How to Know When You Need a Publicist

Tracy Nguyen  •  October 2, 2013

With social media platforms such as Twitter, Facebook, Instagram and YouTube, it’s never been easier for musicians to connect directly with fans and cultivate a following that may organically land them media exposure. But there’s only so much that one person can do. When you get to a certain point in your career, it may make sense to hire a professional publicist.

Before you consider hiring one, it’s important to understand what a publicist’s job entails. Contrary to popular belief, a publicist doesn’t just send e-mail blasts and get you on red carpets (at least a good one won’t). Having a publicist will also not launch you into superstardom if you have zero talent and poor product. A publicist is your spokesperson, connector, person who helps you get your message to the masses in a way that will affect your bottom line. They will open the door of opportunity and get you noticed by media professionals who you would find difficult to get on your own.

Publicists are responsible for helping you craft and tell your story to the public in a way that is compelling, relatable and unique. They make sure that the details are never missed, and that your brand is packaged and presented in a way that helps you and your music tell their best story. Publicists are there to secure media coverage and opportunities for exposure with the right outlets at the right time. 

A great publicist will be there to offer their professional advice on everything that relates to your brand, from your appearance, to how you communicate, to when you should release new music, what events to attend, what content should be featured on your website and so much more.

Having a great publicist on your team is a great asset. But spending on communications help before it's truly needed can end up being a huge waste of money, be extremely frustrating, and even hurt the growth of your brand in the long-term. Here are a few suggestions to help you determine when it is the right time to make the investment:

1) You Have a Finished Project

What new product do you have to put in the marketplace? That’s one of the first questions we ask when approached by a potential new client. In order for us to tell your story, there needs to be “new news.” Media outlets will unlikely cover something that they deem as outdated, not relevant to the immediate news cycle or an album that they don’t believe will ever see the light of day. Before you spend the money to hire a publicist, it’s important that you have fresh, quality content to give them to push, such as music and videos. It's also important to have something timely to peg it to, whether it’s an EP release date, an official album release date or an upcoming tour. You want the media exposure to not only help increase your audience but also help drive sales.

2) You Have Drummed Up Buzz & Excitement on Your Own

If you’ve already released music and have generated a growing social media following that’s comparable to or exceeds more established artists, if you’re getting a great turnout at your live shows or getting radio spins, it may be just the right time to hire a publicist. Music writers, bloggers and producers are extremely busy and receive thousands of pitches a week. For a new artist to capture their attention enough to cover it, they need to believe that there is a demand for it.

I would argue that social media numbers and selling out your lives shows today are just as important, if not more important, than having spins at radio. If you feel that you have successfully captured an audience already on your own with some real data to back it up, it may be time for you to hire a publicist to help you tell the story of how you’ve been able to generate so much buzz on your own.

3) Your Phone Is Ringing

You have built up your fan base and you are now getting press calls and conducting interviews. If you are at this point, then now is a great time to hire a publicist. Securing press opportunities for clients is one very important aspect of a publicist’s job, but managing it is the other. A great publicist will help you to figure out which opportunity is the right opportunity, guide interviews so that they stay focused, ensure that you are properly prepped, that the right pictures are used, that important information is fact-checked, etc. In addition to ensuring that your story is told in the right way, having a publicist will allow you to maximize every opportunity and use it as leverage for the next one.

4) You Want to Expand Your Coverage

Often times we receive calls from potential new clients that have already received a great deal of exposure online or have only received coverage locally/regionally. If you are getting consistent coverage already in one category, it may be the right time to hire a publicist to help you expand. Pitching national outlets, particularly in print and television, usually requires approaching them in the right way at the right time. You will also have a better shot at having your music simply heard and considered if your publicist already has established relationships.

5) You Have the Time and Money

Artists looking to keep an established PR firm on retainer can spend between $3000-$10,000 per month – not just for the publicist, but also for your graphic design, distribution, press kits, photographer, videographer, video editor, web design and everything else that is needed to properly promote your music. Boutique firms and freelance consultants are great for independent music creators with smaller budgets, but they will still require a few hundred dollars at minimum for an effective publicity campaign. Campaigns can take several months to cultivate, so it’s important that you have the time, patience and budget for your PR professional’s work to really translate. Keep in mind that you will get what you pay for – retainers will often determine how much time and attention you will receive, the level of experience that the publicist offers, and the type of direct media contacts that they have.

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Tracy H. Nguyen founded Industry Public Relations in New York City in 2008. Prior to forming the boutique agency, Nguyen served as Senior Vice President at 5W Public Relations for five years, where she served as head of the entertainment and lifestyle practice for the firm. Nguyen played a critical role in helping to propel 5WPR in 2003 from its very humble beginnings to becoming a leading agency that was named as one of Inc. magazine's fastest growing companies in the country in 2007. In addition to large agency experience, Nguyen started her career working at fashion boutique agency, People's Revolution, representing both young emerging designers and internationally renowned design houses earlier in her career. 

Nguyen's client experience over the years includes working with leading talent and brands like Elle Girl magazine, Agent Provocateur, Joe's Jeans, Giuseppe Zanotti, Steve Madden, Puma’s 60th Birthday concert series, Ice Cube, Nick Cannon, Kelis, Big Sean, Swizz Beatz, Marc Ecko, VIBE Media, MTV2, Nickelodeon, various artists signed to major labels including JIVE, Interscope, Atlantic, Warner Music, Def Jam, Universal Motown, Universal Republic, Columbia and many others.  Nguyen resides in Los Angeles with her spouse Ray Romulus and their daughter Ryan.