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Hiring a Publicist: Is It Worth It?

Kathy Sanborn By

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Jeff Oster: Publicity has changed dramatically as social media has expanded. More often the sharing between friends about what's good and new is the main driver of awareness. I look for publicists who specialize in creating an online buzz, through blog writer contacts, interviews and new song links, Twitter and Facebook awareness, online magazine and other tastemaker publication placements.

Laura Ainsworth: Since my husband and I are also professional writers, often we create our own press kits and other publicity materials. We hire PR professionals mostly for the chummy media contacts that we simply don't have. But so far, it hasn't paid off, at least locally. If we could find someone who could get some Dallas press for New Vintage, the CD I'm planning to bring out early next year, we'd be all over that.

AAJ: Do publicists give you and your music enough exposure to justify the cost?

JO: That is always a difficult question to answer. For me, it's one fan at a time, so if my music gets heard by a greater audience, and awareness of me and my music increases due to the PR efforts, then I feel that I am that much closer to the "tipping point."

TJ: It depends on what they offer. Years ago I spoke with a publicist who wanted $6,000 to throw a party. To him I said, "no thanks." On my last vocal jazz album I worked with a publicist who had several publicity packages to choose from. I went mid-range that time and it cost around $4,000.

I thought it was definitely worth it because of all the reviews and air play. Frankly, I was shocked at the good response.

MN: The good ones are too expensive for independent artists. Unless we see our sales rising up or our faces on major TV stations, it should not be a matter of thousands and thousands of dollars.

CH: I've worked with my own five-year-plans and that is what I feel every budding musician should do until they get their feet firmly planted on the ground, and have their own following.

I have recently looked into hiring someone who has been an acquaintance and friend these past few years. His company has proven that they are a force to be reckoned with, having produced a few Grammy® winners.

This will be the very first year that I actually invest in the services of a publicist for my upcoming album, Living Off the Grid, so please ask me if it was worth it next year.

RP: As far as justifying the cost goes, I do not believe anyone should spend money on a publicist unless it's an expense you are willing to take on every couple of years, at least. Hiring a publicist once is not going to change your career. Marketing is about repetition. It's an ongoing effort. So if you can't afford to do that then it's best to do it yourself and do it consistently every time you release a recording (which, from a purely marketing perspective, should be at least every year or two). These days it's easier than ever to get the contact info you need by researching and reaching out on the web.

LA: As an international artist I've benefited from some effective PR from both national and international sources, but it's been a challenge to get press in my own city of Dallas. For an indie artist—in jazz, no less, which is limited to a niche audience—hiring one can be almost prohibitively expensive. Heck, I'd do it anyway (and have) if I thought it would bring results, but my few experiences have not been fruitful.

AAJ: Anyone want to share a publicity horror story for our readers?

RA: I hired a publicist for the first time for my Lennon project. Although my experience was negative, I can see how a good publicist would be worth his/her weight in gold.

Two reasons for my bad experience with the publicist: Limited resources and a terrible attitude. I could have handled the craziness and paranoia if this person delivered. Bottom line: there was no water in the publicist's well.

RP: Like many musicians, I have had some bad experiences with publicists in the past. I did a record for a small jazz label started by a big jazz club about 17 years ago. The "publicist" they hired did nothing, and then, to cover up, he lied to the record company A&R guy and told him he had given me leads and I hadn't followed up. I only found out about this lie years later. This person is still offering "Music Promotional Services," and he claims to have a "99% success rate in promoting" (whatever that means) and "over thirty years of professional experience," so watch out!

LA: I was doing a live show in Dallas as part of a festival and hoped to get some press for that one event to help me stand out among the many other acts. So at no small expense, I hired a local PR person to help make that happen. My show came and went, with a very enthusiastic audience but no hint in the media, before or after, that it even occurred. No press whatsoever. After the show, the agent actually handed me a proposal for continued representation on a healthy monthly retainer. Who was he kidding?

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