbie with one of the models from the Reuse Recycle Fashion Show

Sharbie and daughter Sophie, one of the models from the Reuse Recycle Fashion Show

Ruchel: What advice can you give for those who want a career in Public Relations especially in the arts?
Sharbie: Hard work does eventually pay off. When working with a non-profit arts organization, it is important to be creative and multitask while recognizing and juggling deadlines. Love what you do! Do what you love! And always be pleasant to everyone you meet.

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