I read last week's question from Green Smoke Wizard about whether or not to hire a professional PR company, and now I think my band Doom Fjord is ready to take the leap. What should I expect from a PR company? How do I know I'm not getting ripped off?
Great band name! Where did you guys come up with that??
But onto your question: what can a PR company do for a band that's just breaking out of the basement? What can a client expect? What shouldn't you expect?
When you give your music, artwork, and information to a PR company, they will plug it into a platform like Haulix or Promo Jukebox and send it to their mailing list of journalists, online radio programs, social media influencers... This is known as your "promo." For the love of Christ, do NOT give your money to anyone who is sending out zip files to journalists. You don't need to pay someone else to have your shit get deleted immediately. You can make your own zip files and get them deleted for free.
When the recipients get this email from your PR person, some will delete it sight unseen. Others will glance over it and decide your band does not fit with their interests or coverage. Finally, a precious few will read through your promo, get curious, and then stream your music. If they like it -- and sometimes if they don't like it -- they may decide to review it.
This review may be glowing, it may have some constructive criticism, or it may tear your Viking-inspired doom metal a new rear end. Your PR person doesn't have control over that. He/she also doesn't have control over who reviews your music in the first place. Unless you are paying for ad placements -- which aren't worth your money at this point and are generally to be avoided anyways -- you are not "guaranteed" to be in specific publications.
(Side note, don't take bad or mean-spirited reviews to heart. You can't win 'em all, and I suspect that some bloggers use their reviews as keyboard-warrior outlets for other frustrations.)
I know that sounds bleak, but most times the results of a PR campaign are positive overall. Over the course of a 2-3 month campaign, here are some kinds of coverage a previously unknown band can expect and aim for:
Press release reposts
Podcast/online radio airplay
Reviews on social media (Sleeping Village Reviews, for instance, started off their publication by posting reviews on Instagram. They now do full reviews on a website, but still post lengthy and informative previews in their IG captions.)
Reviews on smaller, subgenre-focused online publications
A few interviews that are specifically about your band (i.e. not form interviews)
A full EP/album stream the week of your release
Follow-up on coverage that comes out after your release
You might also get picked up by a larger site or even a print publication -- it's rare, but it happens. Hey, my old band's debut release got reviewed in Metal Hammer and featured on their covermount CD before we'd even played an out-of-state show! (And hell no, we were not buying an ad or anything like that. It was pure PR magic, plus some writer who thought our EP deserved a 6/10.)
On that note, you should not expect your PR campaign alone to drive your sales numbers into the stratosphere. There are many factors that go into sales: social media optimization, developing a relationship with fans, having a willingness to pitch your music... Cool reviews from Stoner-Blog-o-rama certainly make people more willing to buy your album, but reviews are only one piece of the puzzle.
Curtis Dewar, the one-man force behind Dewar PR put it like this: "With PR, you want results but you are paying for effort." A good PR person will communicate with you regularly, persistently follow up on leads, share your coverage on their own social media channels, and take suggestions as to which publications you're interested in. I think it's also a nice touch if they send your promo to you in advance so you can review it before it gets sent out to The List.
But you really wouldn't know if your "guy" does those things until you've already Paypal-ed him a bunch of money. I have heard a horror story or two about folks getting completely ripped off -- like, a PR person taking a YEAR to find a track premiere placement, and then it was on a site that didn't care at all about the band and just copy/pasted their Facebok bio as the "article." But the PR person already had A LOT of this band's money and they felt there was nothing they could do. (It wasn't a metal band. And the band was great. And unfortunately this really happened.)
To avoid getting stuck in a situation like this, ask a prospective PR company to share some recent coverage they've gotten for clients. Then take a minute to check out the bands yourself to make sure they're decent and they fit in with your subgenre. If the bands are terrible, this company could have a rep for taking on anybody -- which will translate to low-quality coverage from sites that will copy/paste anybody's press release.
You can also follow the PR company on social media to see what their interactions are like. If they are participating in the "Scene Conversation," it's one indicator of who their contacts are and how much effort they are putting in for their clients.
Another idea is to reach out to other bands for referrals. If there's a band in your scene who seems to be getting some great reviews lately, ask them if they have recommendations for a PR company -- or warnings on who to avoid. You'll find out pretty quickly who's worthwhile and who has a bad rep.
So let's say you find a great PR person and you're getting coverage that you're happy with. What can you do to turn this into more visibility and sales for your band? Like I told Green Smoke Wizard, you are part of the team. Here are some ways to take your coverage and run with it:
Begin your campaign 2-3 months before your release date.
MAKE SURE YOU HAVE A BANDCAMP PREORDER LINK IN YOUR PROMO.
(Did you make a preorder link yet?)
Respond to email interview questions in a timely fashion.
Share coverage on your social media channels.
Maintain an active social media presence that goes beyond just sharing your reviews.
Follow and interact with journalists, publications, and labels that you're interested in.
Periodically remind your followers that you have this cool thing for sale and they should buy it. Yes, you should really do this.
The reason you can't just sit back and wait for the bandcamp "Cha-Ching!" notifications is something known in marketing as the Rule of 7. On average, potential customers need to see you or your product seven times before they are moved to click "Buy." So your PR person gets you a cool review, you share it, you post a picture of your dog and ask everyone else to comment with picture of their dogs, your PR person retweets your dog... Repeat... And slowly but surely, the sales start rolling in.
This is also why the preorder link is so important. Let's say your friend is really moved by your cute dog pictures and wants to buy your album -- but it doesn't come out until next month! She can act on that thought and give you money RIGHT NOW instead of maybeeeeee remembering thirty days from now...
Just because you have to put in some work along with your money, don't let this dissuade you from getting PR if you've decided you're ready for it. (Speaking of money, expect to spend $400-$1200 on a campaign with a reputable PR company.) Music journalist Dennis Eikenkötter says, "I honestly don't know how someone that has to keep up with the scene could do it without PR people. I write loads of stuff, do videos and research in order to know what I'm talking about and I don't have the extra time to constantly search for bands that I want to review."
Enter The Promo Email.
And now Doom Fjord is on its way to a sweet 3.8 out of 5 stars on Stoner-blog-o-rama!
This response is mostly my own thoughts and experiences as a music journalist and musician in the underground stoner/doom scene, but I hope it helps. To level up your music industry knowledge with people who make their living in this field, start listening to the Dumb and Dumbest podcast by Curtis Dewar, Matt Bacon, and Keith Chachkes and the Being in A Band podcast by Monica Strut.
As you can see, lots of free information is yours for the taking! Best of luck.