Whether they work in-house at a record label, for an independent public relations company, or as a freelancer, publicists have two main goals in mind: to solicit attention for a client, product, or brand from the media, tastemakers, and customers; and to handle the situation when that attention becomes too negative.
Creating Media Campaigns
In order to spark interest in their clients, publicists create large-scale media campaigns; if the client is a musical artist or band, these typically precede the release of a new album or tour.
In the first phase of a publicity campaign, the publicist may arrange for promotional photos, write a bio (or hire a freelance writer to do so), update websites and social media pages, and brainstorm pitches. When these pieces are in place, the publicist sends the press kit to the media—including streaming links or advance copies of the new music—and launches the second phase of the campaign. Corresponding over phone and email with interested parties, the publicist may schedule interviews, book on-air appearances, and line up feature stories and reviews for their client. When the client isn't well-established or is lacking in momentum, the publicist must rely on reputation, hard-won industry connections, and persuasion to secure these opportunities.
Handling PR Crises
Of course, not all media attention is positive; when a rock star behaves badly at a club, makes controversial remarks in an interview, or receives concentrated bad press for any other reason, it's the publicist's job to run damage control. This can include giving a spoken or written statement in response to the situation, advising the client on how to handle the situation day-by-day, or even crafting a strategy to turn scandal into opportunity.
At a Glance
Publicists work for record labels, public-relations firms, and entertainment companies. They may also be freelance. Junior publicists at record labels and PR firms can advance to become senior publicists, and eventually publicity directors.
Some publicists—called tour publicists— specialize in promoting and increasing audiences for tours. Others, called public-relations counselors, work alongside artists to craft overall brand strategies.
Internships are the way to go when trying to break into the world of publicity, and many public-relations companies offer development programs for students and recent graduates. Aspiring publicists can also contact local unsigned bands and volunteer to write their media releases as a way of building a portfolio.
- Superior written and verbal communication
- Writing press releases
- Public speaking
- Media relations
- Social media management
Publicists must be able to cultivate and maintain relationships with many industry and media contacts; in other words, this is a job for a networker. Publicists must also be cool under pressure, organized, and available to work at all hours. If a client cancels on a talk show or booked PR appearance, the show's talent buyer needs to be able to reach the publicist right away—not the publicist's voicemail.
Publicists spend the vast majority of their time corresponding with clients, TV producers, and journalists through phone and email. Although they're likely to have an office, they do just as much work on the go—traveling to meetings and events—as they do behind a desk. Publicists have to be available 24/7 in order to connect with and advise clients, respond to last-minute scheduling changes, and handle crises when they occur.