How To Become a Publicist
What Exactly Does a Publicist Do?
Lesley Zimmerman of Lesley Z Media says, “A Publicist is a press agent. We do everything having to do with the media: placing album reviews, press releases, feature interviews, photos, etc. in press outlets. And a lot more.” This can include writing press releases, compiling lists of media contacts, creating press kits, coordinating with event Photographers, and pitching stories to media contacts.
Publicists work with Editors, Music Critics, Music Bloggers, Music Journalists, Music Photographers, Radio DJs, TV Producers, Recording Artists, Personal Managers, Booking Agents, and record label representatives.
Most Publicists begin their careers as Interns or Publicity Assistants before landing a job as a full-fledged Publicist. From here advancement could mean getting hired by a more prestigious firm, working with more well-known clients, opening his or her own PR firm, or landing a gig as Publicity Director.
Education & Training
Most Publicists hold an undergraduate degree. Lesley says, “When I was starting out, this wasn’t a thing, but now there are music business schools. I was an English major in college.” Other relevant majors include public relations, marketing, advertising, journalism, or communications.
In addition to the opportunity to hone writing and communications skills, a college degree will give aspiring Publicists access to internships at local PR firms or record labels with PR departments.
What skills do you need to be a Publicist?
Lesley says you’ve “got to have people skills. Be a good writer. Be able to keep a whole lot of information in your head. Be cool under pressure. And never, ever starstruck.” Since many Publicists write their own press kits, strong grammar and writing skills are essential.
Since a big component of a Publicist’s job is building and maintaining relationships with the media, Lesley says “outgoing personalities do well, or at the very least, an extroverted introvert.” Publicists often have to juggle deadlines, last minute interview requests or schedule changes, and a variety of personalities, so it’s also important to be flexible and able to keep a cool head in challenging situations. Since Publicists are advocates for their clients, it also helps to be passionate about the music you’re promoting.
Although most Publicists hold regular office hours, they have to be available to clients when needed—and sometimes that means doing last minute work on a project on nights or weekends. “We never close,” Lesley says. “In the advent of smartphones, everyone knows you’re attached and reachable. It’s up to you to set boundaries.”
To land a job, an aspiring Publicist must possess a well-written portfolio of press materials he or she has created. An internship will give you valuable experience and job history; you can also reach out to a local record label or other music organization and volunteer to write press releases for them. Additionally, some colleges and universities have student PR associations that provide valuable networking opportunities. Lesley suggests beginners get their name out there and “go to events. It’s a must to be a music head (obsessed with music) or you‘ll burn out super quickly.”
How Much Does a Publicist make?
If employed by a record label, PR firm or other music organization, Publicists are salaried. Independent Publicists work with their clients to determine a set fee (to be paid monthly, quarterly, or otherwise, depending on the length of the contract and their agreed terms) and will recoup expenses such as photocopying and postage.
Unions, Groups & Associations
The Public Relations Society of America (PRSA) is one of the biggest professional associations for PR professionals in the US. Additionally, Lesley says, “I belong to a fantastic group made up of the top music Publicists in the States called, simply, the PR List. We share information freely with each other. I’m also with an amazing group of women in the entertainment industry which is called Flock Together (formerly Ladies Who Brunch).”
- “Contact PR firms, indie Publicists, and record companies and try to get an internship with them.”
- Compile a strong portfolio of written press materials and a list of media contacts you personally know.
- Network by attending PR and music industry organization events, and by going to shows.
What is the single biggest suggestion you would give to someone wanting to get into this career?
“Don’t be boring, and be tenacious. Writing samples are impressive to me personally, but not a deal breaker. Also, Google the person you’re contacting [and] comment about something cool they’ve done in their career.”
What’s the #1 mistake people make when trying to get into this career?
“Not knowing what they don’t know. Not asking the right questions. Being a clockwatcher.”
What is the question people should ask about this career but rarely do?
“What does it take to garner one good piece?
Come up with an innovative, creative pitch. Then ask yourself what outlets are appropriate for the artist. Really vet these outlets. It’s not good to contact a strictly hip-hop outlet for an alternative rock band. What is the desired coverage? Be realistic. Then contact Editors, staff, and freelancers for each outlet. Try to make your pitch so interesting that they want to listen to the music and consider coverage. Then, once you get the commitment, you need to make sure the press outlet gets everything they need, that the interview happens when it’s supposed to, and the piece runs when it’s supposed to. Finally, be sure to send the client that piece before they see it themselves.”
What is one thing I should have asked which I didn’t?
“Why do people think you can get them a record deal? Kidding!”
If you could describe in one word what makes you successful, what would it be?
“Love of music, creative placement and good writing skills.”
Extra Credit: The Beatles or Rolling Stones?
Lesley Zimmerman is a Publicist, as well as the President/Owner of Lesley Z Media in Los Angeles. Over the course of her career she has worked with Duran Duran, Alanis Morissette, Stone Temple Pilots, The Offspring, Faith No More, The The, KISS, Slightly Stoopid, Fear and the Nervous System (featuring members of KoRn, Faith No More and Bad Religion), Matt Sorum, LeAnn Rimes, David Bowie’s Tin Machine, Paul Rodgers, Robert Palmer, Dweezil and Ahmet Zappa, Daryl Hall and John Oates, and Delicious Vinyl Records.
You can hear Lesley talk more about her career as a Publicist on Steve Rennie’s Renman Music & Business YouTube channel.