Questions to Ask Before You Work With a Music PR Firm

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Is it time to hire a music PR firm? It's a big decision. After all, PR is expensive, and the results are never guaranteed.

Music PR, or public relations for music, is the strategic promotion of a new release, tour or other music related news to the public via the media. People who work in PR liaise between labels and/or musicians and the media to try and get album reviews, profiles of the band, reviews of live shows and so on. Many music PR companies have a dedicated focus – for instance, they only do print media or only digital.

Some PR firms have an even more pointed focus, in that they only do college and club radio promotion where they work to get an on air plug with a popular radio station geared at a specific market, or they only do online promotions and social media work with key online influencers, for example.

Campaigns and Promotions

Most music PR is done on a campaign basis. If a label wants to promote a new release, they may hire a PR company for a set period, during which the PR company will try to generate as much press as possible.

If the band is touring during the promotional campaign, sometimes the PR firm will also do a round of press for the tour, or sometimes they will charge an extra fee for that service, especially in the case of large PR firms working with large record labels.

At the end of any campaign, the PR company issues a report with press clippings of all of the coverage the album received. They may also report at intervals during the campaign.

Before you sign up with a music PR firm, ask yourself – and them – plenty of questions, so you can be sure the PR firm is the right choice for you. 

Cost Concerns

PR is expensive. In many cases, it is very expensive. Although hiring PR can eventually help you make money, you have to put it into the right space in your budget. You need money to get your release ready, distribution set up, and a reserve to cover the costs of playing shows.

If you have to divert money from these expenses to pay for PR, you may not be able to afford to hire a PR company right now. If you compromise the basics, you won't get the most of your PR campaign anyway, since you won't be in the position to take advantage of it.

Self-Promotion

If you want a small, regional promotional campaign, chances are you can handle the work yourself. It will require some research and time, but if money is an issue, this might be your best bet. A PR company is most valuable when you are ready to mount a national promotional campaign that you might not have the time or contacts to accomplish yourself.

If you don't have the time and inclination to do a regional press campaign, outside PR can certainly handle the job. Just be aware that a campaign of that level is easily handled in-house and if money is a problem, this kind of campaign is a luxury.

Target Product

A PR campaign shouldn't be general. It should be centered around a specific project and have specific goals. Such a project may be a new release or a tour. It should have a start date, and that start date should give the PR company plenty of time to run the campaign. For example, don't hire a PR firm three days before your tour starts.

Effectiveness

What is the likelihood that the specific project you want PR to work on will actually generate enough press coverage to justify the investment in outside PR? Be realistic. Your first indie release is probably not going to get reviewed in Rolling Stone.

The best time to hire PR is when you have built up a little bit of buzz through your own work and have a project with a good promotion angle. This angle can be anything from an album promotion anchored to some tour dates or a unique story about how the project came together, so the PR company has something to start with.

Realistic Expectations

When you hire a PR firm, you aren't buying guaranteed press and exposure. You are paying for the service of PR – someone to send out your music, tour dates, and news to the media, follow-up with them, and try to convince them that you deserve coverage. They can't make anyone want to cover your projects and can't make anyone give the music a good review.

Even the best PR company in the world with a lofty past client list can't guarantee even a single person will want to write about or play your music. That's reality. Get comfortable that you are paying for effort, not guaranteed fame and fortune.

Possible Overselling

Hire a PR company that is going to be honest about what they think they can achieve. If someone is trying to sell you the moon, steer clear.

A PR company that is really on your side can sell you their services without pulling the wool over your eyes. Take promises that sound a little far fetched as red flags.

Reputable Firm Concerns

Hiring a PR company can be a great move for your career. When you're working with an established PR company, then you know that first hurdle – the building of press contacts – has already been tackled. An envelope bearing the logo of a known PR company can carry a lot of weight at a magazine that receives hundreds of promos and press releases a day.

Unfortunately, working with a PR firm can be extraordinarily expensive, and there is no guarantee of any payoff. Some PR campaigns end with zilch in the way of press, but you still have to pay the bill. For this reason, small labels should think carefully about hiring a music PR firm, for many reasons, including:

1. How many clients does the firm currently have on their roster, and do they have ample time to dedicate to your project?

2. Who else do they currently represent, and could other clients be in direct competition with you or your campaign?

3. Where has the firm recently landed media coverage, and what outlets do they think might be a good fit for you? 

4. What other artists or bands have they worked with in the past, and are they at a similar level and genre?

5. How often do they send reports, and how can you see who they have pitched on your behalf?

You don't want to spend a lot of money on a PR firm or campaign only to see very little come from it. Start with a clear vision of what you want, what you expect from a successful campaign, and the time frame you require. Only move forward if you are confident that the PR company has addressed all of your questions and can deliver on their promises.