The Art of PR: Part 1 1

Welcome to my new column!

With the re-launch of Canada Arts Connect Magazine, we’ve tweaked our columns slightly. From mine, now titled Life/Style, you can expect stories focusing on both the after-hours aspects of being an artist–what fashion trends are in, for example–to practical career advice that deals with the more “fluffy” side of the artist lifestyle: building your brand, interview and working wardrobes, etc.

This week’s entry will focus on public relations in the art industry and tips specifically for artists on managing their public relations. While my column will not normally take a Q&A-type format, our interviewee, Rebecca Webster of Webster Media Consulting, answered my questions so well I’ve decided to keep the interview mostly as is, slight editing aside.

What types of services does a publicist provide?

A publicist consults on a project and looks at your timeline, your needs, your expectations or desired results and puts together an achievable plan in relation to those factors. Duties can include writing a press release, working with you to gather the required tools (photos, videos, b-roll footage, background information on you or the project and more), brainstorming the best timeline possible that will get you the best results possible, supporting a client by setting up a press conference or announcement event, consulting on social media outreach and engineering introductions to other people who may be able to help in the success of the project.

A publicist may also be hired to consult on and manage a crisis situation with the perception of a product/artist/band/festival. Media training is another basic service some agencies or independent publicists provide.

What are the advantages of hiring a publicist? Are there any disadvantages?

One of the distinct advantages of hiring a publicist is that they are professionals and their entire focus of their job is the media. If you’re a musician, you are an expert on music and may not know as much about the media as a publicist would. So while you may have heard from certain media people who have expressed an interest in your music (or product/festival) a publicist will be aware of a larger picture of opportunities.

Publicists are connected in a variety of ways and it’s not only their media list, but their relationships that can help develop a career or an event or product.  Also, they will have knowledge about strategy that you might not know about–when to approach media and what stories the media are interested in.

How much does it generally cost?

Cost really depends on what you are looking for. This involves what territories (locations, countries, etc.), how many months you are looking at, what is involved (are you setting up an event? Is your artist in town and touring?) and are there other factors (special social media campaigns to integrate or an artist that is hard to work with?). The person you want to hire is the one who writes you a proposal that is specific for your thing–there is no one-size-fits-all solution to publicity.

What should one look for in a good publicist?

I think the two most important questions a publicist should be asking a potential client is “what are your needs?” and “what are you hoping to achieve?” Beyond that, the best publicists are strategic, have an adept knowledge of the market and the media/journalists who are currently in positions of authority whether it be on TV, in radio, online or otherwise. Your publicist should make you feel like they care. And if you’re working in an artistic medium, this is paramount. In other words, if they don’t like the music, don’t hire them. And don’t be sad if you’re turned down because the publicist is honest in saying you should look elsewhere because your music isn’t their style. They are doing you a favour, you want someone who really cares about you. It’s a personal relationship and the only way it will work is if you trust each other.

What does a publicist look for in an artist they’re representing? Does a publicist make any suggestions regarding an artists ‘image’?

I’ll start with Part A and I’ll answer from my perspective. At Webster Media Consulting we’re looking for “good music.” And that means music we are inspired by, music we believe in, music that is exceptional, music that we want to talk about and endorse. We also look for artists whose careers we can make a difference in. So for instance, if there was an artist who no one had heard of that had a debut recording that caught the attention of a music critic in high regard, we would tell that story to other critics because we know the people who would be interested in that story.

For Part B, a publicist would only make suggestions on the approach to media–perhaps working with management or directly with you in terms of what video might appeal to music bloggers or create a first impression that would ignite discussion in the music community. If the artist is looking for direction on image, that is usually the domain of a manager. That being said, the best publicists have an opinion, so you can usually count on them to tell you things that are relevant to your image. For instance, the other day I suggested to a piano player that perhaps we might not wear a strapless dress for filmed TV appearances as the camera operators sometimes chose shots that could look like the artist was naked while playing. The above is what I’d call an unfortunate situation but the good news is that we can help by providing honest feedback to the client. As publicists, we are concerned with the perception of the artist and managing it or delivering it to media in the best possible way according to the goals we put out at the beginning of the campaign.

If an artist decides to “go it alone” and handle their own publicity, do you have suggestions?

I wouldn’t really suggest this route, because of the following thoughts. But I do think you should always make sure that you have a full vision of your need for a publicist, ensuring you have enough money to see your project to fruition. First of all, it’s hard to talk about yourself, no matter how awesome you are. Second of all, if you’re going to do it, you have to be prepared for people not to reply, or say negative things about you or your work. We often don’t get timely replies on pitches we put forward but the key ingredient is to remember that the media is busy and not always available AND they are inundated with pitches from publicists like you! Finally, you must remember that often when you’re being turned down that it’s not personal. Those are rules to live by in this world of publicity!

For more information on Rebecca Webster’s PR services, please visit Webster Media

Check back next week for Part 2, which will focus on starting a career in the PR industry.

Corrie Peters is based out of Vancouver, BC. You can check out her blog at

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