Monday, July 30

Making Media Relations Better: A Rock Star Primer

Public relations has plenty of problems. They're always easy to find. They tend to get plenty of publicity.

The reason they do is relatively easy to understand. Nightmares make for better news than best practices. Almost all negative events meet the criteria for news because they have an impact or conflict, doubly so when someone of prominence is involved. But that's not to say best practices don't exist.

The best practices of public relations plod along unseen. 

Having worked as a journalist, editor, and publisher, I've seen best practices on a regular basis. And one of the reasons they are best practices is that they are uneventful. It makes everything super smooth and much more manageable.

As some people know, I also have a side project called Liquid [Hip], which puts me in touch with designers, musicians, authors, publishers, and other talented individuals on a regular basis. Enough so that some days it's hard to keep up with the emails. I might even neglect the inbox for days or a week.

When I do have time to dig into it, I'm exposed to people at every level and every role. Sometimes the contact comes from an artist. Sometimes it comes from the agent, publisher, or label. And sometimes it comes from a public relations firm. And, for the most part, public relations firms do a great job. 

What does the best public relations firm do that few others do? 

It's simple. They know who we are. They know what we want. And when they think they have a match, they send it along as an introduction. We probably receive around 100 inquiries every week.

1. Recognition. The best practice starts with first contact. The email and salutation is always addressed to me or a specific reviewer. For those who have worked with us before, it alludes to some connection we share or builds on a growing relationship.

2. Immediacy. Immediately following the salutation, the pitch is condensed into a couple of paragraphs or embedded in a well-written release. It introduces the artist, genre, and why the firm thought it was a good fit. Sometimes they admit it's a guess. Sometimes they ask what we think.

3. Efficiency. Given it's a review site, they always include an embed a clip or link to the work. We have to see it or hear it to consider it for review, especially because we only review things that have some shade of cool (which is a higher standard than what we like).

4. Content. If the sample passes our standards, we review everything before making a commitment. The best practices always include a link to a dedicated one-page EPK with backgrounder, album tracks, social links, videos, and photos. Everything we might need is right there, except lyric sheets.

5. Preparation. Almost any time we decide to review something outside of self-discovery, we prefer to include an interview, email or otherwise. There is a wait. They know the artist's availability, tell us up front, and manage the questions (which take more time to write than the review).

6. Patience. Once the questions are answered to our specifications (e.g., we don't accept "band" answers), there's no need for the firm to follow up. Most know that we'll either tell them when the story is slated as soon as we know or, in a worst case, send them a link once it is published.

7. Promotion. Most firms know we promote our own reviews across social networks where we've established a presence. But beyond that, reviews provide them an opportunity to promote the artist and gives the artist an opportunity to promote themselves. It keeps their social streams fresh, opens up conversation, and gives them an opportunity to engage us too. 

8. Detailed. The best practices also consider small details. For example, the best photo selections almost always include vertical and horizontal shots (staged, casual, and live). It's not only important for our purposes, but sometimes one interview set might be used to write for another publication with different specifications.

When the process is this smooth, it might not be news but it does make us more likely to consider the next submission. And for those who don't — including us on a blind pitch lists, sending everything but the kitchen sink, or having us send interview questions that are ignored — they slip by unnoticed next time. There is too much good material to cover than waste time. And, if we're on the fence, any past experience could tip the scale one way or the other.

I don't mean that in any spiteful way. It's as straightforward as math. We receive 300-400 inquiries a month. We have space for 20-plus reviews. Of those, 2-6 are picked from a pitch. Do it right.
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