Publicist Log, Day 4: Today we have Rebecca Davis, who I have known 4eva, 4eva-eva. Rebecca was Director of Publicity at Universal Music Classical when I was Publicity Manager at IMG Artists, and then we worked on Hilary’s Schoenberg/Sibelius exploits together, and then I covered for her at Universal when she was on maternity leave last fall. She’s since started her own firm, and here’s what she has to say for herself:
Rebecca Davis is a publicity, promotions and marketing consultant with over ten years of experience working with musicians on the world’s leading major and independent classical record labels including Decca, Deutsche Grammophon, Philips and Naxos. Clients include singers Juan Diego Florez, Rolando Villazon, Danielle de Niese and Cecilia Bartoli, violinists Janine Jansen and Caroline Goulding, conductor Kristjan Jarvi, the Australian Chamber Orchestra and composer Daniel Felsenfeld. Rebecca has also implemented successful media campaigns for artists including Renee Fleming, Anna Netrebko, Lang Lang, Bryn Terfel, Hilary Hahn, Anne Sophie Mutter and Osvaldo Golijov. Rebecca’s strong relationships with journalists in the music media as well as mainstream outlets throughout the US has helped her secure coverage for artists in all major outlets in print, online and on radio and television. Rebecca has a special passion for bringing classical music to a broad mainstream audience as well as to the classical press through targeted pitching, creative story-telling and special events. In an increasingly diverse, ever-changing and often competitive media market, Rebecca uses an enthusiastic voice and in-depth expertise in promoting classical music to help artists achieve meaningful and impactful visibility in the national media. For more information, please visit: www.rebeccadavispr.com
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?
Most simply, a press release is a snapshot of an artist’s current story. The quality of the writing and presentation of a press release can make a huge difference in how much attention an artist receives for any given tour, recording, or news item. The most important aspect of a press release is the solid information it includes. We’re publicists so we’re naturally pretty excited about our subjects and a little hype is hard to avoid, but a good press release is not about hyperbole and marketing but rather a tool to convey actual news about an artist. In my experience, if you want a journalist to read your press release, you have to provide them with the facts quickly and concisely. If a press release is too florid but short on hard information it will quickly be sent to the recycle bin and you risk having future releases downright ignored if a journalist doesn’t feel they can trust you to provide information that would be of interest to their audience.
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?
Along with the press release, a bio is the backbone of an artist’s media campaign. It should be well-written and concise to work for programs, liner notes, artist and management webpages, Facebook and other social networking and anywhere else it might appear. Though there may be some adjustments made for each iteration, the information in the bio and tone of the writing should be consistent anywhere it appears. I’m a big fan of the one-pager as well as the biographical timeline that Deutsche Grammophon uses for their artists. It gives a nice snapshot of the career, what happened when and, to my eyes, is a quick and easy read.
I do tend to include press quotes in my materials when they make sense as that gives journalists an idea of what their peers in other markets (or countries) are saying about my artist. I won’t indiscriminately note that, for example, the Kalamazoo Chronicle liked an artist when she came to town when I’m pitching a new record. If I want to convey what makes a recording of I Capuleti e Montecchi special, however, I could tell you that Anna Netrebko and Elina Garanca sound swell together but it probably carries more weight to tell you that Opera News called their pairing “fortunate” and said “their voices are well matched and they blend beautifully.” Press quotes can also be helpful when you are pitching an artist who may have a solid, enthusiastic following somewhere overseas (like the vivacious and utterly jaw-dropping Australian Chamber Orchestra), but are still relatively unknown to media in this country.
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 monthly publications, I plan on at least a three month lead time (and sometimes much more) to develop a story and make sure interviews, photo shoots and other creative aspects of the story can be worked out by deadline. Weeklies, I would do about six weeks in advance, dailies a month in advance. It all depends on the piece though. For a straight record review (yes, they do still happen) the journalist probably doesn’t have to spend as much time working on the story as they would for a 1000 word profile with photos. So, the short answer is that it entirely depends on the kind of story I’m pitching and how far in advance each outlet works. I’m currently working on pieces running anywhere from June to December.
How and when to follow-up depends on the preference of the journalist. I have people who say everything from “just keep reminding me” to “please don’t follow-up, if I’m interested I’ll let you know” and everything in between. Journalists can have very specific preferences about when they want to be called, emailed or even faxed and as publicists, we try to keep up with that to make sure we are feeding them the right information for them in the way that they like to receive it.
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?
These elements are extremely essential to reaching an audience directly and an important facet of artist marketing. I wouldn’t categorize facebook, twitter, youtube and artist websites as “media” coverage though, because there is no pitching involved, the artist and his entourage do the upkeep on those sites without relying on journalists as a third party. I define successful media coverage for an artist or project to be when you are able to get not just one great story on an artist but a variety of interesting pieces across several kinds of media (in print, on line, on-air) that run around the same time so that they really impact not just concert and recording sales, but take a musician to a new level of notoriety and recognition and ultimately win new audiences to their artistry.
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?
In the short-term, a publicist needs to justify his or her fee by securing impactful pieces that will help with CD and concert sales. But, there are also pieces that we work on over long periods of time that may reach a very wide audience and build recognition, but do not always have a direct affect on sales. I have gotten reviews in limited circulation publications
that have had far more impact to record sales than appearances on national TV shows reaching audiences in the millions, but in general any kind of coverage that is worth the artist’s time will help build the profile and impact sales.
In my experience these marketing and press materials can and should complement one another. As a publicist, I work closely with the artist, management, record label, website manager and presenters to make sure that this happens. I’m a big believer in branding and consistent messages across platforms. The more a person sees an image, the more they are affected by it. If they see one image of an artist about his concert, another about an unrelated CD project, and a third on his website, I think it subtly undermines the effort to ingrain an artist into the popular mindset.
When in their careers should artists hire a publicist?
Quite simply, when there is a compelling story to tell. Ideally, that includes recording projects and a busy tour schedule plus an interesting newsworthy hook. If the artist’s story is juicy enough sometimes that will make up for a lighter tour schedule or the lack of a major current recording. It bears noting that even if there is no record deal, an artist needs to have a high quality recording for a publicist to service to journalists and radio stations.
Additionally, some publicists (myself included) will consider short term projects of just a few months when there is a big tour or a new release. The artist may not be quite ready for full-time press representation if, for instance, they spend most of their time out of the country and only need someone advocating for them with American media during the period they are active here.
If an artist doesn’t have a publicist, what is the best advice you can offer them for self-promotion?
I would say they should do two things. First, be sure your webpage and social networking pages are regularly updated with news about your career. And don’t forget the basic element of making sure there is clear contact information available if a journalist wants to cover your story. Secondly, read, listen, watch and pay close attention to what journalists are talking about and what radio stations are playing so you can pitch your story in the unique context of that particular outlet. Our jobs as publicists are to know our media, to have those relationships so that we know when a story might be of interest to the journalist and their audience. The biggest mistake an artist (or inexperienced publicist) can make is pitching a story to a journalist without first finding out what interests that person, what they’ve written about in the past and why that story makes sense for them.
A third thing an artist should remember is good old-fashioned manners. Be sure to say “Thank You” when a journalist covers your concert or recording (an email is fine, a note is even better). And if they aren’t interested for any reason (or are unresponsive as is more often the case), be nice, don’t pout, and try again next time.
How do you choose clients? Is there a set criteria in your company, or do you decide on a case-by-case basis?
Again, I go back to the simple criteria of there being a compelling story to tell that is worth sharing on a national level. The artist has to be exceptional at their craft, it should go without saying, but also different enough from their colleagues in the same field to warrant the attention of news media. For instance, a new recording of the Four Seasons from a bright young violinist is not likely to garner media attention on its own because the story has been told before. If however, you are like Janine Jansen and record the work in an arrangement no one has heard before and become a huge sensation on iTunes with pop music level sales, you have yourself a pretty terrific story. A good publicist should be able to help an artist craft and articulate that story as well.
I also look at what is happening with the artist over the coming seasons to determine if there will be enough going on to justify having a publicist on long-term. Significant touring at important venues in major cities coupled with great recordings are important factors that help me determine if the artist is at a level where they will need someone consistently managing their profile within the media.
For a long-term client I love a multi-faceted artist like Kristjan Jarvi who is a true musical omnivore, a brilliant conductor, educator and new music advocate. Those artists often have so much going on that they offer the best variety of ways to pitch to media and keep the story interesting.
Do clients on your roster know who the other clients on the roster are? Do they care?
I would imagine artists are aware of the caliber and kind of artists I have on my roster before they come to me, but I have never had someone say they want to work with me because I do or do not work with anyone else.
Should 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?
Whether it is the publicist, an assistant or the artist themselves posting to these sites and networks, it is just essential that they really reflect the artist’s voice. If they don’t, then offering that kind of “relationship” with the artist through these sites is really very false. I like to think fans are smart enough to sniff out if an artist is posting status updates themselves or if it is being done by someone disconnected to the artist as a person.
If you weren’t a classical music publicist, what would you be?
I would probably be singing. I’m a classically trained soprano myself who has moonlighted in the music business ever since high school. If I wasn’t doing this I would be singing some way or another either professionally, avocationally, or teaching.