Since I’m going to try to keep my trap (fingers?) shut all week, I’ll just say two quick things now:
One. Last night at the bar Union Pool in Williamsburg, I received the best response yet to my response to the question, “So what do you do?”
“So what do you do?” “I am a classical music publicist.” “That sounds difficult.” (The usual response is, “Oh. Cool. What does that mean?”) This guy went on to ask what media opportunities there are for classical musicians, and of the outlets that do exist, how many of those translate to concert ticket sales? Photographer Jeremy Sachs-Michaels from Union Pool May 24, 2009 (whose stuff turns out to actually be good), you are correct, sir: it is difficult.
Two. This week, we’ll be hearing from other NYC-based classical music publicists with whom I have worked to varying degrees. Let whatever record there is show that I have, without exception, found my co-publicists in the city to be supportive and collaborative. I have asked for contacts, sought out advice, and bounced story ideas off them and received feedback without a trace of animosity or competition. So here-we-go…First up is Christina Jensen, who had the unfortunate experience of me shouting about journalists “toeing the line” on our first phone meeting. We worked together when her client ACME performed four Wordless Music shows at the Whitney Museum last summer. That seems like a very long time ago.
Christina Jensen officially founded her PR firm in 2007 after working day jobs for six years in marketing, fundraising, and orchestra management at various Boston and New York arts institutions, and moonlighting as a freelance publicist. She played the violin through college and for a little while afterwards, and had brief affairs with the flute and piano. At this moment, she represents 15 classical music clients including André Previn, Simone Dinnerstein, Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center (tours and recordings), Lisa Bielawa, the Chiara and Cypress string quartets, ACME, Jefferson Friedman, and more.
What is the purpose of a press release? And what, in your opinion, is the most important aspect of a press release? How does that element accomplish the purpose?
A press release serves a couple of purposes which I think are equally important, in most cases. An event or concert related release should inform the calendar editor of the answers to the 5 Ws (who, what, where, when, why) in a simple and unfussy manner. For the features editor, freelance writer, or critic who might read further, the release should give some insight into the artist’s mission, motivation and personality. A press release should tell the artist’s story from the angle that you are emphasizing at that moment in the artist’s career.
Similarly, what is the most important aspect of an artist biography? How long should a bio be, ideally? Should it include press quotes? Why or why not?
Again, I think the most important aspect of an artist’s biography is his or her personal story, and a description of the projects/repertoire they are currently exploring. Artists need bios in a few different lengths – short, medium and long – for use in program books of different sizes, on the web, in press releases, etc. I think it’s fine to include press quotes but I try to pick juicy ones that convey something, rather than just strings of adjectives. I will say that artists’ bios, at least for me, are a process of negotiation with the artist and manager. Managers I have worked with tend to want to include more lists than I tend to include when left to my own devices – lists of performance halls, lists of conductors worked with, lists of orchestras soloed with, lists of teachers, lists of concertos played, etc. – which I have been told is helpful in the booking process because it lets presenters know where artists have been, where they’re going, and what they can do.
How far in advance of a CD release or concert do you send/e mail press releases? How many times do you usually follow-up journalists after sending the release?
For a CD release, I like to mail promo copies to longer lead magazines four months in advance if I am going for review coverage, and even further in advance if I am hoping for a feature about an artist who may be unfamiliar to the contacts to whom I’m sending the CD. I mail to radio and short leads six to eight weeks or so before the release date. For concerts, I send press releases at six weeks in advance for larger cities like New York with a follow up release for calendars and short leads three weeks in advance. I try to jump on long lead magazines for concerts as well, months in advance. In smaller markets I just do one release at four weeks out. I follow up with journalists twice after sending the press release – three times if I’m particularly keen on a story, just really hopeful, or if they’ve been out of the office.
In 2009, what do you consider successful coverage for a client’s concert? How has the definition of “coverage” changed since you started working in PR? For example, do artist’s personal blogs/websites/Twitter feeds count as media coverage?
The definition of successful coverage changes for each of my clients, for each of their concerts. Artists naturally have higher and lower profile performance dates within one city, and you must prioritize which dates you are really going to go for. For a high profile performance, I consider the coverage to be very successful if I can get one or two feature articles placed in print media or on a well-read webzine or blog, event listings preferably with photos in print and online media, a radio interview, possibly a news television interview, a review in the “paper of record,” and a couple of reviews in online sources like blogs or webzines. The addition of online media as desirable and valued places for coverage is what has changed most in my time working in PR. I don’t think that artists’ personal blogs/websites/Twitter feeds count as media coverage, but I do think they can help gain media coverage by providing a personal link to the artist. Also, if someone re-blogs or writes about an artist’s blog, I think that might count as coverage – right?
Who owns the problem of selling tickets and CDs? Is it a
publicist’s job to secure press that will have a direct impact on
sales, or does some press accomplish something beyond or different from
sales? Should marketing – ticket sales, ad copy, poster design – be
kept separate from publicity, or do efforts often overlap?
is an interesting question. I believe it is a publicist’s job to worry
about ticket and CD sales, which should follow as a result of good
media exposure, but there are many other issues that influence sales
positively or negatively over which publicists usually have little
control and which remain the territory of marketing departments. For
example, when I am publicizing a chamber music ensemble tour going to
various venues across the country, making seven or eight stops, I am
usually not consulted about ticket prices, when and where to hold the
concert, or where to place ads. I do, however, always speak with the
marketing and PR folks at the venues (often the same person anyway in
smaller venues) to ask about the size of the hall, what they are doing
to promote the concert, how many tickets they expect to sell and how
many have sold, and which media outlets they usually see the most
results from if they get coverage in them. They are usually happy to
discuss all of this with me – though a couple of times, I have been
told that it is against the venue’s policy to discuss ticket sales.
That’s frustrating. I try to fit my efforts in with what venues and
labels are already doing, and if I think of ideas for what else they
could do I don’t hesitate to offer suggestions – even if it’s
technically a marketing idea and not PR. In some cases, I have been
known to send emails directly to lists of teachers and schools in an
effort to get group sales going. I don’t have a lot of rules about
what I do and don’t do.
All of that said, there is definitely some press that accomplishes something beyond sales. Feature stories in magazines like Gramophone and BBC Music Magazine, Strings or The Strad, International Piano,
or general interest magazines if you are lucky enough to place a
classical musician in them, are very valuable not for the number of
tickets or CDs they move but for the opportunities they give for
artists to define themselves. These stories are great for informing the
classical music community, for including in press kits, and for sending
to press in tour cities for background and interview preparation. I
believe they are also useful for managers to send to potential
presenters of the artist for future bookings.
When in their careers should artists hire a publicist?
think artists should hire a publicist when they feel like they have a
plan to move their careers forward into the future – when they have a
vision that a publicist can get behind and work with them to achieve.
If an artist doesn’t have a publicist, what is the best advice you can offer them for self-promotion?
would tell them to create a website and a list of email addresses of
people that they know (or would like to know) and start keeping those
people informed about their concerts and recordings. They can also use
Facebook or Twitter to let people know what they’re up to. There is a
lot of contact information for press available online if you search for
it, and I think it’s fine for artists to send concert and recording
information to them as well as long as they avoid messages that come
across as desperately saying “please, please write about me, I am soooo
How do you choose clients? Is there a set criteria in your company, or do you decide on a case-by-case basis?
decide on a case by case basis. I have to appreciate their music and
feel I can get behind their mission, when we meet or talk by phone I
have to like them, and I have to have enough time available in my
schedule to be sure I can meet their needs. I talk to most of my
clients a few times a week at least, and if we work together for awhile
there are bound to be tough things to get through, so if there are any
weird vibes or I don’t feel like we see eye-to-eye on things from the
beginning, this is a red flag for me.
Do clients on your roster know who the other clients on the roster are? Do they care?
Most of them know each other and many of them work together from time to time.
publicists run Facebook pages, blogs, Twitter accounts, MySpace pages
for their clients, or is that essentially the 2009-equivalent of
answering interview questions for them?
It depends on the
type of social networking you’re doing. I maintain some artists’ pages
on MySpace, but these pages don’t pretend to be the artist. I don’t
answer mail as if I was the artist writing. I would not ghost Tweet for
anyone because it feels too fake for me. I don’t maintain any personal
Facebook pages for artists, but I do have Facebook fanpages. I often
mention my clients on my own Facebook page and Twitter feed, because
many of the contacts I have on those sites are from the music world
(and the rest are family members and friends from elementary school in
Independence, MO who already think I’m the crazy girl who moved to New
If you weren’t a classical music publicist, what would you be?
in reality I’d probably be doing some other arts-related job like grant
writing or marketing. But in college I started as a chemistry/music
double major, and entertained ideas of majoring in archaeology or
English (they were summer school flings). Just a couple of years ago I
took the intro class at FIT in interior design. The real question is
what would I be doing if I never played the violin, which I started
when I was three. Music has always been the main thing in my life,
even when I’ve tried to get away to do something different.