REEL WOMEN: Karolyn Raphael, Pres, Winger Marketing

Reel Women

Editor’s Note: They are leaders. They are inspirational. They are mentors. They are visionaries. They are, quite frankly, badasses. They are our 2020 Reel Women During Women’s History Month, you will be able to meet these incredible personalities in Advertising, Entertainment, Media and Production. Get ready.

Karolyn Raphael, President of Winger Marketing, with more than 20 years of media and communications experience, has taken clients from near-obscurity to recognition on a national level. Her work in strategy, media placement, PR training, and digital marketing includes business-to-business initiatives, film industry organizations, consulting firms,healthcare systems, trade associations, law firms, trade shows and non-profit organizations.

She’s created city-wide awareness campaigns and landed stand-out media placements in national and local news outlets, including Chicago magazine, The Tonight Show with Conan O’Brien, and the New York Times, to name a few. Karolyn has led media training and PR 101 programs for local chapters of the Women’s Presidents Organization, the Women’s Business Development Center and dozens of businesses.

What did you originally want to be when you grow up?
I originally had dreams of becoming a ballerina when I was an adult. My parents said that I never sat still and I was constantly dancing. I followed that dream throughout my time as a child and a young adult. I performed in several professional ballets as a teen. Tendonitis as well as a love of gourmet food and musical theater, moved me away from ballet and into the world of theater and broadcasting in college. 

How did you get into the film industry?
My work in the film industry started in 1996 with a game of Simon Says at an audition with David Schwimmer. He was in town to direct a film with the working title, Dog Water. I went to the audition, which really was a game of Simon Says. If you could follow David’s directions, you could have weeks of work on the set. Since I was all of 22 and working as a temp, I eagerly jumped at the opportunity to make $75 a day and enjoy the endless buffet of free food. 

As much as I enjoyed my summer on the set of Dog Water, I decided that I wanted more. More fulfillment, more money and a more regular work schedule. I discovered that I could parlay the skills I used in college running the Indiana University News Bureau Radio Newsline and leverage them in the world of PR in Chicago. 

I landed a job at Winger & Associates, Ltd., which was run by Sherry Winger, the former marketing director for Playboy Hotels who had started her own PR shop when Playboy sold off its properties. I learned about the media industry and the rest of the ropes on the job. Our work ranged from promoting non-profits and hospitals to luxury home builders.  

I continued to dabble in film, creating a pilot in 2003 for the Food Network with some friends in New York. We shot the pilot in my grandmother’s kitchen. It now lovingly lives in our family movie archives. I didn’t really become immersed again in the film industry until 2017 when I met Alex Pissios while working on promotions for a non-profit called Anixter Center.  

Alex was being honored by the organization at its annual gala. It was my job to while on contract with Anixter Center to share his story and raise awareness for this organization. I met up Alex at WFLD -TV/FOX news studio early on a Saturday morning and we prepped for his live studio interview. Alex is an easy going, sincere guy who has been through a lot. I found his story and his mission to rebuild the film industry in Chicago very compelling. I was determined to help. 

I told Alex that the general public didn’t know about Cinespace or all of the major productions and films were being produced right in the North Lawndale neighborhood of Chicago. Not only that, but they had no idea what kind of positive economic impact this campus was having on the community. You can do great work and help a lot of people, as Cinespace was doing with many charitable initiatives, but unless you tell people about it, they won’t know and they won’t care.  I said, “Please let me tell your story and shed some light on this!” A few months later, he finally agreed. 


Who were your mentors?
I’ve had a few great mentors over the years. My first mentor was Amy White Hanas. She was my dance teacher and started taking me to classes with her in Chicago when she realized that she had trained me as much as she could. She really pushed me to believe in myself. 

Two other professional mentors that come to mind immediately are Sherry Winger and Rosie Burke. Both women are complete dynamos that I have had the pleasure of working for and with during the last twenty years of my career. Sherry pushed me to believe in myself as a businesswoman and she taught me the PR ropes. Rosie valued my creative and strategic abilities and has had my back throughout some tough times. Their generosity of spirit and support has been game changing for me and for my business. 

What is your greatest achievement?
During the past few years, and especially in 2019, we really moved the needle forward on positive awareness for Cinespace Chicago Film Studios and the film industry in Chicago. We hustled to create as many positive stories as we could for the thriving film industry campus and gained media exposure that reached millions of readers and viewers. Not only that, people are also starting to become more aware of the support the studio gives to organizations like PAWS, UC Comer Children’s Hospital, Little Village Chamber of Commerce, SOS Children’s Village Illinois and more! 

What is your biggest disappointment?
My biggest disappointment is that Chicago is still treated like the stepchild of the tv and film industry. We have some amazing stories and developments happening in Chicago with the internship program at CineCares Foundation and with Cinespace’s other nonprofit, the newly formed Independent Film Alliance Chicago. It has been really disappointing to have such a lack of interest from major industry news outlets in Los Angeles and New York.  


What are your biggest pet peeves? 
I’m a pretty easy-going person and have generally been referred to as “patient” by many of the people I work with on a regular basis. If I had come up with a pet peeve, it’s when people use words like “irregardless” and “anyways.” I end up clenching my teeth. 

What are your predictions for the film industry over the next decade?
Once we get past the world of quarantine, I’m hopeful that the film industry will come roaring back. My prediction is a burst in creativity from filmmakers, writers and creators after a forced slow down. This time period has certainly made me evaluate things and think about my priorities. I’m happy that I was able to communicate with the media about what was happening in the film industry during such an unprecedented time for our country. Now that we are in lockdown, I look forward to being able to share positive news again soon. 

Name a job you had that would surprise people.
I’ve had a lot of interesting jobs over the years. In the world of PR, one of the most interesting assignments I’ve had was working with Meinhardt Raabe, one of the last surviving munchkin-actors from The Wizard of Oz. We spent a full day together on a media tour of several news stations in Los Angeles so he could do interviews about his appearance at the International Gift and Collectible Exposition. He was the Coroner in the film and still knew all of his lines. He even sang me the song and wore his costume. What a memorable day!

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Who plays you in your life story?
Maureen O’Hara please! Feisty and smart. That woman wasn’t afraid to sit at the table with the men.  

What do you wish you had more time to do?
I have been trying to learn to play the guitar for the past two years. 

Do you talk to yourself?
My husband is constantly asking me, “What did you say?” My answer is always, “Oh, I was just talking to myself.” He finds it very confusing. Sometimes, I just need to think out loud.

What inspires you to be creative?
Singing and goofing around with my daughter always puts me in the mood to be creative. 

A few cocktails and some laughs are also a good way to get the brainstorming session flowing!