J.N. Condon asks:
I have a question regarding public relations. How has your experience been working with publicist of rock bands? Do you feel that publicity is important for music?
The publicist is one of the core professions of entertainment. It is an ancillary profession in that the job of press agents results from the basic activities of the primary players, artists, managers, agents and producers. When these four create recordings and live events, getting the word out is accomplished through the traditional, mainstream media and on line channels. It is a vital step in the process of promoting and selling the product. Every music industry professional can benefit from exposure in the media and every singer and band has a story to tell. Public relations specialists are responsible for creating and telling their stories.
Lawyers, accountants and crew members contribute their expertise and skills to service the various needs that support career development. These professionals provide their talents for retainers, commissions, salaries and hourly fees based on actual performance. P.R. is unique among the team member's services in that publicists receive a guaranteed monthly payment before they even begin their work. At top PR firms the fees usually start in the five thousand dollar a month range and grow from there depending on the specifics of the campaign. The money is paid regardless of how effective the effort might be in producing published stories, articles and reviews about the act. It is very difficult to tell just how productive the effort might be.
Most bands get their first taste of public relations when they are signed to a record company. Every major label has an extensive PR mechanism that generates promotional information regarding the product scheduled for imminent release. Photos, biographies, electronic press kits and videos are compiled months in advance of the record's drop date. Cover stories, editorial articles and record reviews are solicited. The media deals with these materials with varying degrees of interest. They want to interview the big star and have little regard for the baby band.
Since record companies are often providing access to their "star" attractions, they are usually able to leverage exposure for their new artists as well. Publicity departments deal with an endless stream of new releases and the job of securing press is never over. All that can be expected is a burst of effort at the beginning and a sustained pressure if the product is deemed successful. Otherwise the focus moves on to the release and promotion of the next artist's album.
The only way to measure the results is to collect the press material generated. Clipping services are often engaged to gather this proof that the story got printed. It is the personal manager's job to build a relationship with the publicity vice-president and make sure the PR staff is working on behalf of the act. On line promotion is a little more difficult to measure, as there are so many music outlets to monitor. Bands should have their own web sites as well as having material posted on youtube.om, myspace.com and other social, marketing and music specific networks.
Independant public relations services are usually reserved for established artists who can afford the high fees involved. Most publicity firms have large client rosters and much more work to do on a given day than can be accomplished. This means that somebody may not be getting the effort and attention for which they are paying. Managers must be in constant contact with the press agents in charge of their client's interests to insure the money is not wasted. Even then, it is hard sometimes to discern if the press was generated by the efforts of the publicist, or if the article or review might have happened organically.
Regardless of who is at the forefront of any public relations campaign, the job has to be done. Artists and managers must engage in the dissemination of appropriate materials in order to sell records and attract fans to live performances. This puts the job in the hands of the act until such time as success provides disposable income that can be devoted to the hiring of public relations experts. Managers must develop on line systems that carry the message to the target audience.
Overall my experience with publicists, weather record company affiliated or in dependant agents, has been quite good. People attracted to this kind of work are generally warm and empathetic. They sincerely want to help and usually seem to take their role seriously. They require writing and organizational skills and need outgoing personalities as they are often the first person the media meets when approaching artists. Public relations is a do-it-yourself business for baby bands and even if there is no budget the job still has to be handled efficiently and effectively.
There is a great book on the subject called "Guerilla P.R. 2.0" by Michael Levine. This best selling guide to the low cost implementation of public relations systems and protocols is considered the all time best book on the subject. Artists and managers should be aware of the creative and fiduciary responsibilities of publicists. This will enable them to conduct the activity themselves, until such time as paid professionals can be employed to perform this important service. A clear knowledge of the profession helps managers do the job and when applicable, it makes them aware of how well the paid fiduciaries are executing their efforts in pursuit of the artist career goals.