People working in live music publicity know that the difference between success and failure depends on how effectively they market their shows. Social media marketing is crucial, as is maintaining your website and keeping all your listings up to date. Email marketing—cultivating lists of fans who regularly attend shows at your venue—has also become common in the past decade. But even with today’s many options for digital marketing, it’s important for venues not to underestimate the value of music publicity. Because earning coverage in respected news outlets doesn’t just publicize the show, it establishes the show—and the venue—as being an important, happening place to be.
Getting great coverage requires understanding the relationship between the venue, the hired PR firm, the touring act and the regional press. I spoke with veteran music publicist Leslie Hermelin to help explain how it all works.
Our Live Music PR guru
She’s also been an in-house publicist for record labels, serving as Director of Media Relations for EMI/Mute Records and Senior Director of Publicity for Astalwerks/Capitol Records. As a for-hire publicist, Leslie has worked at some of the most respected music Public Relations (PR) firms including Girlie Action, Big Hassle and Susan Blond, Inc. She currently works as an independent publicist and consultant based out of New York City.
Why Artists Hire PR Agencies
When a band goes out on tour, it often coincides with the release of new music. In most of these cases, they’ll have a publicist working to promote both the record and the tour. Sometimes, the publicist will be a staffer from the PR department at the record label. Some acts will even do their own touring publicity. In most cases, however, national touring acts will work with an independent publicity firm.
The first advantage for a band to work with a hired publicist is that they’re contracted to deliver a specific level of commitment to promote the record and tour. They often provide reports on who they’ve contacted and the coverage they’ve secured. When working with an internal PR department at a record label, that’s almost never the case. PR teams at labels have salaried jobs and are responsible for all of the acts on the label. This means that if you’re a new act, you’re likely competing for resources with more established acts on your label.
“Always have realistic expectations. You want to find a publicist who’s going to tell you the truth and not blow a bunch of smoke.”
The second reason is that PR firms have their own reputation as tastemakers. The most prestigious companies often decline to work with bands that they don’t personally believe in. Because of this, the most effective PR firms are well known to national and regional press as being a resource for acts that are going to be newsworthy.
For the relationship between the band and the publicist to work, Hermelin explains that artists must, “always have realistic expectations. You want to find a publicist who’s going to tell you the truth and not blow a bunch of smoke.” For bands questioning what kind of press they should be doing, Leslie makes it clear. “When you’re a baby band and you haven’t established yourself with coverage, almost every opportunity to do press is worth your time. Nobody knows your story yet. You need to tell your own story.”
How to Work with Outside Music Publicists
How does the relationship work between a local venue and a publicist hired to promote a tour? Leslie Hermelin says that, “in most cases the initial involvement is limited. It really depends on the venue. Some are more proactive than others when it comes to PR. Hired publicists are most often working an album campaign tied to a tour, so we’ll communicate the big picture messaging and provide tools such as bios, press releases, photos and guest list approvals to the venue’s rep. This helps them do their job effectively.”
Hired publicists will usually take the lead on pitching and coordinating the coverage around the show, but that doesn’t mean there isn’t an opportunity to partner with the publicist. “One key difference”, Leslie says, “is that the venue is working multiple shows in one market, whereas the artist publicist is focused on getting press around one artist in many markets as part of a larger rollout. We’re both on the same team—we want the show to sell out. But we have different roles to play in the process.”
“We’re both on the same team—we want the show to sell out. But we have different roles to play in the process.”
One crucial thing for venues to recognize is that hired publicists are usually trying to secure one of two kinds of live coverage—previews for shows or reviews. Reviews are great for selling records and building a band’s brand—but previews are more helpful for selling tickets in advance. For a venue, building a relationship with the publicist means you can ask them directly to push for previews. While it’s not a guarantee you’ll get that coverage, “working in tandem with an artist’s publicist is the best way to get what you both want, which is a sold out show,” Leslie says. “It’s great when a local venue or promoter reaches out and ask us “hey—how can we partner?” We’re always open to that.”
What Venues Can (And Should) Do To Publicize Shows On Their Own
Leslie stresses that venues and promoters need to cultivate their own media contacts within their market. “They must have relationships with the local press,” she says. “If the local press is on your guest list and they’re coming to your venue regularly, make sure to say hello and get some face time with them. Invite them to your venue just to hang out—when you’re not even necessarily asking for coverage—and get to know them.” This isn’t just done in the interest of making new friends, of course. “Sometime in the future when you have a show that isn’t selling well in advance, it will be ok for you to reach out to those reporters and ask for coverage. They may not agree, but they will at least consider your pitch. You can’t do that if you don’t already have a good rapport established.”
Once you’ve established good relationships with the press, there are a few other things to keep in mind to generate publicity. “It’s smart for venues to keep a DIY ethic and do things like send out a regular monthly update of shows to local press.” Because it’s the reporter’s job to cover the most interesting events, they consider it a favor when they’re alerted to those kinds of shows ahead of the curve, “It’s always best to reach out when you have a show that’s really special,” says Hermelin.
“PR, in general, is all about relationships and knowing your audience.”
Knowing what a reporter likes to cover is also essential. Leslie suggests that you “find out who is writing about what in your local market. Who’s the jazz guy? Make sure you have a separate jazz list for when you have a jazz artist. Who covers hip hop? Make sure you have a list for hip hop acts to pitch to that gal. You’ll be much more successful if you pitch people based on their personal tastes.”
Finally, be aware of their deadlines so that you’re pitching them at the right time. Monthly magazines, radio stations, weekly and daily newspapers all have different lead times. Make sure you know what the lead times for each of these outlets are in your market. That said, Leslie provides a good rule of thumb, “local press usually require at least a 2–6 week lead time for booking coverage. You want to start hitting them up about 6 weeks before the show and keep following up with them.”
Ultimately, for Leslie Hermelin, success starts with one foundational element. “PR, in general, is all about relationships and knowing your audience,” she says. “That’s the number one thing to always remember. It’s all about relationships.”
Thanks to Leslie Hermelin for her participation in this article. For inquiries into working with Leslie, she can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.