A music publicist is the link between artists and media. While cold emailing a local blog works if you’re polite and have a good story, PR (Public Relations) agencies are the ones with the serious connections to bigger media outlets.
Sadly, there are also a couple of sharks in these waters. Ones that approach you from videos they find on YouTube, showering you with flattery and promises of fame. I receive emails from these kind of publicists occasionally – sometimes they want me as a client for my music, and other times they come to my blog representing artists, and greet me with “Hello [INSERT FIRST NAME HERE].”
From my own experience, talks with real publicists & blogs, and some research, here are five red flags to watch out for when vetting PR agencies.
EXTREME EXAMPLE: “Yeah, we can totally get you on the cover of Rolling Stone next month.”
REAL-LIFE EXAMPLE: “For this amount of money, you’ll be prominently featured on at least ten music blogs by the end of the campaign.”
No matter how well connected they are, no music publicist can guarantee you placements. The closest they can do is show you their track record of similar-sounding clients they have worked with that landed features thanks to them. Music journalists, critics and bloggers all have their own schedules and artists they want to feature. Most don’t sit around waiting for publicists, and then cover every band they get an email from. Chances are that the ones these sketchy publicists land you are smaller blogs that they mass email, not even reading their work first. You could seriously do better by yourself.
No Online Presence
EXTREME EXAMPLE: Uses business name on personal Facebook, has three Twitter followers.
REAL-LIFE EXAMPLE: Has thousands of Twitter followers, but doesn’t interact with them, since they’re inactive and/or don’t speak English.
If you get approached by a publicist, one of the first things you need to do is check them out online. While not self-hosting their website is its own big red flag (that is, having something that looks like “my super dope music promo dot wordpress dot com”), don’t be fooled by a super glossy website either. Check the contact page and see if they leave a phone number or professional-looking email.
After that, go on all the social media accounts they link to. What is their everyday content like? Are they sharing relevant music business articles, proudly retweeting their clients’ placements, or simply blasting links to their services?
EXTREME EXAMPLE: Point-blank refuses to compromise his clients’ “confidentiality.”
REAL-LIFE EXAMPLE: Has only worked with artists you’ve never heard of, in genres very different from yours.
Job interviews ask for references. Seeing as you’re going to be paying this agency, you should be interviewing them, so by all means ask for a couple of references! What have they done for same-size artists in your sub-genre? Then, reach out to those artists privately and ask them what they thought of the service. If these bands were disappointed, or worse, have never heard of this agency, don’t sign.
EXTREME EXAMPLE: “Trust us, we’ll do our thing and you’ll see results.”
REAL-LIFE EXAMPLE: “Here are the services we provide. Pick any three and write them in the comments below with your credit card number.”
No matter the size of a good PR company, if they want your hard-earned cash, they will have multiple conversations with you. You will get the chance to talk about what goals you hope to achieve, and what can be accomplished with your budget.
A publicist is team member, a partner. You both need to be on the same page.
No Samples Reporting
EXTREME EXAMPLE: “We need more money. The campaign is only half over, and don’t you want results?”
REAL-LIFE EXAMPLE: “Trust us, the money was spent well. Look at everything we’ve accomplished!”
Let’s say you signed on with a PR agency. While publicists need to pay the bills too, they should be providing you inside reporting on what they’re doing. Are they taking prominent bloggers out to lunch? Sitting down with you hourly to create a media-ready story? Using the money to buy you fake followers? You kind of have the right to know.
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All in all, don’t let this article deter you from finding the right publicist. There are many really great agencies out there, once you have the buzz that requires larger press. If you’re not quite there yet, don’t let flattery get you in trouble – reach out to media yourself.