What is a Publicist? And What Do They Do?
When it comes to answering the question, what is a publicist? A definition is as good a place to start as any.
The definition of a publicist, according to Wikipedia is ‘someone whose job it is to generate and manage publicity for a public figure’ and ‘generate press coverage on behalf of clients to serve as the bridge between clients, their public and media outlets.’
So a publicist, also known as a public relations specialist, promotes the image, ideas, services or products of their client by generating positive coverage in the press, online, and on TV and radio.
What does a publicist do?
Let’s look into that in a bit more detail.
The role of a publicist is to create positive media coverage so you, the client, can reach, impact and influence your target audience. What a publicist does for you on a day-to-day basis naturally varies depending on your business, your objectives, and your budget.
Typically, a publicist’s daily tasks include:
- Pitching ideas to the media
- Writing and distributing news releases
- Putting together an EPK (electronic press kit)
- Developing media lists and managing relationships
- Setting up a photo or video shoot
- Scheduling TV or press interviews
- Planning PR events
- Writing speeches, presentations and biographies
- Planning press junkets
- Managing social media activity
- Carrying out media training
- Making sure messaging is consistent
- Managing any PR crisis
- Tracking media coverage
But a key role for a publicist is to work closely with you as an individual or a business to decide what the messaging will be, how it’s delivered and on what platform.
Different types of publicists
Publicists work across numerous sectors and with different-sized businesses: from solopreneurs to big corporations and from celebrities to VIPs.
Publicists for solopreneurs
If you’re a solopreneur, hiring a publicist who specialises in PR for entrepreneurs can be a valuable addition to your team. A publicist can raise your personal profile, build your credibility, and increase the visibility of the brand. As well as advising you on self-promotion tactics and preparing you for TV and press interviews.
As a small business owner with a handful of employees, you may think that hiring a publicist to handle your PR activity is beyond your reach financially.
But a publicist with experience of working with small business and developing communications plans, advising businesses on messaging and finding opportunities for media interviews, speaking engagements and features, are worth their weight in gold. And they can advise you on how to increase your industry profile too.
Public relations specialists for large corporations
At this level of business, having a publicist or a PR team on board is no longer a nice-to-have but an essential part of your marketing mix. And your publicist is your first port of call in a PR crisis too.
A corporate PR pro can increase your brand’s reputation by securing various media opportunities at a national and international level and positioning you and or your senior team as thought leaders in the industry. It means that media outlets will consistently seek out your brand experts to contribute to developing stories about your industry.
Say celebrity publicist and most people think red carpets, glasses of Moet, and getting clients out of scrapes. There is some of that, of course. But celebrity PR takes long hours and hard work to ensure a client is written about positively in the press, especially during awards season or when there’s a new film or show or book about to be released.
A celebrity publicist is responsible for organising your interviews and press tours, making travel arrangements and accompanying you on the road, if needed. More often these days, a celebrity publicist also works with bloggers and influencers, and comments or responds to messages on your social media networks.
A good celebrity publicist has outstanding relationships with all the right editors, journalists, and TV reporters and knows how to pitch an original and insightful story, so it garners interest. And they know how to spin a possible crisis into a positive opportunity.
A music publicist’s role is to liaise with the media to get a band, a singer, or a performer positive coverage in the press and on TV. They’re not there to book you a gig, or get you signed to a label, or make you instantly famous.
If you’ve played smaller venues and had some coverage in the local press, a music publicist can take you to the next level by securing national coverage. They may do this with a press kit, or at least a digital press kit which consists of:
- One-page bio that’s interesting and informative with a strong identity
- Photo that reflects your personality (your music publicist can arrange a photo shoot)
- Previous articles written about you
- Music reviews
- CD or a link so the track(s) can be downloaded
- Contact details
Your music publicist will send press packs or press releases, co-ordinate track and video premieres, organise online listening parties, interviews and show previews, and monitor media coverage. And they’ll foster close media relations with the music press over many years, so they can introduce journalists to bands and artists they may like.
A proper PR campaign around a new album release starts around eight weeks before the album drops. So it’s important not to leave getting a music publicist on board until the last-minute.
With more than 170,000 book titles published each year, and in many different formats, smart authors are hiring the services of book publicists in an effort to stand out. Traditionally, publishing houses include the marketing of a book as part of the publishing deal. But now, more often than not, as an author, you’ll be expected to handle your own promotion. And that’s led to a rise in book publicists.
Every book publicist specialises in a particular genre or author. Consequently, the work they do varies considerably. But typically, a book publicist’s workload includes:
- Putting together a media kit
- Editing the author’s biography and the book’s synopsis
- Positioning the title so it’s added to must-read book lists
- Pitching interviews and features
- Organising author interviews
- Coaching the author and formulating talking points for interviews
- Encouraging nomination of the title at a book awards ceremony
- Requesting book reviews
- Organising book giveaways
- Planning a book launch
- Scheduling, hosting and promoting a virtual book tour
- Advising on social media messaging
For your book publicity campaign to be successful, you need to collaborate with your publicist, ensure you’re available as much as possible and make time for interviews.
What makes a good publicist?
So what are the skills needed to make a good publicist? Ascertain whether your publicist has the following skill set before you hire them.
Strong writing skills
A good publicist needs to be able to write. That’s a given. A publicist has to be able to pull together a news release at the drop of a hat. But they also need to be able to write emails, pitches and proposals, as well as engaging Tweets and Instagram captions, if they’re handling the social media aspect of the job.
Journalists receive numerous pitches every day. So the job of a good publicist is to craft an unforgettable story and present it in such a way so it really stands out from the crowd.
Attention to detail is also key. Facts and figures, as well as email addresses, phone numbers and other contact details must be correct. Nothing looks more unprofessional than a typo in an email address or a mistake about a price.
Being able to think quickly and come up with a solution is high on the agenda too, especially when a PR crisis is looming. A good publicist needs to think on their feet and put the lid on problems before they begin.
A good publicist needs outstanding organisational skills as every day is different and has numerous moving parts. There’s talking to publications about coverage for one client one moment and then attending a TV or radio interview with another client the next. A well-managed schedule is essential.
Wallflowers can’t be publicists. A certain amount of ballsiness is needed for the job and the ability to speak with clarity, confidence and authority. If a publicist sounds like they don’t believe in the story, why would the journalist who’s on the receiving end get onboard?
No-one likes to receive a boring press release or bog-standard pitch. These days publicists have to be bold and creative when it comes to storytelling and present an angle that no-one has thought of before.
How to find a good publicist
If you’ve decided that you or your business can benefit from some professional PR activity, the next challenge is finding the right publicist.
Ask your professional network if anyone has ever used a publicist and is there anyone they’d recommend. Put a shout out on Twitter or LinkedIn for recommendations too. And if you see a competitor or someone in a similar industry receiving coverage at a local, national or international level, find out who the publicist is behind their success stories.
Do a Google search
Obviously. But remember to look beyond the paid ads, page one results and the huge agencies. When you find a well-laid out and well-written website have a dig around the portfolio and testimonial pages. Has this publicist worked with other clients similar to you? Have they achieved outstanding results and the kind of coverage you’re looking for? What are their customers saying about them? If they look like a good fit, add them to your list.
Consider you budget
Newsflash. Publicists are not free to hire. So before you contact any publicist, ensure you have the funds available to spend on PR activity. But don’t judge a publicist on price alone. Is the cheapest option the best option? Probably not. Is it worth spending more to get the coverage you want? Almost certainly, yes. And look at the value that person can add to your business rather than just their monthly fee. A quality service is worth the investment. So have the finances in place.
Get in contact
Send a concise introduction email outlining what you want to achieve and the kind of publicist you’re looking for. Mention the work they’ve done for other clients. Don’t ping publicists to ‘see if they’re interested’ via social media. Or, send out a mass email. Be professional. Remember, a publicist will be making a decision about whether they want to take you on as a client as much as you’re looking to take them on as your publicist
This is someone you may be working with for six months to a year. So it’s worth meeting up with your potential publicist in real life to ensure there’s chemistry and you’re a good fit. If a meeting is impractical, think about using Skype or FaceTime.
Discuss your expectations
A relationship with your publicist can rapidly deteriorate, if the work you think they’re doing for you and the work they think they’re doing for you wildly differ. Remember, your publicist cannot perform miracles. They work hard to get you and your story in front of the right people at the right time. But they cannot force a journalist to cover a story about you or your business.
Keep in touch – but not every day
Once you’ve hired your publicist, keep them up-to-date with new developments or changes of circumstances. Or, let them know if a story is about to come out that may be unfavourable. But don’t call every day to ask them what they’re doing and what coverage they’ve got. Let them get on with the job they need to do.