Finding a Publicist for your Project

By: Edna Landau

To ask a question, please write Ask Edna.

Having written an article in Musical America’s 2011 Directory entitled Getting Noticed in the 21st Century, I am often approached by young artists who are contemplating a variety of projects such as recordings or special concerts and who want to know how to get noticed for them. In my early years as an artist manager, it was common for publicists to build the majority of their business around clients who paid a year-round retainer. Times have changed and it would appear that virtually all of today’s most active publicists are open to taking on individual projects. However, they definitely have criteria for determining which to accept. It is my hope that this blog post will help to enlighten artists regarding how to maximize their chances for teaming up with an effective public relations representative and what the financial parameters of such an investment might be.

In speaking with various colleagues of mine in the public relations arena, I was not surprised to hear all of them say that the most important criteria for them in accepting a project are newsworthiness and quality. This would only seem logical, since it is the job of a publicist to attract as much attention as possible to an artist’s activities and in these times, that may be no small feat. There is considerably less coverage of new album releases than there was five to ten years ago and also less airplay. There are fewer arts critics on staff and consequently less performances being reviewed.  A concert performed by a relatively unknown artist which offers an interesting program (unusual repertoire or juxtaposition of repertoire, a newly discovered, original or commissioned work), and which might take place in an unusual venue, stands a greater chance of attracting coverage than one that consists of what would be considered “standard repertoire”, offered for no other reason than to make a debut in a particular city. A concert with a story behind it, such as an artist overcoming a hurdle in their life or returning to their home town to perform with the youth orchestra, is also more likely to attract attention.  A publicist may be far more inclined to take on a record release project if there is some touring around it that offers some of the same repertoire. Visits to individual markets on tour create more of a story and offer a broader context for coverage of the artist and their new release.  The publicists I spoke to also stressed the importance of a personal connection with the artist seeking to engage their services, meaning that they want to sense the artist’s passion for the project and feel that they can feel equally passionate about it. Rebecca Davis told me that her goal is to always work for clients who she hopes she can make people care about.

It would seem that the typical time span for an individual project might be anywhere from four to six months. Most publicists want to have at least two months before the concert or record release to lay the groundwork for coverage and two to three months afterward to follow up and prepare a proper report for the client. The average fee per month seems to range from $1500 to $3000.

If an artist is far enough along in their career to benefit from and be able to afford a publicist’s ongoing services, working together initially on a project might be an excellent way to assess the potential chemistry and effectiveness of such a collaboration. Often an artist will discover that the publicist has valuable advice to offer, ranging from using their social media contacts more effectively to finding the perfect concert attire. Amanda Sweet, President of Bucklesweet Media, told me that when she took on the New West Guitar Group, they had no manager. She gave them advice about how to promote themselves, how to seek a recording partner, and how to reach out to presenters, especially universities. Veteran publicist Jay K. Hoffman told me that he works closely with an artist on strategically enhancing the potential interest in their project. He called it “finding a format to make an event one of a kind”. If an artist approaches him about an all-Bach concert, he might suggest that they present it at 8:00 but follow it up with a short “after concert” of totally different repertoire at 10:30, providing they have the stamina for it!

I asked a number of the people I spoke to whether artists could hope to achieve coverage for their projects on their own, without the assistance of a publicist. Not one of them said no, although they cautioned that it involved a lot of persistence and very hard work. Some were kind enough to give me pointers which I will share very soon in a follow-up column on this subject.

To ask a question, please write Ask Edna.

© Edna Landau 2013

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