Manage for Success: Publicity, (Newsletter #18, October 2002)

As a departure from the norm, this month's newsletter has been written by a guest -- Ken Droz of Mack Avenue Records. Although it doesn't deal with operational or managements challenges as such, Publicity is a vital function of any successful marketing campaign, and is thus extremely important in managing a label for success.

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Publicity is often referred to as "free promotion," but of course nothing is free. Effective publicity efforts always demands some kind of transaction. Unlike other marketing opportunities, these opportunities come at minimal monetary cost, rendering them an essential tool for independent labels, but a label needs to bring something significant to the table to rise above the blizzard of press releases crossing the desks of media gatekeepers.

Getting publicity is an art of mutual gain. To offer substantial news pieces and grab the attention of media gatekeepers, it is important to understand what makes something newsworthy. Gatekeepers may include editors, producers, and contributing writers. Six primary news components by which news is often considered are: timeliness, importance, proximity, prominence, oddity, and human interest. For a piece to be worthy of mention, many gatekeepers look for it to meet at least two of the above criteria.

A little creativity goes a long way, so in the context of the above conditions, here are some ideas to help get your artist in the news: Album releases, upcoming performances or festivals, and tie-ins to current events, will all help establish timeliness. The recent death of a significant influence on an artist, and responses to published articles or opinions from sources whose attention you are vying for, may warrant timely new pieces. Also consider pieces relevant to upcoming holidays, seasons, anniversaries, or events.

Importance deals with the significance of the subject matter which you want covered. This could be relevant to another matter grabbing a lot of news attention. For example, a story or interview about what an artist was doing when they heard about the events of September 11th would qualify the piece as newsworthy under this category (and could also be a timely piece, depending on current events). Another possibility would be how your artist is affected by current events, court rulings or pending legislative bills. That your artist is doing a benefit concert, or is involved with an organization that is doing something significant, can also be used to get your story covered.

To establish proximity, news pieces need to be tailored to either the geographic significance of the piece, or the sentiment of a given audience. Appearances and performances are obvious qualifiers for this angle, but anything narrowly tailored to the interest of people in a given region will do. A story on their choice of instruments, hobbies, family, or even a favorite recipe all fall within proximity of some media audience, and help establish a common bond between that audience and your artist.

If your artist already has prominence you're halfway there. For newer artists, establishing prominence requires a lot more work. Discussing your artist's relationship with a more established figure, a tribute to someone or something more prominent, or participation in a prominent event, such as the Grammys or a major festival, are other ways to open this door.

Oddity is a category for those strange stories that just leave your head spinning. A very strange interaction, extraordinary coincidence, bizarre antics, or unusual twist will help get your story covered.

Such a story may come in the form of an odd ritual, superstition, or circumstance relating to your artist. It may be a unique performance, like a metal band performing for a kindergarten class, a recording session in a stairwell or restroom with desired acoustics, or an audience member who covers for an absent musician. It could be an ordinary instrument played in an unusual way, or a strange object that sounds like an ordinary instrument. It is likely that your artist has an anecdote from a show or tour they'd like to share, and including it may make your release more appealing.

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As a management consultant Solutions Unlimited doesn't generally deal with Publicity, but we've had many decades of experience planning, budgeting, and fixing record industry management problems. Don't hesitate to call us to discuss your particular situation to see how we might come up with a unique solution for your label.

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Human interest is a more personal piece or element. This might talk about emotions, a glimpse behind-the-scenes, or any window into the life of your artist.

If you are doing your own press releases, be sure you are familiar with and have a copy of The Associated Press Stylebook (or The New York Times Manual of Style and Usage -- KH). It outlines the style used by nearly every publication. Your writing should be consistent with it in order to allow smooth transition from your release to publication.

The Stylebook has very rigid rules, which when not followed may keep your submission from being printed. Among these rules are appropriate abbreviations for states, when to spell numbers, and the difference between words like titled and entitled. While they seem minor, your release is far more likely to run exactly as submitted and will invite less editing if an editor can see that these common discrepancies have already been accounted for. Diane Hacker's "A Writer's Reference" is another important book you might want to use.

Understand that space may not permit your entire release to run. The most pertinent information should be included as early as possible, and information that can be spared should go toward the end. Some editor may simply truncate your release by chopping off the last few sentences or paragraphs to get it to fit, so plan accordingly.

If you have photographs, be sure to submit them as well, since they can be newsworthy on their own. Consider making photography a mandatory part of the recording process so you can submit photos when shopping your story.

Get familiar with a publication's editorial deadlines. For many magazines, three months is a good rule of thumb. For newspapers, this will be considerably shorter. Don't wait until your album or artist is newsworthy to approach media for a story. Waiting to pitch your story when it becomes newsworthy will likely result in missing your window of opportunity.

News can happen, or it can be created. A CD release event, for example, is manufactured news, and can be more difficult to sell. Regardless of origin, however, news must be pitched, and even a great story will not be discovered unless properly submitted to news media. If you are doing the servicing yourself, be sure to follow up to see the appropriate people received your release, and offer to clarify any information.

Unfortunately, news doesn't "happen" the way events do, it must be selected. Understanding the criteria by which this is determined should help get your foot in the door, and set you apart from the pile of papers burying a gatekeeper's desk.

Ken Droz

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Ken has written an excellent piece, but I'd like to add my nickel's worth.

It's extremely important that you carefully select the most appropriate publication for any particular story you're trying to place. Can the publication actually be of benefit to the artist and the label in terms of local, regional, or national coverage? If not, you're wasting your effort. And be sure to target the right publication for the genre of artist and her music. For example, you're not likely to try to get print in a jazz publication for a metal rock artist.

Although getting print coverage is in itself free, there's an expense involved on the part of your publicist -- whether on staff or freelance -- due to the amount of time involved. And for each press kit you send out there's the cost of CDs, photos, reprints and postage to be considered. So use your resources to achieve the maximum result in the most cost-effective way.

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Copyright 2002 by Keith Holzman, Solutions Unlimited. All rights reserved.