Publicity: Lessons From 8 Years In the Marketing Trenches
Publicity is a Boston-based, independent publicity company that
specializes in representing independent artists. A full-service
publicity company founded by Rhonda Kelley, Rainmaker
Publicity works in print, broadcast, and electronic media, developing
publicity campaigns for its artist clients via "previews, reviews,
features, special events, news items, and other strategic campaign
Kelley and Rainmaker publicity is celebrating eight years in business,
having represented over 600 independent artists and record labels.
I interviewed Rhonda recently to tap into her hard-earned expertise
to learn more about the publicity business and the role it should
play in an independent artist's career.
Aspiring Songwriter] Congratulations, Rhonda, on celebrating
eight years in the publicity business! Before we start our discussion,
please take a moment to explain to us the difference between publicity,
promotion, and marketing.
Kelley Thank You! It is quite an accomplishment in this highly
competitive market. I feel very lucky that I am still loving it
as much as I did when I started in 1996. As for the terminology,
it is very simple. Marketing is about sales, retail, product placement
and positioning. Publicity is about press including magazines, newspapers,
webzines and television. The goal is attention, visibility, and
buzz. Promotion is a huge umbrella that can include all of the above,
as well as radio, street teams, mailers, posters, etc.
Aspiring Songwriter]Thanks for the explanations. Rhonda, tell
us about Rainmaker Publicity - describe the clients that you typically
represent, for example.
Kelley There are no typical clients for us. I love many music
genres. When I am looking at a potential client, I am looking for
a CD that I can connect with. But, I am also looking at the press
potential. If the music is too unusual or quirky, then it won't
get picked up by most press outlets and I really can't give them
their money's worth. I also won't take on a client if the CD is
older than a year; I would rather wait for the next project. If
a client has unreasonable expectations and goals (i.e. this campaign
must translate into a record deal), I won't work with them.
Aspiring Songwriter] What aspects of publicity does Rainmaker
Publicity provide for its clients?
The Catholic Girls
Kelley Our goal is to get as much press in as many press outlets
as possible for our clients. Before starting a press campaign, I
hand pick certain editors, reviewers, and freelancers that I know
will appreciate that genre of music and that specific CD. I may
have eight writers at "Billboard" that do reviews for me, but in
my opinion, only three that I would decide to send a CD to for those
reasons. It really is not a numbers game in publicity; it is about
knowing your market and knowing your writers.
Aspiring Songwriter] How did you get started in the publicity
Kelley I literally fell into it. I had taken some time off from
my marketing job in radio and created a television show called EDGETV
(on the ABC Affiliate). It was a monthly special program where I
featured musicians like The Cranberries, Aerosmith, and Harry Connick
Jr, as well as other entertainment pieces. I had to do my own P.R.
because I couldn't afford to hire someone else. Apparently, I did
a GREAT job because soon local bands were calling me asking for
my help, and it just took off from there.
Aspiring Songwriter] What compelled you to form Rainmaker Publicity
and to focus on independent artists and bands?
Kelley When I started Rainmaker in 1996, there were not many
independent public relations firms out there focusing on the unsigned
band. It was a small niche then, but one where I knew I could make
a difference. I made the deliberate decision then to concentrate
on the developing musician, not the established one. I felt [that
independents] needed an advocate more, and they do.
Aspiring Songwriter] Rhonda, I'd like to talk about publicity
from the artist perspective. Artists often struggle with decisions
about whom to hire for their team, when to hire them, and (frequently)
how to pay for them. At what point in an artist's career should
publicity and hiring a publicist become a "must do" rather than
a "would like to do"?
Kelley Anyone who has chosen to work with a publicist from the
first CD will tell you it was the smartest decision they made. You
can spend $30,000 on a CD and it can be the greatest work you've
ever produced but, if no one is taking notice of it, it just sits
there. All indie bands need a publicist today. It is usually the
first hire because until you have press (i.e. validation) and a
press kit, you really can't impress radio music directors, labels
or booking agencies.
Aspiring Songwriter] Once the decision to hire a publicist is
made, what's next? What steps should artist take to "sell" themselves
Kelley No selling needed. It isn't about selling or angles,
it is about the CD, the music. When I fall in love with a CD, I
HAVE to tell the world about it. It's just that simple. I either
get it or I don't.
Aspiring Songwriter] What is a good way for artists to find
publicists who specialize in independent artists, for example?
Kelley You can Google Indie Publicist and you will be
amazed! I also have great referrals, as do other indie publicists.
I can highly recommend HooplaPR (L.A., CA.), MazurePR (NY,NYC) and
Canary Promotions (Philadelphia, PA). The other side of this question
should be answered, as well. What to avoid. In my opinion, those
companies that provide radio, retail, publicity, CD manufacturing,
posters, street teams ... basically the one-stop shopping companies...
in general are not specialists/experts in each field. Best
to go with a radio rep that just does radio well, a publicist that
does press and all things related to press, and so forth.
Aspiring Songwriter] What are the essential criteria that you
look for when sorting through the press kits of all of the artists
who request your publicity services?
Kelley We get over 100 press kits in here monthly. We pick six
to eight on average. It is essential that I am able to connect with
the music and transfer that enthusiasm over to the reviewer. When
you pay a publicist, you are paying them to act as your mouth piece,
your broker. It has to be genuine.
Aspiring Songwriter] What issues are deal breakers?
Kelley Anyone that is a Republican (LOL! Half kidding).
Aspiring Songwriter] To like the artists?
Kelley That is very important. I will drop a band that becomes
abusive in anyway. If a review comes in that is unflattering and
the band goes after the reviewer, for example, that is not a good
sign. My work ethic has never been in question, but if the CD that
we are working is not getting picked up by as many press outlets
as we had hoped for and the band blames the publicist, it is a no
win situation. I also work on payment plans with bands to help ease
the cash flow. If a band is consistently late in payments, they
are dropped. The same goes with bouncing checks. Once is forgiven,
two or three times is not.
Aspiring Songwriter] Does a publicist typically deal only with
the artist, or do you also interact with other team members if the
artist has them (manager, booking agent, etc.)?
Kelley I work with the artists directly 90 percent of the time.
If there is a tour coming up, I need to get info from the booker
in order to be able to advance the show and write up a press release
with pertinent information(venue info, contact info, cover charge
etc.). I then will do the advance press and will report that back
to the band. As for managers, I rarely work with them at this level.
feel strongly that most bands don't need managers when they are
unsigned or on an indie label. They need bookers, possibly better
distribution, and a good publicity team behind them. I think that
bands think that managers will do most of the above for them, but
it rarely works out that way in the end, at least not from my experience
over the past eight years. Having said that, I am working with a
manager now for Emilie Autumn (Chicago based artist) because Emilie
is in Courtney Love's Band, and she has two separate music careers
going now and it is necessary.
Aspiring Songwriter] What are some topics that publicists should
make sure to address when entering into a contract to provide publicity
for an artist?
Kelley What are the objectives/goals for this press campaign?
At the end of the six months, what are you going to get? Or not
get? Is a publicist going to break a band, get a band a record deal?
Probably not. Are you going to get calls from labels and national
bookers after an interview runs in Rockrgrl Magazine, Billboard,
Music Connection Magazine? You bet!! It happens all the time.
Aspiring Songwriter] Rhonda, managing artists' expectations
of what a publicist can and cannot do for their careers must be
one of the more difficult challenges that publicists face. What
are some common misconceptions that artists have about publicity,
and do you have suggestions as to how publicists should address
Kelley Publicists want to get as much press in as many magazines,
newspapers, and webzines as possible for their clients. Musicians
hire us because we have direct access and relationships with hundreds
of reviewers, editors, and freelancers. Our job is to make sure
that the written materials and photos that go into the press kit
are top notch. Our priority is to get the CD in the hands of the
right reviewers for that particular genre of music.
I am lucky in that I have a choice to pick the best of the bunch
and therefore my recommendations to those reviewers, editors, and
freelancers are noticed.
Aspiring Songwriter] Every professional in the music business
faces an "expectation meltdown" from a client somewhere along the
way, and publicists are no exception. This often happens when artists
anticipate that you can do more to promote their careers than what
you can, in fact, do to promote their careers. If a meltdown occurs,
artists often look for someone to blame for their dreams not coming
true, and it can get emotional and difficult. How do you manage
this kind of event with a client?
Kelley When you do a publicity campaign for a CD and you expose
that project to others in the industry, there is the chance that
it will not be liked, appreciated or even reviewed. Again, I want
to succeed, so I pick CDs that I feel are strong and worthy, but
some fall flat or worse: they are criticized unmercifully. It breaks
my heart when that happens to one of my bands. I tend to take it
very hard. But professionally, I can't lash out at the reviewer.
I can't take it personally.
of the 500+ bands I have helped in the past eight years, there are
a small percentage of bands that can't accept that their project
failed, and so they need to blame someone and that is usually me.
Everyone in the service industry, from CDBaby to TAXI, have all
felt the sting that comes from being in this business. It goes with
Aspiring Songwriter] Thanks for tackling that difficult subject,
Rhonda. Is there a professional association for publicists, and
for indie publicists in particular, which can provide career support?
Kelley We all share information all of the time. There is nothing
set up as of today, but I can see in the future organizing a meeting
place to share ideas and warnings about particular bands and labels.
If a band stiffs me out of money, they will probably do the same
thing to another publicist. If a band tries to hire another publicist
while still signed to another, that publicist will call me or I
will call them to let them know. We all have referred bands to each
other from time to time if the genre doesn't fit, but we feel it
is a good project. Because there are so few of us out there, we
all have more than enough work and therefore there is no real competition
Aspiring Songwriter] Do you have a few tips on where and how
aspiring publicists can learn about the business? Any good books,
news lists or periodicals, for example?
Kelley I don't think you can learn to be a good press agent
by reading a book. I think you can learn how to format a press release
and how to set up a database. But, I think you have to actually
do it and in that process you will learn how the system works. You
also need a certain type of personality to achieve results for a
band. That can't be taught. When I am approached by aspiring publicists,
I mentor them on the phone. I walk them thru the process by using
an actual band that they want to work, and give them ideas on how
to create a hit list of reviewers and editors for that particular
genre of music.
Aspiring Songwriter]Rhonda, thanks for speaking with me today
about publicity. Do you have any parting comments?
Kelley To remember that most of us serving the indie community
are not getting rich off of unsigned bands. We keep our rates at
a very reasonable range, from $200.00 - $300.00 per month. The majority
of us are in it for the right reasons and have devoted a substantial
amount of time and years in the endeavor.
Publicity is based in Boston, MA. They employ three part-time
writers, two publicity assistants and one research assisstant. Their
active roster includes:
(The Catholic Girls, SolarCade)
Pete Teo (Malaysia)
Matt Boroff (Austria)
Martin Craig (The U.K.)
The Hoodoo Pappas
by the MusicDish
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