One of Phil Lobel’s (A&S ex’79) favorite stories, stretching back to his early days as a Hollywood publicist, took place in a sushi restaurant on Sunset Boulevard in 1987.
As he chatted with a prospective client, a young unknown actor from the Midwest — Sean Penn and Madonna strode casually by and sat down at a nearby table — followed by a cluster of autograph seekers.
After observing the scene for several moments, the struggling actor turned to Lobel.
“Someday, do you think people will come up to me for my autograph?’’ asked Brad Pitt, who at the time was sharing an apartment with five roommates, sleeping on a mattress on the floor and eating at Taco Bell.
The answer became obvious a few months later when Pitt started to pop up on the cover of top teen magazines. Lobel managed Pitt’s TV and nascent film career prior to his movie debut in Thelma and Louise.
“Back then, Brad had no idea about anything,” Lobel says. “He’d just gotten off the boat from Springfield, Mo.’’
Sitting on the patio of his Hollywood bungalow on a midweek afternoon, Lobel chuckles at the memory of that day, one of many storybook moments in a career in which he’s come to anticipate the unexpected. He’s spent more than 25 years at the helm of the Los Angeles-based Lobeline Communications, which offers public relations, media relations, marketing communications, corporate branding and reputation management for entertainment, music-related, corporate and nonprofit clients.
Yet Lobel hasn’t survived nearly three decades in Hollywood by accident. It was through a series of strategic moves. He helped Steel Pulse climb the pop charts, Aaron Carter become a pop star, Anthony Robbins graduate from infomercials and magician David Copperfield find happiness in the mainstream press.
“When I met [Copperfield] he said he couldn’t get in the National Enquirer if he tried,’’ Lobel says.
He credits his CU experiences for helping him launch his successful career. As director of CU Program Council in its glory days, he helped fill everything from the Coors Events Center and the Glenn Miller Ballroom to Folsom Field with the likes of the Rolling Stones, Fleetwood Mac, Talking Heads, Elvis Costello, Bob Marley and the Wailers and Neil Young.
If not for a Leon Russell concert at Folsom Field two weeks into his freshman year, Lobel might have missed out on the ride.
“I was blown away,” he says. “It wasn’t so much the music — it was the enormity of the production. I was wondering, ‘How did this happen?’’’
Some of Phil's past clients include David Copperfield (top), Van Morrison and Eric Clapton (center), and Mick Jagger (right). Photos courtesy of Shutterstock, the Phil Lobel Collection and the 1979 CU Yearbook.
Walking into Program Council offices the following Monday, Lobel volunteered to hang posters, haul equipment, pick up trash — anything.
“He wanted in on every project,’’ Program Council volunteer and retired UMC associate director JC Ancell (Comm’78) says. “He signed up for every single thing. He would turn up unexpectedly in the middle of everything. He was hard to miss.’’
After becoming Program Council director in March 1976, Lobel immediately went to work on ending a de facto ban on concerts at athletic venues. He met with Denver promoter Barry Fey, sat down with athletic director Eddie Crowder — “I cut my hair, put on a coat and tie’’ — and then hammered out an agreement with student leaders, setting the stage for Fleetwood Mac’s sold-out 1977 show at Folsom.
“Phil always had the ability to make big deals, the one-on-one talent to convince people,’’ Ancell says. “Phil’s a dealmaker.’’
During a 90-day span the following summer he helped book the Beach Boys, the Rolling Stones and the Eagles.Billboard Magazine named him “College Talent buyer of the year’’ in 1978.
“It was an amazing summer,’’ Lobel says. “I was living this dream life. I was in the papers all the time. I had a radio show I’d host on KADE,” which was at 1190 AM.
There were other interesting moments, including the night Warren Zevon got overly excited on his Excitable Boy Tour.
“He went through an entire bottle of vodka straight before the second show. He ended up dancing on top of a baby grand piano in the Glenn Miller Ballroom,’’ he says.
And the time Jefferson Starship singer Grace Slick flew into a backstage rage.
“She said a coffee pot had a taste of soap to it,’’ Lobel says.
After college, Lobel worked with Feyline Presents, started a company, saw it collapse, then left Colorado in 1986 for Hollywood. He opened Lobeline Communications with one phone, a fax machine, a spare room and very little money in the bank.
“I got a call from a friend,” he recalls. “He had just signed an artist who was going solo — George Michael. I said, ‘The guy from Wham?’ He said, ‘You gotta listen to this record.’ He sends over the tape and I’m blown away. I said to him, ‘Rob, you know you have 6-7 hit singles on this record.’ It was the biggest record of ’88.”
In a town bathed in the ephemeral, Lobel snagged Pitt and George Michael’s Faith Tour as clients within 20 months, the foundation of a business that is celebrating its 26th anniversary this year. It was his lucky break, enabling him to start representing the hottest music artists in the country.
“Phil always made things happen that people didn’t think could happen or should happen,” Ancell says. “He’s a hard guy to resist.”
Ever since, Lobel has broadened the scope of his company’s work to include corporate and nonprofit clients, but his formula remains the same — to identify the relevant news story about his client that will entice the media to cover him or her.
“In my nearly two-decade association with Phil, his creative output in the world of publicity never ceases to amaze me and that’s not an easy task in my profession,” David Copperfield says.Today’s clients include David Copperfield, 2011 Playmate of the Year Claire Sinclair, comedian and street-crime authority “Pickpocket King” Bob Arno, the Colorado Music Hall of Fame and Betty White in the Lifeline Program’s music video featuring Betty White and Luciana, which has garnered more than 900,000 hits on YouTube.
While helping clients appear in magazines, TV shows and newspapers, Lobel shows no signs of slowing down.
“I thrive on new projects in uncharted territory perhaps because that’s how I was trained when running the Program Council,” he says. “The exhilaration was palpable. And I still have those feelings now when on any given day I might have Van Morrison on LIVE with Regis & Kelly, a story on the front page of the L.A. Times and Tony Robbins on CNN. To know you have touched a lot of people for many a decade is very fulfilling.”
In honor of Program Council, Phil Lobel (A&S ex’79) endowed the Phil Lobel Scholarship Fund in 2005. The first award made in 2008-09 provides a scholarship to the student in the top management position of the Program Council. To donate, visit www.cufund.org and click on Give Now to support the Phil Lobel Scholarship Fund.
Lobel is also working with the Boulder Camera to build support for a scholarship fund for the Program Council publicity director position to honor Wendy Kale (Comm’79) who passed away last summer. Kale was a music promoter for Program Council and a longtime Colorado Daily music reporter.