By Ed Teja
I started to write a blog on how to write a press release, and realized that to fit everything in, I needed to break this into three parts. This one will cover what many of you might not realize is an important first step—establishing your PR message. (The next parts will talk about how to prepare the message and get it out there effectively.) While marketing messages can be about your latest CD or big gig, public relations is more theme based. This lets you ensure that you communicate a single idea that underlies everything you say about your music or band. And developing a good theme that will carry you over time requires thought and research. If you do it right, the marketing messages are going to provide a constant reinforcement of the overall PR theme.
Research? Sure. Do you really know why your fans like what you do? Can you state it in a single sentence without being silly and saying “cause we are good”? If not, you haven’t got your theme.
What is a theme? The theme is basically the story of your band. It sets out the thing, one thing, that makes your band different. Not unique (bad word anyway), just different. If another band playing similar music is in town, why should people spend their hard earned money on your gig? And right here comes the first difficulty.
Become an outsider
I am going to assume you don’t have the financial backing to hire an outside PR person. If you do, that can be a big help, but since you don’t, here is how to put on that person’s hat and become a PR person looking at your band from the outside. You must find important things that are of interest to your audience, not your mother or the rest of the band.
It is very important that one person be the PR person for the band, because this only works if there is a single, consistent story. You can all discuss the idea and contribute to it, but one person should have the responsibility for maintaining its presence and consistency in all that you do.
The PR person has the rough task of finding an objective story. And it might not be the obvious one, or rather, the obvious story might not be the best for you.
Mastering two audiences
What makes PR tricky is that there are two audiences and they are layered. If you don’t get through the first layer, the second layer will never hear of you. The first audience layer is that of editors and music reporters. You need to develop a message that will make them feel that your band, your music is newsworthy. If possible you want an angle that will let the writer present you as a discovery. Remember, the writer has an audience too, and they want interesting information on breaking trends and ideas.
So what does an editor want? He or she wants to know why you or your music, preferably both, are different from the other bands flooding the mailbox with PR and CDs. To this end, do yourself a very big favor and banish words like “best,” “hottest” and “new” from your vocabulary. These are superlatives that other people should use, not you. Editors are even more tired of them than everyone else. And by the way, even if you have the only punk band ever to use harpsichord and zither, you are NOT a unique punk band. Breaking the mold is great, and a good story hook, but “unique” and “punk” or any other genre, are incompatible terms. If it is unique, it isn’t punk, and so on. Pick your poison.
You probably want to go with a genre, and not make up your own. Typically, a punk bank using odd instruments is of greater interest than a Zydeco/Punk band. Not always, but an odd category is, in general, a harder sell. For one thing, many publications specialize in certain genres and you don’t want to give them an excuse not to run a story on you.
Keep it human
To reach the second layer audience, the readers of the story, you need to make sure your story has human interest. Even if you are doing modal jazz, readers are going to relate more to your human struggles than technical musical information. The fact that you play everything in Lydian scales is less interesting than the fact that you make your living running a dairy farm and got hooked on jazz when you learned that the Windows audio logo is in E flat.
But the question that must be answered is: “why do you do what you do?” So you do all the lead breaks on kettle drum and didgeridoo, so what? The thing that might be interesting is why you do that.
You will need to find a sounding board, because quite honestly, we all bullshit ourselves real well. Maybe you want to go where Miles Davis feared to tread, but are you truly doing that now, or just working toward it. Editors and writers of any experience survive by having well developed bullshit detectors. To get passed them, you need an honest story. It doesn’t need to be a madcap tale. It can be that you formed your band to pay the rent when your parents lost their jobs and you found a home in the blues. It can be simply that you make music cause you love it, or don’t know how not to. That is the underlying story. Then, the story behind the latest CD or gig becomes an episode in that bigger saga. The human interest builds over time, and the audience impatiently waits to hear what will happen next. In the best sense, it becomes a living drama.
And drama hooks audiences, both at the screening level and the readers.
But do remember that this story is one that, if it works, will cling to you, follow you everywhere, so it better be one that is true and that you want in the minds of fans and everyone else.
What stories have you created before, and what has worked well for you? Or perhaps, what challenges have you faced with your public relations campaign?
Written by Ed Teja for Insider Music Business