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Sex sells: The world of porn publicist Brian Gross

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Publicist Brian Gross made his own crossover from rock to porn at the tender age of 23.
Photo: Chelsea Lauren
Lynn Comella

When Brian Gross was hired by Steven Hirsch in 1999 to work as a publicist for Vivid Entertainment—one of the top adult entertainment companies in the world—the Internet was booming, porn sales were soaring and the moniker “porn starlet” was given to only an elite few performers in the business.

At that time, in the late ’90s, Hirsch was looking to put his brand in places it had never been before—music videos, Maxim and other forms of mainstream media previously untapped by the adult industry. It was a time to think big, cross boundaries, innovate and make a splash. The possibilities for new kinds of media exposure were endless, and it was Gross’ job to produce results.

One of Gross’ first big projects for Vivid was getting Janine Lindemulder on the cover of Blink 182’s 1999 album Enema of the State, where she vamped it up in a sexy nurse’s outfit. The following year, Vivid contract girls Raylene and Kobe Tai go-go danced and shimmied on stage during Kid Rock’s 2000 Grammy Awards performance, marking the first time adult performers had appeared on music’s biggest night. Around the same time, VH1 first aired the documentary Porn to Rock, which examined the similarities between porn and rock as forms of entertainment and vehicles for celebrity.

Hirsch’s plan to put the Vivid brand in places it had never been before was paying off, and Gross was right there helping to make it happen.

Porn publicists like Gross are a hidden yet integral part of the adult entertainment industry. They work behind the scenes, brainstorming publicity campaigns and generating press releases that will get their clients—be they companies such as Vivid or Penthouse, or starlets such as Sasha Grey or Joanna Angel—the maximum amount of media exposure possible.

Gross’ job, in short, is to make his clients famous.

Gross was only 23 when he took the job at Vivid, yet he was already a seasoned PR guru. As a senior in high school, he got his foot in the door of the music industry when he secured an internship at Def American Recordings. Three days a week after school he would drive to Burbank, where he’d put together press kits and help various publicists do their jobs. The lessons he learned at 18—there’s no room in a busy day to be starstruck, and hustle is the name of the game—have stayed with him to this day.

Following his internship at Def American, and after a brief stint in college—which included a sinking GPA and a liver drowning in alcohol—Gross returned to the music business. He got gigs with Lollapalooza, Warner Bros. and Elektra Records, where he worked with the likes of Metallica, Mötley Crüe and Pantera, among other top bands.

Blink 182's 1999 album Enema of the State featuring adult actress Janine Lindemulder

When the opportunity arose to work at Vivid, crossing over from music to porn was a “complete no-brainer,” Gross told me. “I had no fear of becoming a porn publicist. I’ve worked with Metallica, and you better not have fear in your bones. Rock star, porn star, what’s the difference?”

Gross is considered one of the best publicists in the adult biz. And whatever stereotypes you might have about a porn publicist, it is likely Gross doesn’t fit them. He’s unassuming and clean-scrubbed, with an easy smile and nary a tattoo in sight. His buttoned-down image is more akin to choirboy—which he was in his youth—than edgy rabble-rouser.

Today, Gross runs his own PR firm in LA, although he’s no stranger to Las Vegas. Since 2008, he’s been a fixture in the press room at the AVN Adult Entertainment Expo, the industry showcase where everyone who’s someone in adult entertainment—or who wants to be someone—descends on Vegas to mingle with fans, promote brands and get as much media exposure as possible.

More than a thousand press credentials are issued every year to journalists and film crews from around the world, and Gross’ job is to make sure they talk to the people who matter most. This year, Gross’ PR firm was hired by AVN to handle the Expo in its new, more intimate location at the Hard Rock Hotel and Casino.

While Gross’ biggest challenge may be surviving five days of nonstop Expo action and sleep deprivation, he never appears anything but calm in an environment pulsing with big energy and bigger-than-life personalities.

“You go in with the expectation of accomplishing as much as possible during those five days,” Gross says of the Expo. “You are thrown in a million directions. This is an instance when having ADHD is a positive. I find peace in the chaos of thousands of people in one place for a conference.”

Last month at a conference in Washington, D.C., Gross stood at the center of a seminar room, microphone in hand, and talked about the relationship between sex and the media. In what amounted to a PR primer, he narrated his history in the entertainment business, mapping his trajectory from music to porn to an audience busily taking notes and fervently tweeting his sound bites. Being a publicist doesn’t take a college degree, he argued; it requires a brain, a database and lots of hustle.

“What does he look for in a client?” someone asked. “A check that clears,” he quipped. But more than this, he added, he looks for a good story, one he’ll be able sell to the press.

A good story is certainly what one of Gross’ newest clients, former adult star Houston, brings to the table. Houston, who’s called Vegas home for the past nine years, retired from adult entertainment in 2003. At the height of her career she was probably best known for her work in The World’s Biggest Gangbang 3: The Houston 620 and her frequent appearances on The Howard Stern Show, where she talked openly about her labiaplasty procedure and was set up on a prom date with a high school student from Staten Island.

In 2008 Houston was diagnosed with cancer (now in remission) and decided to pen her memoir, which she recently completed. When it came time to look for a publicist, a heavy hitter who could get both national and international exposure for her book, recommendations from friends in the industry all came back to Gross.

Houston: Pretty Enough will hit stores in June, and Gross is already hard at work developing a publicity campaign. He flew out to Vegas last month to oversee a photo shoot with Houston. He stayed at her house and she cooked him dinner; they walked her dog and got to know each other better. “It’s a team effort,” Houston emphasized. “He wants me to succeed just as much as I want him to help me.”

One way to understand Gross’ success and, by extension, the success of his clients, is that he doesn’t treat the adult industry differently than any other form of popular entertainment. His strategy—normalize porn and the people connected to it—is paying off.

One mainstream print journalist, who asked not to be named, described Gross as “one of the most effective publicists I’ve ever dealt with in porn.”

A poster for The Girlfriend Experience starring Sasha Grey

He continued: “There are not a lot of publicists working in porn who are willing to work with the mainstream media. The industry exists in a genie bottle, and most publicists simply assume that because of porn’s stigma, stories about porn won’t end up in mainstream outlets. But Brian came from the mainstream publicity world; he had those contacts and wasn’t afraid [to use them].”

Gross also wasn’t afraid to rub the genie bottle to see what kind of PR magic he could make happen.

“People who know me know that I’m given tasks and challenges, and I do everything I can to accomplish them,” Gross says. “Steven Hirsch hired me at Vivid to promote the brand and put it in places it had never been before, and I took that mentality to my own business.”

In a career filled with notable successes and memorable experiences—from hanging out with Kid Rock at the 2000 Grammys to accompanying Sasha Grey to the premiere of The Girlfriend Experience at the Tribeca Film Festival in 2009—Gross remains incredibly humble.

“I’ll never forget the first day I walked into Def American as a senior in high school,” he says. “I had no idea what to expect. I wore a shirt and tie—and quickly learned never to do that again. I don’t forget Day 1, and there have been so many memories since then. It’s been a great ride.”

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