Publicists and the Personal Touch: Journalist Relationships Matter More Than Ever

itscomplicated

Zach Schonfeld, a writer for Newsweek, recently decided to read and reply to every PR email he received for a week, a task that he turned into this entertaining account of what sounds like a grueling seven days.

He’s not the only one inundated with press releases and pitches. There are days when I get upward of 70, and sometimes as many as 100, emails from publicists, spread among specific pitches for me and the outlets I write for, more general requests to check out an act’s new song, album or video, emails with download links, blanket press release blasts and, increasingly, automated messages from one of a crop of new PR “platforms” that ostensibly connect musicians and journalists.

The latter category is probably the wave of the future, in that it’s cost-effective and requires minimal overhead, but it’s also the least useful. Three different automated platforms send me pitches, and they require varying degrees of engagement on my part: one sends me album and supposedly local concert news, the second requires me to sign in to a dedicated site to receive more or less the same information, and the third is for artists looking for feedback on their music from journalists. Their submissions pile up in a queue for two weeks or until I log in and “audition” them.

All those services are customizable to one degree or another, with options for writers to select genres and locations they want to receive messages about, but all of them are missing personal touch that is ultimately a crucial element of the relationship between journalists and publicists. Given how many pitches and press releases most journalists get, I, for one, am more likely to take notice when it comes from a publicist I know and trust. They’re the ones who build relationships with journalists, develop a sense of what projects will appeal to which writers and are judicious about what they pitch. (Then there are the publicists who send out releases and almost never respond to follow-up inquiries — a nasty little practice — but that’s a different post.)

Building relationships with writers is admittedly labor-intensive, and it’s much harder now than it was 10 years ago, thanks to the profusion of websites and bloggers and the ongoing contraction of the record industry. But it’s still possible, and the PR people who manage to do it end up having a major advantage: an algorithm does none of the things that good publicists do; also, the automated platforms are populated by pretty much any band that can scrape together the money to use it. On the one hand, there’s a democratizing effect at work there, which is good. On the other, the flood of submissions makes it that much harder to cut through the clutter and find something worth covering. That hasn’t happened yet for me with any of the automated platforms. So far, it’s all white noise and no melody. Good publicists know the difference, which makes their pitches more relevant and therefore more likely to get a response. Good publicists matter now more than ever.

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