When it comes to deciding what artists to work with on a PR campaign, there are a lot of factors that go into a publicist’s decision—contrary to popular belief a reputable PR agency will not just take the money of anyone who offers it to us and then blast out a press release and call it a day. True PR takes a lot of very purposeful, diligent work in building our relationships with press, strategizing the best methods and angles for each and every client’s needs and story, and creating a narrative that will entice and capture an audience of press, their readers, the band’s fans, and eventually, labels, festival promoters, and venue owners.
What we’re doing as publicists is creating a narrative that gets the band into the eyes and ears of new fans and industry, while giving them the opportunity to reconnect with existing fans through features like interviews, guest blogs, and reviews. Each feature is carefully curated and chosen, and our reputation is dependent on representing quality bands that not only sound great, but have a compelling story to tell, and who are a pleasure to work with. For all these reasons and more, a reputable publicist will always be pretty selective about who they work with.
So, if you’re looking to hire a publicist for your next release, and want to make sure you’re as prepared as possible, here are five things you can expect your publicist will be assessing you on, beyond the music.
I can tell almost right away if a band is going to be a fit for us or not based off their attitude in the initial interactions. A strong PR-client relationship will be one where the two work together in harmony to go after the same goals, and where the artist knows that the publicist is there to help them, not do the work for them.
Here are two common attitude roadblocks I’ve run into over the years:
#1 “We’re paying you, so you have to do what we say”
This is not only not true, but with this attitude, no one will want to work with you. Just because you’re paying someone does not mean you own them or even that you are their boss. This should be a collaboration where the artist and publicist feel free to exchange ideas freely, and yes, the artist should always be able to voice ideas and concerns. However, if you hired a publicist, you should probably trust they know how to do their job. You wouldn’t go in for surgery and then tell the surgeon how to better take out your appendix, but for some reason in the music industry everyone thinks they’re an expert in everything. They aren’t.
#2: “Why should we hire you over company X?”
This one gets under my skin and I usually answer it with “if I have to convince you, then you shouldn’t.”
It’s not that bands shouldn’t ask questions, they should. Questions like “where do you see us getting placements” and “what have been some of your previous success stories” are great, but asking someone to convince their worth to you—it’s not great, and most publicists will view that as a client who is going to be impossible to please, because they’re starting out the relationship on the defense. Not a great start.
Your willingness to work
Sometimes bands come through willing and eager to be a part of the process. They’ll ask me what they can do to help make the campaign as successful as possible, and then they’ll actually do it. To me, those are dream clients. Clients that know they’re a (very important) piece of the puzzle and that their actions impact our campaign results, and are willing to do their part to make the campaign successful—that’s a dream, and campaigns like that are always the most successful.
On the other hand, if you’re an artist that expects to just pay your publicist and disappear, that’s going to be a problem. Publicists can only do so much if an artist is refusing to be available or take the advice of the publicist. We want to work with artists who also want to with us. It’s a team effort.
Your social media
A lot of emerging bands are really bad at social media. They just are. So this isn’t a deal breaker all on its own. However, if you come to a publicist for a campaign and they tell you honestly that your social media needs some work and then outline how fixing it up can help the campaign and you don’t do it—you’ll only have yourself to blame when you don’t get the results you want.
Try to take the time to get your social media in great shape now, because no matter what it is you’re doing—hiring a publicist, booking shows, trying to find new fans—your social media needs to be functioning as a community and a place where fans actually want to go. This is going to be important in absolutely every area of your career so don’t ignore this one.
Where you’re at in your career
Not every publicist will be a fit for every band. Some publicists only work with bands at certain levels of their career, which means if you’re approaching a firm that typically works with bands 5+ years into their careers who have already toured nationally a few times and are close to signing with a major indie label, and you’re in the first year of playing out and building your social media following still, it might not be a fit. That’s not a bad thing—it just means you might have to go with a different firm, who is more suited to handle your needs at this point in your career.
Throughout your career, you’ll want to be mindful of pairing with team members and finding collaborations and opportunities that reflect where you are in your particular lifestage. Finding the right PR team is just another example of that.
One of the first questions I ask a band who is interested in hiring us is where they’d like to get placements. Oftentimes I get the really lofty answers like “Pitchfork” and that’s a great long term goal, but if you’re a brand new band and I explain that Pitchfork isn’t in the cards right now and you insist it is, that’s probably my first hint that we’re not a fit. (This also comes back to being willing to actually trust the people you hire to help you)
Finding the right publicist is all about finding someone whose dreams and visions align with yours, and who you feel will have your best interest at heart and be able to guide you through the process. It’s as much about finding someone you’re excited to work with for several months as it is trusting the person you hire to do their job and not feeling like you need to micromanage them. But that being said, don’t hire someone because you think they’ll do whatever you say and “yes” you to death. You want someone who is going to be honest and help you build your career—not someone to stroke your ego while you stay in the same spot for the next 5 years.
Angela Mastrogiacomo is the founder and CEO of Muddy Paw PR. She loves baked goods, a good book, and hanging with her dog Sawyer.