Part 6 of our Artist Development Series.
Throughout this series, we’ve discussed the various members of the artist development team. Each member brings a unique set of assets to the entire team. Each member provides unique guidance and expertise that is essential to launch and maintain an upward trajectory for an artist’s career. This entry is devoted to the form and function of the publicist, a member of the team who is tasked with bridging the gap between the private and public life of an artist.
Brand awareness is at the heart of every artist’s success and failure, and the publicist is who can make that happen. A publicist is on the front lines, closest to the pulse of the public and the opinion the public has about the artist.
Forming Your Artist Development Team – The Publicist
When To Hire a Publicist
Publicists are tasked with communicating an artist’s story, providing details, filling in the blanks and engaging in conversations with media outlets that can connect those stories to the public and help establish an artist’s brand. There are many theories as to when an artist should invest in the services of a publicist, but it distills down to one basic metric; does the artist have a compelling, relatable and unique story to tell? Is there something that the artist is creating, doing or saying that is a differentiator, unique or press worthy?
A good publicist is expensive. A great publicist is ridiculously expensive. However, the process is complex. Developing a story with just the right slant or “pitch,” submitting it to the appropriate press outlets and following up to ensure that it is published and seen by the public on a timely basis is no easy feat.
If you have enough money to hire a great publicist, any one of them will gladly take your cake. However, don’t think that this will guarantee a cover story in People Magazine or Rolling Stone. The genesis of a press release and story must be newsworthy from the jump. Not even the most powerful publicist can turn an unknown or lackluster artist or story into headlines and feature articles. A publicist will not squander valuable media relationships or contacts on a “fluff piece.” Competition is intense. Thousands of stories are being pitched on a daily basis. A good publicist’s power within the public relations world comes from his or her reputation, experience and ability to bring authentic, hot stories and “breaking” artists to media outlets.
Publicists must be able to engage in one on one dialogues with important editors and content gatekeepers to convince them that their story is “top of the fold” material and deserves press real estate more than any other story out there.
A publicist’s success, in both time and substance, is intrinsically tied to career milestones that are met by an artist. It’s all about the momentum of growth. A record deal, a tour, a major film or television slot, events that a publicist can truly sink their teeth into tells an artist it’s time to hire one. So, if your part-time quest for stardom is beginning to gel, your career “buzz” is real, contracts are being signed, and you are starting to gain momentum, an investment in a publicist is a good one.
Remember: Like a booking agent, a publicist follows the path of the artist’s career, it doesn’t create the path. Make sure there is a real need before you invest in publicity.
The Type of Professional You Need
The relationship between publicist and artist is intimate by nature, meaning that many personal and professional components, skillsets, and networks must align and be compatible to insure a successful union. The publicist must be well connected. They must be able to reach out to press influencers on multiple press platforms. Basic skills such as the ability to prioritize, to schedule, to write well and be able to identify and promote the artist’s brand are essential.
A publicist must be capable of delivering press coverage that coincides with the career level of the artist and the events that are taking place along a time continuum. Artists who are starting to catch on regionally and nationally need a publicist with press contacts who can deliver regional and national press. Don’t sign with a publicist until you have thoroughly researched his or her professional profile.
- Ask to see their client roster, placements and press clippings.
- Take a look at the press kits they have created for each client.
Experience is essential, especially when dealing with established artists and brands. If you’re a new artist, the most vital skillset to look for is the ability to “break” newbies, aka garnering press coverage for an artist who is virtually unknown. Remember that all members of an artist development team are music genre driven. They specialize in a specific type of music/artist and their contacts and power exist within the context of that genre. So, make sure to find a publicist who has experience in your type of music.
In addition, all publicists must have experience in positioning a client when press is negative or derogatory. Artists can get into to situations that require strict management and strategic positioning with press outlets. Interviews must be controlled, scripted and aimed towards counteracting the negative press. Articles must be written to explain the artist’s perspective or rationale. The public’s support can be reinstated and shaped by a savvy publicist. Damage control is a special skillset that only a few publicists possess, and the cost for that expertise is usually astronomical.
Regardless of where you are in your career, the publicist (as well as all the other members of your artist development team) must have a great reputation in the industry; honest, reliable, well-liked and respected. They must be contingency and solution based, regardless of the situation.
Working with a Publicist
Because of the Internet, the publicity needs of an artist who’s just starting out can usually be handled by the artist themselves. An artist can create his or her own press releases, service them through various, free press distribution websites and follow up with emails and phone calls on their own. Social media platforms, entertainment websites, E-zines and Fanzines are plentiful. Editors are usually easy to identify and contact. Generally, they’re happy to receive content and information about gigs, music releases and other entertainment events. While the reach of these publications can be limited, local and regional at best, you have to start somewhere. And core audiences are built literally one fan at a time.
Be proactive, Do it yourself until your story starts to unfold and then consider handing it off to a professional.
To be a publicist is to be an artist’s perpetually loyal fan and brand guru for as long as they work together. A solid working relationship begins with support and belief that eventually morphs into a progressive and consistent cultivation of the artist’s brand. The publicist must be given all the information; the good, bad and ugly, to properly service press outlets who are interested in covering the artist and the music. On a personal level you must be compatible, certain that you can and will “mesh” personally with this individual because publicity is personal in nature and public in execution. There must be mutual trust and honesty.
If you think you’re ready to hire a publicist, get started by creating a list of publicists who you feel are the right “fit.” Do your homework. Find out who they represent.
- Check out the work they are doing for their clients.
- Make sure they handle the type of music you’re making.
- If they fit your criterium, it’s time to reach out and provide them with information about you.
- Create an electronic package that includes a cover message or note offering important information about of you, your career and your goals.
- If you have a bio include it. Include photographs, links to your music or videos of your performances. Brag about yourself and what you have done.
- Let them know where you want to go and what you want to achieve. Remember that promises are empty unless they are kept.
- Make sure each candidate has experience, knowledge, skills and the resources to keep any of the promises they make.
Every aspect of your career is an opportunity to learn and grow. Don’t be afraid to ask the hard questions of yourself and to the publicist that you’re considering. Use every member of your artist development team as a teacher. Do not follow blindly. Insist on knowing the answer to “why” something can or cannot be done. Debate and discourse make a team stronger. Learn how it’s done before you turn it over to someone else to do for you.
Decide on the way you want your profile, your brand to be presented to the public. If you have a manager, discussions about your brand should have already taken place. You can turn to them for help in selecting a publicist, but don’t take recommendations without doing your own research. Don’t rush into anything, you’ll know when the time is right.