About publicists

One thing to clarify (as I prepare a post on what might be the worst press release I’ve ever seen): Publicists don’t do their most important work with press releases. They do it with direct contact — phone calls to members of the media, lunches with them, e-mail, all building personal relationships that, over time, develop trust. So if a trusted publicist pitches a story, the writer or editor on the receiving end will know the pitch might be worthwhile. The best publicists, in fact, are those who never pitch a story unless they really know the person they’re suggesting it to will be interested.

The best ever, in my experience, was Paula Batson, back in the late ’80s, when she was in charge of publicity for RCA Records in Los Angeles. I was a pop critic then, and I learned that, on the rare occasions when Paula called me, I should always take her seriously, no matter how unlikely her pitch might have seemed. Maybe you remember a fairly ghastly pop hit by Rick Astley, “Together Forever.” Paula once called, and, in her quiet, firm, but unassuming voice, suggested I see Astley’s live show. Nothing could have been further from my mind, but she was right — Astley live was fun, authentic, and musical, nothing like his ghastly hit.

What this means, as I dissect press releases, is this — that even bad press releases can do the job they’re meant to do, by letting me know of an event, and preparing me for the publicist’s phone call, where the real pitch is going to come. So I hope I haven’t suggested that press releases, by themselves, can kill classical music. They can’t, but they’re a striking symptom of a wider problem, which is that we don’t know how to talk about our art.

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