You’ve been writing songs and dreaming of “hitting it big.” Do you need a publicist yet? What is a publicist, exactly? What does their job entail?
To answer these questions, we went straight to the source.
Kirt Webster of Webster & Associates represents some of the greatest artists of our time, from Dolly Parton, Kenny Rogers and Charlie Daniels to Kid Rock, Meat Loaf and Hank Williams Jr. His company also represents several well-famed actors and a handful of blazing hot newcomers like Midnight Red.
Craig Campbell of Campbell Entertainment Group has represented such greats as Martina McBride, Gretchen Wilson, 38 Special, and Randy Owen during his 30+ years in the business. Campbell’s company also represents relatively new artists like North 40, Chelsea Bain, Angie Johnson and Phoenix Drive and also represents Tin Pan South, Nashville’s annual songwriters festival.
What are some of the greatest challenges for a publicist?
“Challenges are quantitative based on what each artist’s expectations become,” comments Webster. “Some artists want national television, while others want more magazine covers… The biggest challenge is having the artist and their management team understand the reality of where the artist is in their respective career. Knowing and understanding that will not only help create more of a long-term artist/publicist relationship but also will create the ‘fire’ for the publicist to deliver what the artist is wanting to achieve.”
Campbell agrees. “Sometimes the biggest challenge is sorting through requests. An artist at any level is getting pulled by everyone – management, promotion, marketing, booking, and you can’t forget family – so you have to prioritize what time you get for your piece of the pie. If an artist gives their publicist an hour a week for tour press phoners, the publicist wants to pack in as many as they can while still giving the media outlets quality interviews. And further, try and give priority to major markets, covers of entertainment sections, front page mentions, etc.”
What are the key things a publicist does for an artist?
“As a publicist, you need to learn and know all the different aspects of the business. Because we are the liaison between the label departments – marketing, A&R, promotion, creative – booking agents, managers, stylists, promoters, venues and more,” relates Campbell.
“Everything we do as a publicist is in an effort to put the artist in the absolute best light possible. I’ve had to give my shirt to an artist because the one he had on didn’t look good on camera. I’ve had artists spit their gum in my hand because they were about to do an interview. Artists need to know you have their back in every situation.”
“Define the artist’s brand first,” says Webster. “What do they want to accomplish in their career overall besides having a hit record? Once you define the brand, the publicist will pitch television, print publications, and top online outlets. In addition to pitching, the publicist becomes a buffer between the media and the artist to sort out what requests are ‘real’ and which ones are ‘fluff.’”
When should an artist look for a publicist? Is it necessary they be signed to a record label?
“Remember, ‘Out of sight, out of mind!’” Webster comments. “Artists come to Nashville and spend lots of money to make a record, but then have very little to promote it. So was the plan to sell it out of the trunk? Or was the plan to try and get recognized to potentially get a record deal?”
Webster’s humorous remarks are quite true, however. Very few beginning artists consider the value of having professional publicity weigh in on such vital aspects of their careers.
“Artists need a publicist sooner than later – sometimes not to play the role of a publicist but to help steer the artist in the right direction…help them find a lawyer, producer, booking agent, or a way to pitch to a label. More and more as radio airplay gets tougher to attain, media exposure becomes more and more important.”
Campbell adds, “An artist can really use a publicist when they’re on tour, when they have a new single going to radio or when they have new product coming out. It’s even more important for an artist who is not signed to a label. Indie artists are putting out great music, and they need a publicist to help them get it out there.”
What is the difference in representing a “legendary artist” over an artist who hasn’t quite reached that status?
“The majority of my client roster are artists that have been in the business for 20+ years and have had hit records in the ‘70s, ‘80s, and ‘90s. Although the majority of media may want to talk to today’s hit makers, they still love talking to the ones that paved the way for the new crop of entertainers. Legends have stories that everyone wants to hear,” states Webster.
What is the greatest challenge if the artist isn’t a “star” yet?
“It’s about expectations,” states Campbell matter-of-factly. “TV shows especially look at numbers – #1 single, #1 album, something exploding on YouTube. If they book an act to take up three minutes of airtime, they want to make sure people aren’t going to change the channel,” explains Campbell.
“It’s the same thing with coverage in a magazine or newspaper. The bigger names get more ink… New artists are used to doing one thing – driving to a gig, playing and driving to the next gig. When you jump into the star-making world, you add radio interviews that start at 6:00am, day-long photo or video shoots, …endless media interviews, maybe media training, fixing a vocal on a song, attending some event, a local TV appearance, etc. And then you go on stage at 7:00pm to play for 20 minutes opening for the act people actually paid money to see,” Campbell describes.
“You can explain what’s involved to a new artist, and they always say, ‘I’m in!’ but they don’t really understand until they’re in the middle of it.”
Webster concurs and adds, “Again, artists need to understand realistic expectations. So many artists come to Nashville with high hopes and spend a lot of money without getting any results. Sometimes those results are just not in the cards for that artist, as there are absolutely no guarantees in this business. But some people come to Nashville thinking money can buy their way into a hit record, and this is just not the case. The ‘stars must align’ for an artist to hit on all cylinders. So for me the biggest challenge is explaining and having the artist understand the process that it takes to have success. It is not overnight…”
And what is the most common complaint heard by a publicist?
Campbell laughs: “How come so-and-so is on ______________ and I’m not?” (You can fill in the blank with any TV show, tour, magazine feature, etc!)