Gilda Squire got her first lessons in branding at the investment firm Goldman Sachs. Today she manages ballet's most visible star: Misty Copeland. Squire's approach to Copeland's endorsements and outside commitments, carefully crafted with the ballerina, has established a new professional framework for dancers, one that straddles a range of media platforms and opportunities.
After graduating in 1996 from George Mason University, Squire moved to New York City and started as an administrative assistant at Goldman. Moving over to its corporate communications office, Squire realized that she had found her niche. It was there that she learned about the power of branding. "I loved the idea of shaping how you think about something, like the image that MSNBC has created," she says. "It included public relations but put it in a bigger picture."
A book lover, Squire next went to work in Penguin Books' publicity department. She branched out on her own in 2008. At a New Year's Eve party in 2010, friends were talking about an African-American ballerina who appeared with the rock star Prince. Squire found herself inspired and fascinated by Copeland's story. Soon they began working together. But there was a wrinkle: Copeland wanted Squire to be more than a publicist; she was looking for a manager. "I think Misty had started to realize that she could use her voice for good," says Squire. "I knew I could handle the PR end, get her story out there, but to take responsibility for someone's career—I was scared."
At the outset, Copeland set one rule, says Squire: "Ballet will always be in first position. Anything that Misty does has to put ballet first." This means scheduling Copeland's commitments very far out to accommodate ABT's rehearsal and performance schedule. It also means that Copeland chooses opportunities, from an upcoming Disney movie to her Under Armour commercials, that keep her in pointe shoes. Copeland's active social media presence not only promotes her books and performances, but showcases young dancers of color and reinforces the importance of a healthy lifestyle.
What does Squire feel is the key to making all these different elements work? And is it a template for other professional dancers? "These elements are spokes on a wheel," says Squire. "I don't think dancers need endorsement deals, but if they want them, you should think about what you stand for. Ask yourself how something has helped you excel in the art form; those are the brands to consider." However, she cautions dancers to read the fine print on any contract. "And always put your art form first, no matter how glamorous it all gets. At the end of the day, the reason you're being sought out is because of your performance."