By Ariel Hyatt from Ariel Publicity
I talk to musicians all day who call looking to hire a publicist, and I've noticed that many artists don't really understand what publicity is (And why should you? We are NOT born with this knowledge--and Lord knows I have NO idea how to play an instrument.). So, this prompted me to write this month's article. Happy reading, and now please go out and play.
Nine Critical Things You Should Know About Publicity Before You Make Your First Move
1. The Definition of Publicity - First, we are going to start out with the very basics--some definitions of what publicity is exactly. According to the Merriam-Webster Dictionary:
Publicity - "An act or device designed to attract public interest; specifically: information with news value issued as a means of gaining public attention or support. Also: The dissemination of information or promotional material."
I couldn’t have said it better myself. Publicity is EXACTLY these things.
A music publicist is hired as a member of your team to represent you to the media. Media is defined traditionally as editors and writers at newspapers, magazines, dailies, weeklies, monthlies, college newspapers, and television. Some publicists may also cover radio for interviews on tour stops, but if you want to get on the radio charts (like CMJ), you will need a radio promoter. Some publicists also cover Internet PR, like my company, but not all traditional publicists do! A publicist's job is to liaise with the press. They are not hired to get you a booking agent or gig, a label deal, a distribution deal, or any other type of marketing deal. That is what a manager is for. They will not get you played on radio, either. This is what a radio promoter is for. A well-connected publicist, however, may be able to hook you up with all of the abovementioned things, but it is not in her job description.
2. You Are in the Driver’s Seat – Remember artist - you are the buyer here and you are shopping for PR. You are in the driver's seat. It's your money and your music that keep publicists in business. And hiring one is like hiring another guitar player for your band. Choose one that you like who fits your vision and your goals. All too many times I've heard that a publicist was hired in spite of the artist's personal opinions. You should like your publicist, and she should be the right one for you.
3. With Publicity, You Pay for Effort - Never for Results - I have had disgruntled artists call me and say, "I hired a publicist and I only got six articles. That cost me $1,000 per article!" Okay. This is not how you quantify a PR campaign. How you quantify a PR campaign is by how many albums were sent out, what the responses were, and even if they were inconclusive or negative, it's how much effort the publicist made on your behalf. Of course, you should get some and many results. Getting nothing is totally unacceptable. But you never know where your publicist's efforts will show up months, and sometimes years, after your campaign is complete.
4. A PR Campaign Needs to be Planned Well in Advance - For long-lead press (that means magazines with national distribution like Spin, Rolling Stone and Paste), the editors put their publications to bed three full months before they hit the newsstands. So if your CD is coming out in October, you must have it pressed with full artwork and ready with materials to mail in July. Of course not all PR campaigns focus on national press (more on that later), but no publicist will take you on with zero lead time so you definitely need to prepare lead time in every case.
Good Publicity Campaign Lead Times: National Campaign: 3-4 months before the release Tour Press Campaign: 4-6 weeks before the show Local Campaign: 4-6 weeks before placement Online Campaign: 2-3 weeks before placement
5. The Four Components of a Press Kit – A good press kit consists of four parts: the bio; the photo; the articles, quotes, and CD reviews; and the CD.
The Bio - Create a one-page bio that is succinct and interesting to read. I strongly advise hiring a bio writer (if you can afford one, this should cost between $200 - $400). If you are not ready to pony up the cash, enlist an outside source to help you out. I find people who are great story tellers make great bio writers.
The Photo - It can seem cheesy to arrange a photo shoot, but if you take this part seriously you will deeply benefit. Create a photo that is clear, light, and attention grabbing. Showing movement is a plus (sitting on a couch or up against a brick wall is not interesting). If you have a friend who knows how to use PhotoShop, enroll him to help you do some funky & fun editing.
The Articles, Quotes & CD Reviews - Getting that first article written about you can feel daunting. Two great places to start are your local hometown papers (barring you don't live in NYC or Los Angeles), and any music website that you like.
The CD - The CD artwork, like the press kit, must be well thought out. Do not bother sending out advance burns of your CD unless the writer requests them. Full artwork is always preferred. Put your phone number and contact info in the CD so if it gets separated from the press kit, the writer knows how to contact you.
6. Publicity is a Marathon, Not a Sprint - PR is very different in nature from a radio campaign that has a specific ad date and a chart that you are paying to get placed on. Sadly for me, there is no Top 30 publicity chart. With the sheer number of albums coming out into the marketplace, it could take months longer than your publicity campaign runs to see results.
7. Online Publicity is Not as Important as Offline Publicity - I always say that today's newspaper is tomorrow's recycling, so don't discount online publicity so quickly. For one, it's up and around for months and sometimes for years. The new research and statistics prove that people are reading newspapers less and less with every passing day. People are getting their news from the Internet, so Internet placements are absolutely a wonderful bonus.
8. Publicity Does Not Sell Records - If you are hiring a publicist to see a spike in your CD sales, I have news for you. There is absolutely no correlation between getting great PR and selling records. If that were true, I'd be a lot richer. PR is designed to raise awareness of you in the press, to help build a story, and also build up critical acclaim. And of course, a great article can lead to sales and being on NPR could really help you see a spike in sales. But overall, if selling albums is your goal, PR is not the thing you will need to reach it.
9. All Publicity is Good Publicity - I know we have all heard this, but it’s a great thing to really understand. If your goal in PR is simply to get your name out there (and this should be a goal), the truth is the average person remembers very little of what they read. Only a tiny percentage gets retained, so if you really think that readers are going to remember a tepid or a mediocre review of your CD, the answer my dear friend is they won't. And never ever take your own PR seriously. As my favorite artist Andy Warhol once said, “Don’t read your press, weigh it.”