BUILDING BUZZ FOR HBO MAX SHOWS
by Raquel Laneri
Raina Falcon arrived at FIT in 2001, a wide-eyed Texan with Big Apple dreams. She immersed herself completely in her adopted city, attending fashion shows in Manhattan, bartending late night in her Greek neighborhood in Queens, taking the jitney to the Hamptons—and religiously watching Sex and the City.
“It was like the blueprint for my time in New York,” says Falcon, Advertising and Marketing Communications ’05, of the groundbreaking HBO series about four single ladies looking for love in the big city. “It was my show—it was aspirational for me.”
Cut to 20 years later: Falcon is sitting in a van in Manhattan with original SATC stars Sarah Jessica Parker, Cynthia Nixon, and Kristin Davis, getting ready to unveil the first look at And Just Like That, a 10-episode sequel.
“Working on that show now is such a pinch-me moment,” marvels Falcon. “It’s truly unbelievable.”
As senior vice president of publicity at HBO Max, Falcon handles pretty much every aspect of a new show’s rollout, from publicity photos to talent interviews to screening events. Her team launched a successful awards campaign for the Jean Smart comedy Hacks, turned the low-budget documentary Class Action Park into a festival juggernaut, and collaborated with anonymous social-media gossip monger “Deuxmoi” to create buzz around the dating reality show FBoy Island.
“There are a handful of people that I call in our organization when I want to strategize, troubleshoot or celebrate, and Raina is always at the top of the list,” says Falcon’s supervisor, Sarah Aubrey, head of original content for HBO Max. “I trust her judgment and taste implicitly, and she has a damn fine sense of humor!”
Falcon grew up in Austin, Texas, in an artistic family. “My parents are hippies—musicians, folk singers,” she explains. “They didn’t care about fashion at all!” Yet Falcon did: In high school, she worked at the trendy teen retailer Wet Seal and devoured Vogue, Jane, and Seventeen magazines. She never met anyone who shared her passion until her stepfather put her on the phone with a cousin who lived in New York and had gone to FIT. “She was telling me about the school, and I was like, ‘I am going there!’” she recalls. “I didn’t apply to any other colleges.”
At FIT, Falcon studied Advertising and Marketing Communications, planning to go into fashion PR and work at a magazine. Her senior year, while flipping through postings in her internship counselor’s office, she saw an opportunity at New Line Cinema’s publicity department. It wasn’t fashion, but Falcon—a self-described “cinephile” who worshipped directors like Stanley Kubrick and Francis Ford Coppola—stopped in her tracks.
“I was just so sure,” she recalls. “I was like, ‘Oh, this is definitely what I want to do. I want to work in film and television.’”
During her internship, she worked with celebrities’ publicists, compiled press-clip reports on New Line’s movies, and attended marketing events for films like the Owen Wilson comedy Wedding Crashers and the Jane Fonda comeback-vehicle Monster-in-Law.
“I really learned this was for me. I was still interested in fashion, but I realized that working in publicity for entertainment, you still get to be part of that world.”
After her internship, New Line hired Falcon as a “floater,” filling in where needed in various departments. (She bought the book Filmmaking for Dummies and would quickly read the corresponding chapter for each new assignment.) She then worked as a talent publicist for stars such as Ben Kingsley and Rachel Bloom before landing at WarnerMedia/HBO in 2017, overseeing the launch of its new streaming service, HBO Max, in May 2020—in the middle of the coronavirus pandemic.
“In hindsight, it was the coolest, most career-defining moment I’ve had up to this point,” she says. “But at the time, it was so stressful because everybody had to turn on a dime and figure out a way to promote the launch without any of our normal tools.”
Initially, Falcon and her team had planned to preview some of the service’s most prestigious new programming, such as the Anna Kendrick series Love Life, at festivals like Tribeca and South by Southwest to create buzz. Those events—and effectively all in-person gatherings—were canceled. Then several shinier projects slated for HBO Max’s launch stopped mid-production, so the service debuted with fewer new “originals” than anticipated.
Falcon rapidly changed course. She worked with the events and talent relations team, and got the actors to participate, launching virtual events that felt star-studded and special.
“We were kind of the first ones to do that, because we had so much to promote at the moment everything shut down,” Falcon says. “So the press was writing about how we were the innovators. And that was really exciting because we were totally building the plane as it was in the air. I feel really, really proud of what we were able to accomplish under the most adverse conditions.”
Since then, she has worked on press campaigns for hits such as the Gossip Girl reboot and the dark comedy series The Flight Attendant. She refers to her projects as her “babies,” going to table reads and dinners to get to know the filmmakers, actors, and crew for each show. “I’m involved from the second that they decide to put a show in development,” she says. “I’m already thinking about [how to promote] it even before filming.”
That’s why she was on set for Day 1 of shooting And Just Like That this past spring. She knew she had to get an exclusive promotional photo of the three Sex and the City stars strutting down a Manhattan sidewalk—before the paparazzi scooped her.
“We literally put the ladies in a van, had them hop out on the street, and had our photographer take the picture,” Falcon recalls. Parker, Davis, and Nixon then selected the photo they liked best, the photo team did some touch-ups, and Falcon’s team released it just minutes before the paparazzi showed up. But it was the HBO photo—of the actresses looking glamorous in their extravagant fashions—that flew all over the internet.
“You know, we all care about everything we’re doing so much,” Falcon—who lives in L.A. with her husband and two kids—says. “It’s so easy to get really stressed out and start feeling an insane amount of pressure. But the shows are gonna come out, and they’re gonna do what they’re gonna do. The truth is, it’s just TV. If you can just relax about it and keep it in perspective, that’s helpful.”
All photos except Falcon’s portrait courtesy of HBO Max.