Heidi Ellen Robinson, a music publicist for more than 30 years, shares her advice on starting out and succeeding in the business as a woman.
“Don’t buy into the lie that because you are a woman there are things you can’t do,” she says. “Publicity is all about having the right contacts and marketing tools.”
Robinson’s past clients include American Recordings, Maverick Recording Company, Perry Farrell, System of a Down, the Sex Pistols, Donovan, and Barry Manilow, just to name a few. Producers such as the Grammy-winning Rick Rubin of American Recordings have come to rely on Robinson’s expertise in publicizing and marketing their musical acts and recordings.
A woman trying to start out in the business should have these basic things: a computer, a telephone, a client and contact database, and the ability, nerve, and talent to pick up that phone and sell those clients. ACT! customer and contact management software by Sage is the single best database tool for women who work in publicity and marketing, she says. “I probably have 10,000 entries in my database.” The program keeps you organized and provides fields in which to keep detailed notes on each client.
The main goal of a publicist is to sell and market her clients to a target audience. Each client has a different target audience that needs to be determined before beginning a publicity campaign.
These are questions you must ask yourself before starting your campaign:
- Who is the target audience for your client?
- How do you get to this target audience?
- What are the media contacts that you want to get to?
- What is the spin or story for your client?
- How does your client want to be perceived?
- How do you use the media to achieve your aims?
Robinson’s technique is to deliver what she promises and to anticipate the needs of her media contacts. When asked why she is one of the most successful music publicists in the business, Robinson answers, “When I say I’m going to put a publicity package in the mail, I put a package in the mail. They actually get it and understand that I do what I say.”
She terms her approach to publicity as “forward thinking,” in that she tries to anticipate everything a journalist needs to put a story together. She assembles and sends a comprehensive marketing package that she calls “bio one sheets.” It includes everything from music and lyrics, press releases, bio information, and photo clips.
To Robinson, the most exciting moment of a publicity campaign comes when the spark is finally struck and the marketing takes on a life of its own. She likens it to getting a fire started by rubbing two sticks together. And once that fire is started you must fan the flames to keep the momentum going.
These days the Internet has become a major marketing tool for publicists. Robinson learned this early on when she did all of the publicity for one of the early Lollapalooza concerts solely online. “The Internet totally revolutionized the way we do business,” she explains. Thanks to the speed of online communication, she says that if you have a big announcement, forget about making it a surprise. The idea is to leak the story to one media source that carries it as an exclusive until it’s picked up by the general media as a news item.
At this point in her career, experience is Robinson’s biggest business asset. Every project stands on its own merits, and she has learned to recognize the patterns that a campaign will take. As she says, “I know what it takes and how long it takes to get results. The idea is to do the right thing at the right time for the right reason.”
By consistently delivering high-quality campaigns, Robinson gets a lot of repeat business. She explains that you must deliver results and not be afraid to share your expertise, even when it means telling your clients something they don’t want to hear. As she puts it, “As a publicist, I do more than press releases. I get a lot of money for my expertise. If I don’t like something, I tell them so.”