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Category Archives: Publicity

We’ve been having an interesting discussion. Aaron has asked some simple, but very pertinent, questions about newsletters. While I have felt completely comfortable over the years with the idea and concept, his questions have made me think very hard about them in the context of the music industry.

In sales, when somebody engages with you as opposed to you trying to engage them, it means that they have a need. If you sell widgets, then it is quite easy to build a regular newsletter around your latest prices with a promotion. It is simple and basic but it meets the needs of the business and your customers.

This is wonderful. You have potential customers who sign up to your newsletter which is like them walking into your store. The danger with this scenario is that you are leading your potential customers to buy on price only, which means they will probably be signing up to all your competitors’ newsletters too.

Hmmm, this may be great for the buyer, but it can be the death knell for the business. So, the trick is to offer something your competitor doesn’t and differentiate yourself in the marketplace. Build in quality and good service and you will create a loyalty in your customers so price becomes less of an issue.

That’s all very good but how does that translate to the music industry. You’re not selling widgets, and better than that you have an exclusive product that only you can provide. However, in today’s internet world where most fans hook up via social networking and news is readily available without any commitment why would someone sign up to your newsletter?

I ask this question all the time and it seems to me that there is a motivation that is not obvious/understood fully and that always worries me. So, instead I focus on strategies to give the fan reasons to sign up to a newsletter and then look forward to receiving it. It seems to me the next best thing:

  • make it regular. Plan a schedule and keep to it. Once a month is a good balance. Don’t be tempted to hold up the newsletter for a new release that is in production, or a piece of news you are expecting.
  • give something that is unique to the newsletter and not found elsewhere. For example a chance to listen to an unreleased track, a new video or a personal photo of you climbing Mount Everest.
  • it is not just an opportunity to make demands on your fans. There is nothing wrong with a call to action – to vote for you in a music competition, nominate you, or take a look at your latest video and leave a comment. But one call to action per newsletter is where to draw the line balanced with 3-4 items where the flow is in the other direction.
  • as the list grows, run a survey to understand the demographics of your audience. It is important to know your audience when writing your newsletter because your content should resonate with the reader. For example, mentioning the latest computer game you have been playing to an audience of 35-55 year olds is going to miss the mark in general.The purpose is to remind folk who you are, that you are still making music and to let them know what is in the pipeline. Research shows that people will share an email with friends if they consider it interesting or amusing. Having your newsletter forwarded (referred) is a great way of growing your fan base.
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In a report from NYU’s Stern Business School, researchers found that you could seriously affect CD sales by being mentioned in a blog. 40 blog mentions could increase sales by as much as 3 times, and 250 mentions could achieve 6 times the expected sales. Wow. Of course, it can’t just be Fred’s blog which is only read by his Mum and her cat.

A small provisio is that these mentions must be before your album is released. Is that significant? It seems to be. Sounds absolutely trivial doesn’t it, but stop a moment and think about it. How many independent artists can wait, or afford to wait 4 months before releasing their work. Because that is what it means. If you work with a Publicist, they will normally insist that you let them have the finished product (not a demo) 3-4 months ahead of the release date. That seems an awfully long lead time when you want to see some revenue

Having read the NYU paper, I’m now including approaching blogs too as part of the marketing mix. It is probably too late to get them to review the album now (although I won’t be shy in asking), but building those blog relationships will be really useful for the next album release. This PR task is much more personal, so whilst I might entrust it to an Intern, I wouldn’t hand it to a Publicist. Business is about building relationships over a period of time, which is why the longer you stay in business the more likely you are to remain in business.

Publicity: Information that concerns a person, group, event, or product and that is disseminated through various media to attract public notice.

I’ve been working on publicity for Aaron’s album, american [fever] dream, for about 5 months. The publicity being sought is album reviews and interviews in traditional press (magazines), and new media (ezines, blogs, internet radio and podcasts). The campaign has two purposes: firstly to publicise the new album, and secondly to continue to build Aaron’s profile.

A number of music magazines are monthly, bi-monthly and even quarterly. They plan several issues ahead, so a bi-monthly or quarterly could easily take 6 months to publish your review. New media is instant, isn’t it? Well, no. They too can take the same time scales to publish. Having said that, Red Hot Velvet reviewed the album and published within a week.

The normal route to publicity is to hire a Publicist. You are looking for someone who fits your genre. That way you are going to lever their established contacts and target the most receptive audience. Outsourcing your publicity to a Publicist can cost between a few hundred to several thousand dollars a month. Some will work on a fixed price basis for a particular project, e.g. X dollars to contact Y Reviewers. Note that is not X dollars for Y reviews, publicity doesn’t work that way.

I have worked in outsourcing from both sides. The most difficult aspect of any outsource relationship is managing expectations. It is the client’s job to say what they want, and it is the outsources’ role to make sure that the client’s expectation are achievable, realistic and most importantly, fit within the budget. Getting something in writing is a must for both parties – it is a great conflict resolution tool. It doesn’t have to be elaborate, just a simple document with a time line and bullet points. Make sure the document deals with handling of expenses, so you are not surprised by implementation costs such as mailing, photocopying and printing.

Agree appraisal points and how they will be communicated. This can be done with a quick email, phone call, or face-to-face meeting. Attaching a payment schedule to these appraisal points is a great technique to focus your supplier’s mind. Be absolutely sure what is expected of you so you can deliver your side of the project. Do not underestimate the work involved in managing this relationship from both sides. I was once invited in by a difficult client to review our recent project. He refused to pay until the project was completed. It was only when I pulled out the 18 page proposal, which he had signed off on, that he sheepishly agreed that what he was asking for had never been part of the project deliverable.

You could do all the work yourself, but it will be a slow grind. I like to take some of these tasks on myself just so I know what they entail. Before engaging with a Publicist try contacting 20 of your target magazines/ezines/blogs. You’ll get a real feel for what is involved which will make managing the campaign and interacting with the Publicist much easier. And who knows, you may even manage a few reviews of your own.