Hiring a Publicist: Is It Worth It?

Hiring a Publicist: Is It Worth It?
Kathy Sanborn By

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"Without promotion, something terrible happens... nothing!" —P. T. Barnum

Jazz artists strive to make the best albums possible, choosing the best songs, selecting other musicians to interpret those songs, and recording the pieces with artistic and technical skill. When their masterpieces are complete, it does not all end there. The artist or band must reach out to the public, and there are as many ways to do that as there are stars in the sky, it seems.

Does one do it alone, handling the PR tasks solo, thus saving money but not valuable time? Or does one hire a publicist to take over the duties of contacting members of the press, generating buzz for the music, and helping to launch a new album to greater heights?

We've invited several jazz musicians to discuss this in a roundtable forum in order to discover their own experiences using professional publicists. As you will see, every artist tells a different story, and we can glean valuable insights into the topic of to buy, or not to buy, publicity services.

The members of our roundtable include Toni Jannotta, Mari Nobre, Grace Garland, Ron Aprea, Cheryl Hodge, Roberta Piket, Jeff Oster, and Laura Ainsworth.

Toni Jannotta

Mari Nobre

Grace Garland

Ron Aprea

Cheryl Hodge

Roberta Piket

Jeff Oster

Laura Ainsworth
All About Jazz: For my most recent album, I hired a company that combined radio promotions with publicity services, which worked out pretty well in getting the word out about the album. I chose a company that was easy to work with, and understood what my album was all about. What do you look for when choosing a publicist?

Toni Jannotta: What I look for is someone I can easily communicate with. That is always first and foremost. I look for someone who responds in a timely fashion. For my upcoming picture book and jazz music album, My Little Heart, Ruthie, I'll be working with the publicist I used for my last vocal jazz album because of those very things.

Lead time is important if you want to hire a great publicist. I am about a year ahead of myself and I'm researching publicists and book promoters now.

Mari Nobre: I really would like a publicist to understand my music and respect me as an artist. When I choose a publicist I choose somebody who is able to focus on strategies to enhance my career and to dedicate enough time to succeed in that goal.

Grace Garland: A good publicist listens to the unique artist and individual that you are. He or she picks up on that honesty, quirkiness, or whatever makes you YOU, to create a bio and/or press release that allows one to get to know you and your project via a one-page.

My new project, Grace Garland—LADY G!, is "jazz with an edge." Naturally I will be seeking a publicist who gets that and uses their expertise to improve upon the theme.

What one does NOT want is a publicist who simply hands you that "cookie cutter," one-size-fits-all bio and/or press release, or says: "I don't know what to do with you." In that case, it's best to keep looking.

Ron Aprea: I think artists must ask direct questions to a potential publicist and get specific answers as to what that publicist will do on the artist's behalf. There are lots of phonies out there. However, the right publicist with the right artist can open doors and launch a career.

Cheryl Hodge: To me a publicist is a promoter—a very connected promoter—someone who has the inside edge by knowing everyone there is to know in the biz, including some people whom I've never really had time to connect with. I would also expect them to have a bit more business savvy than me. With that in mind, I would need to know more about my own career objectives, before searching.

For instance, what do I really want during these next two years? Would I mostly want to be gigging more in clubs, or on TV, or maybe do some film work (scores, singing, etc.)? Do I want to be played more on the radio? Do I just want to sell more of my recordings?

Roberta Piket: I look for someone who can strategize with me and talk on the phone periodically, rather than just sending out a couple of automatic email blasts. I look for someone who does not make promises they can't keep and who is honest about what my expectations should be.

Before making a decision, I ask my colleagues about their experiences with various publicists, and I inquire about the reputation of those I am considering among music business veterans I respect, such as record producers or record company owners.

I recently hired a jazz publicist on my own (not through a label) for the first time, to promote my new One for Marian: Celebrating Marian McPartland.


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