Building the Team: The Role of a Publicist

As your career develops, you will find that you need professional support to help you grow. One type of support you may need is around your media visibility and public image, which is where publicists come in. Publicists can play a key role in your career development by leveraging their network of media connections to help you get press coverage for your album release, tour plan, new video, or other projects. Some publicists will also help you develop your public image, build your social media, and can be a key part of a developing musician’s team. 

You need to know the exact role of a publicist in order to build your team wisely. In this article, we’ll dig into what publicists can do for you, and how you can choose the right publicist for your needs.

What does a publicist do?

A publicist manages their clients' public relations (PR) efforts. They act as a media liaison, often as a social media strategist, and a music world expert whose primary role is to foster your working relationship with the media and shape your public image.

Generally, a publicist is hired to execute a PR campaign that will last several months leading up to and following the release of a new project. During this campaign, they’ll share your story with their media contacts, in order to secure coverage of the release, and to build buzz that ideally reaches other media outlets as well as socials, to help you reach new fans. A PR campaign will aim for various outlets for earned media coverage (“earned media” is coverage in media outlets that is pitched for, rather than “paid media,” e.g. sponsored content and advertising), and can include 

  • Creating press packages (often called “EPKs” or “electronic press kits”) which contain an artist bio, promotional photos, release artwork, access to hear or view the upcoming release, and past media coverage links
  • Leveraging their media relationships to notify relevant outlets and writers of your upcoming project
  • Pitching stories about your upcoming project to relevant outlets
  • Scheduling press interviews (news outlets, blogs, podcasts, etc.)
  • Scheduling & managing publicity photo and video shoots
  • Building and helping execute a social media campaign supporting the project

A good publicist will stay up-to-date on industry trends, and will use those to tell your story effectively, curating their approach to each of their media contacts.

When do you need a publicist?

The most important thing to remember is  that hiring a publicist does not mean guaranteed exposure. Publicists can only help develop a media strategy, and guarantee their effort in carrying out their end of the plan. Or, as the Mora May Music PR Agency puts it, “Your job is to provide as good a product as possible. A music PR agent’s job is to talk about it.”

So, before looking into a publicist to hire, consider:

  • Have you built an audience? Some established following is crucial, whether it comes in the form of a bubbling social media presence, growing attendance at live shows, Spotify monthly listeners, or any other metric indicating you have some fans. Legitimate media outlets won’t cover someone without at least some following, and any publicist who reaches out to you telling you otherwise is not being honest.
  • Is your current work polished and engaging? This doesn’t mean your music has to be produced, mixed, and mastered at a professional studio level yet. But, in order for publicists to do their jobs correctly, the music must be compelling in some way,  in order to have a chance at  to gaining traction
  • Do you have the budget? PR campaigns, and therefore publicists, aren’t designed to directly generate revenue, especially not in the short term. Instead, a PR campaign must be part of a larger effort that includes a release strategy with DSPs (and physical retail if relevant), a robust social media plan, supporting assets such as teaser clips and long-form videos, and public appearances (usually touring).

What questions should you ask when adding a publicist to your team?

Once you’ve decided that you need a publicist, contact a few who have a track record of success in your genre and give them a brief overview of your music, your fanbase, and your plans. When you meet with potential publicists, you want the answers to these questions:

  • Does this agency fit your goals? Think about your intended audience, and if the publicist has a track record of reaching this audience. 
  • How have they performed for other artists? Look up the agency and their clients. How are those clients performing commercially? What kind of media coverage have they gotten? This won’t indicate what you can expect from them, necessarily, but it will indicate the kind of success they’ve achieved in the past.
  • What do other artists say about them? Don’t hesitate to contact past clients and ask how their experience was. You can ask the publicist or agency for contacts of past clients, but it’s a good idea to reach out directly as well, as they’re likely to send you to clients they know will give a positive report. Try to reach multiple clients, as one person’s experience may not represent the publicist’s capability.

Remember, “You should like your publicist, and they should like you,” as Ariel Hyatt says in her book, The Cyber PR Ultimate Guide to Music Publicity. “[It’s] like picking a member of your band. You have to choose someone you like, who is in alignment with your vision, your short term, and longterm goals.”

Publicists can do a lot, but they can’t do everything

For a publicist to do their job well, you must have a plan in mind - a compelling story, a new release, and a supportive surrounding campaign. Ultimately, a publicist can play a key role in your career development, but PR can only go so far. Choose wisely, as a good publicist can do a lot to build your career, but they will only succeed as part of a larger team and a broader plan.

As always, don’t forget to cover all your bases for long-term revenue by ensuring your songs, once released, are registered to collect royalties. If you have questions about music publishing, royalty collection, or Songtrust, reach out to us for help

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