BLOOD, SWEAT & FACEBOOK: The Publicist’s Expanding Radio Role

With CD sales continuing to slide, label budgets and staffs shrinking and the bottleneck at radio getting ever tighter, the rules are changing and the roles rearranging for the recording artist’s “team members.” In an increasingly niche-oriented scenario, public relations has begun to loom larger in the overall picture.

Whether its establishing their artist’s “brand,” generating tour press or even helping to squeeze that all-important single onto radio playlists, Nashville’s publicists are doing it all these days.

A story in a recent issue of Advertising Age (cover date 8/23/10) sheds some light on the growing importance of public relations as part of an overall marketing strategy in the age of social

networking.

Mary Hilliard Harrington

“PR, up until now, wasn’t central to a corporation’s overall branding strategy,” John Suhler, co-founder and President of Veronis, Suhler, Stevenson, a firm that publishes annual reports on the state of the PR industry, told Ad Age. “There is now an opportunity for the PR profession and practitioners to use these [digital] tools and make PR a more important part of the communications arsenal.”

“As long as record label budgets continue to tighten, the publicist’s role will continue to increase,” says the Greenroom’s Mary Hilliard Harrington, whose PR clients include Dierks Bentley, Jason Aldean, Lady Antebellum, Jack Ingram and Marty Stuart. “Publicity is a very cost-effective way to help build an artist’s profile and increase their exposure through all forms of media, including radio.”

Craig Campbell

With clients including Gretchen Wilson and Randy Owen, Campbell Entertainment Group’s Craig Campbell also sees the publicist’s job description expanding, but he’s careful not to
cross over into the promoter’s territory. Instead, Campbell keeps abreast of his artist’s progress at radio and tries to reinforce that progress at every step.

“Many promotion people understand that publicists speak with radio regularly about everything except trying to get an add or a spin, and those relationships can help with a new artist,” Campbell says. “We spend a lot of time with radio people lining up interviews, working out details for shows or fulfilling promotions, and we develop great relationships with these folks.”

Martha Moore

Veteran independent publicist Martha Moore of So Much Moore Publicity (Mark Wayne Glasmire, The Grascals, Guy Penrod, The Roys) takes a similar tack when approaching radio about her artists. “Over the past two years, setting up radio interviews has become a more vital part of our overall PR campaign,” she says. “If there is a video for the current single, I make sure that radio knows about it and offer them a direct link for posting on their station website.”

For Essential Broadcast Media’s Ebie McFarland (Darius Rucker, Heidi Newfield, Little Big Town, Randy Houser), interfacing with country radio is nothing new, but in an increasingly competitive market, reaching out to radio has become essential.

Ebie McFarland

“The role of a publicist in our format has always encompassed a variety of facets not traditionally classified as public relations in the broad sense,” McFarland says. “I believe it is the publicists’ job to help radio teams develop and continue the artists’ story at radio.
I would say it has definitely become a significant factor in a publicist’s campaign.”

Another increasingly important development in the PR universe is the overnight rise of social networking as an artist development tool. While younger tech-savvy artists like Taylor Swift have made utilizing these digital tools part of their story, social media has quickly become ubiquitous across the industry, especially in PR. Industry analyst Harris Diamond, CEO of the Interpublic Group of Cos., tells Advertising Age that, “More and more it’s being taken for granted by marketers that social media and digital falls in the PR space.”

That’s certainly true among Nashville’s PR companies, where Facebook, Twitter and other social networking tools have become a routine part of the overall strategy.

“Social networking is key to raising the artist’s profile,” says Harrington, “Almost every management company has a full time person devoted to social networking now. We work together to put information out through the networks that may not warrant a full press release. For example, I didn’t send out a release that Jack Ingram borrowed Conan’s guitar and broke the strings on it when he last performed on the Tonight Show, but I did have a tweet sent out about it. Radio stations and DJs are following artists on Twitter, and they love to include these little tidbits on air. It is a quick and easy way to get a story out and keep the artist in the news.”

“Social media is a must for any artist now,” Campbell adds. “But whether it’s the artist or someone representing the artist updating social media, the message needs to be consistent. If your team is selling you to the world as a badass, and there are pictures of your artist pruning his roses on his Facebook site, there might be a disconnect!”

For Campbell, all the Facebooks, Twitters and cool digital gadgets come down to establishing that spontaneous, authentic connection between the artist and fan and making the most of the resulting career momentum.

“A road manager or promo person on the road with an artist can easily send a photo, short video clip or news of something funny that happened an hour ago, and we can get that picked up that same day,” he says. “Radio stations are also looking for content for their websites that can drive traffic. Digital cameras and Flip video cameras are simple and inexpensive tools to capture things that happen on the road. Artists are getting more savvy about shooting their own content for their websites. We don’t necessarily need hard news – just lifestyle stuff that is endearing to fans.”
Even with all the 21st century bells and whistles, the meat and potatoes of the publicity game remain reassuringly in place.

“The most important thing a good publicist can do for a new artist is help brand them…create the story and help differentiate them from the other new artists being introduced to radio,” Harrington says. “That can be through developing the written materials that are sent out to radio, servicing gossip items and photos as they visit stations, and last but definitely not least, helping develop their interview and communication skills. Every new artist should go to the Marty Stuart school of sound bites!”

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