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Are You Still Blasting Out Press Releases & Stuffing Envelopes and Wondering Why You are Not Getting Reviewed?

Are You Still Blasting Out Press Releases & Stuffing Envelopes and Wondering Why You are Not Getting Reviewed?

An Interview With Deirdre Breakenridge, author of “PR 2.0” & “Putting the Public Back in Public Relations”

Public Relations Has Changed Forever- Part 1

If you haven’t already heard, Public Relations has changed forever. If you are still trying to get the word out about your music by writing press releases and blasting them out, or by stuffing hundreds of envelopes and mailing them to names on a “media list” I urge you to take a few minutes to read this interview.

It is both an honor and a privilege to have had the opportunity to interview the unstoppable Deirdre Breakenridge who’s books PR 2.0 & “Putting the Public Back in Public Relations,” (co-authored by Brian Solis) have given me chills on many pages. I asked Dierdre to talk to me from the perspective of the music business and she delivered the goods….

Ariel Hyatt: What is PR 2.0 and how is it different from regular PR?

Deirdre Breakenridge: PR 2.0 is a new approach. It’s the true convergence of public relations and the Internet, which creates a new breed of PR/Web marketers. We’re moving away from a broadcast model of pushing messages (top down) out to the market. Today, through PR 2.0, brands are able to use this new and better approach of listening directly to conversations in web communities and then engaging directly in dialogue with influencers/citizen journalists and customers. This is a very effective bottom up strategy, which enables PR professionals to develop customized stories and provide a brand’s public(s) with meaningful and relevant information through conversations. Of course, PR has always been about building relationships with various groups of stakeholders. Through PR 2.0 and social media communications, we are able to connect and build even stronger bonds that lead to long term value for a brand.

AH: Can you explain why writing a press release and blasting it out won’t work in today’s new online world?

DB: In the past, PR people would create a press release for a brand and then distribute the announcement over a wire service or blast it out to a large database of contacts. It’s a “throw it up against the wall and see if it sticks” type of effort. It’s not a targeted approach and, in more cases than not, if the journalist does not have a relationship with you, the release is overlooked or discarded. Press releases do not build relationships they are just tools. And, online, people are looking to connect in their communities with other like-minded people. It’s the people who build relationships and not the tools or technology that we use. If you are only blasting out press releases, then you are missing out on a tremendous opportunity to connect with people directly and to build a strong, loyal following through social media.

There are several common mistakes, as simple as they may seem. They include:

1. Don’t make the media search for you. I’ve noticed that many people doing their own PR programs inadvertently omit contact from important PR and marketing tools. As easy as this may sound, contact information, including an email address, telephone numbers, and even MySpace, Facebook and Twitter handles are excluded from important materials. The most common place that is overlooked is on a news release or in a newsroom (where contact information should be plastered on every page).

2. No additional materials or presence on the web. When someone finds you and makes that initial connection, you need to provide them with more information. For example, when you are at a concert or social gathering you should have a postcard or a flyer about your next event, or even just a business card to hand out. When someone learns about you and then goes on the Web, this could mean not being prepared with a website or a newsroom. You need a place where a person, interested in finding out more about your music, will be able to find a backgrounder on you and your band, information about your music, a concert calendar or samples of your body of work. Once you’ve captured someone’s attention, it’s important not to lose their interest. Having additional information will keep you top of mind.

3. Updating and maintaining your contacts. It’s imperative that when you make a “friend” in a journalist that you make a friend for life. Following up with that person, after initial contact, is important. You need to provide them with helpful information, touch base every so often to see if they need anything, offer relevant resources to build their stories, keep their contact information updated (should they move to another news outlet) and even just call to say, “Thank you for the great review.” I recommend investing in a software platform that enables you to manage your contacts and interact with them regularly and also allows them to access great information easily.

4. Not doing your media or blogger homework. If you are doing PR on your own, it’s critical that you take the time to research your influencer (whether it’s a journalist or a blogger), see what topics this person finds interesting, review any recent conversations he/she is having in social communities and get a feel for his/her personality before you connect. To avoid just jumping into a conversation too quickly or pitching inappropriately, you can set up searches using Google Alerts,, BackType and Collecta. These searches will allow you to monitor the conversations and to listen carefully. You can also check out your influencer’s blogs for recent posts or and to review community member comments. For a minimal time investment, you will be able to offer meaningful information, build a better relationship and be viewed as a valuable resource by your influencer.

AH: I’m in a new band just starting out, and I have a Myspace, a Facebook, a Facebook fan page, and a Twitter account. How do I use these effectively from a PR standpoint?

DB: Using social networks are great so that you can listen to conversations and be there to share information that is valuable to groups of people that you want to become a part of your community. MySpace, Facebook and Twitter are good networks to keep fans in the loop of your concerts, new music, activities, and to give them a better picture of you and your personality. This allows your fans to connect with your personal brand. These networks are also very valuable because you have the ability to watch what not only your fans are doing, but what their friends are doing and saying as well, and how they interact with each other. This is the best form of research. It will tell you what kind of music they like, what events they prefer and how they want you to communicate with them.

As you interact and share your music, you then have the opportunity to connect and drive people back to your own website to become an active part of your music community. On your own site, they can engage more and become loyal fans that purchase and recommend your music. You’ve taken a new one-on-one approach, which through PR 2.0 turns into one-to-many communication on your behalf. Your fans are your greatest brand ambassadors and as they talk about you to their many friends, your brand and music becomes viral in the social media landscape.

AH: Artists call Cyber PR (My Music Digital PR Firm) all of the time completely overwhelmed by social media. They do not want to do their own and they want other people to manage their social media prescence for them. Is this a good idea?

Social media can definitely be overwhelming, but I’m not a big fan of having other people manage your social media presence. I believe that you have to be completely transparent in web communities, and, therefore, when you are blogging, posting comments and sharing information, it’s really you. Fans want to connect with musicians, not their PR people or social media managers. However, you can get some help from your publicist who can manage and post content on your fan pages, monitor conversations and suggest ways in which you can engage better with your fans, and most of all find more great connections for you. However, when it comes to the conversations with people, you really have to do this yourself. The more time you put into a relationship with your fans, the more you will get out of it. Then, you will see your fan base grow at rates that can’t be achieved traditionally.

AH: Are there any part of social media you think can be effectively outsourced?

You can outsource the monitoring of the conversations and also you can get assistance with building social tools for PR campaigns that build and grow your community. For example, Social Media Releases (SMR) are great for interactive, collaborative and sharing of stories about you’re music and concerts. The SMR template allows you to incorporate video, mp3, images, links to other resources, bookmarking and a number of social network sharing tools. A publicist should be able to help you to organize the material, get the news part of the SMR into an easy and digestible format, and work with you to post the release for your music community to share. I’ve written a couple of blog posts on the traditional news release vs. the SMR and the results of the SMR, which can be very effective.

AH: Do you think that a band or a music business brand has any chance of building an audience without using social media?

I do believe that a music business brand or a band will still use traditional channels to build awareness and for credible third party endorsements. However, if the music business or band chooses not participate in social media, it is missing out on a tremendous opportunity to connect with consumers, media, bloggers, and other interested parties in social networks. You can use social media to quickly showcase talent whether it’s through sharing video clips or podcasts. Social media expands a business’ reach to people who have the potential to become loyal enthusiasts and want to learn more about an artist’s music or business offering. I use the recent example of Dave Carroll and his video, United Breaks Guitars. Dave has now propelled his reputation and his band’s music to a worldwide stage. His YouTube video shared a situation that occurred when he and his band were on a trip from Nebraska to Chicago. The enthusiasm and passion that the video ignited simply would not have happened through traditional media, or it would have taken a lot longer.

About Deirdre K. Breakenridge
Deirdre K. Breakenridge is President, Executive Director of Communications at PFS Marketwyse. A veteran in the PR industry, Deirdre leads a creative team of PR and marketing executives strategizing to gain brand awareness for their clients through creative and strategic public relations campaigns. She counsels senior level executives at companies including Hershey’s, Infineum, JVC, Kraft, Michael C. Fina, and Secure Horizons.

Deirdre is an adjunct professor at Fairleigh Dickinson University in Madison, New Jersey where she teaches courses on Public Relations and Interactive Marketing for the Global Business Management program. She recently finished her fourth Financial Times business book, “Putting the Public Back in Public Relations,” co-authored by Brian Solis. She has also authored: “PR 2.0, New Media, New Tools, New Audiences,” “The New PR Toolkit” and “Cyberbranding: Brand Building in the Digital Economy.”
Deirdre speaks publicly on the topics of PR, social media communications and brand building and is a contributing editor of TechConnect, PRSA’s Technology Newsletter and also blogs about PR 2.0 Strategies at

Stay tuned for Part 2 Next Week…. Where Dierdre will talk about the key difference between doing PR DIY style now and five years ago, and what she would do if she only had $500 to spend on a digital PR campaign.

Reader Comments (18)

I agree with this 100%, this was an exceptionally good interview, but...this has really dire implications.

All the hype about the end of "Gatekeepers" was only that -- hype. Public Relations is about relationships more than ever, but that's ominous because human beings have strict, hardwired cognitive limitations on how many relationships they can juggle, maintain and care about. This has been explained in popular articles as our "tribe" or "Monkeysphere" -- if you're totally unfamiliar with this, start with this irreverent and accessable intro:

Neurologists have wicked interesting debates about the mechanics and precise size of this limit, but the popular consensus seems to be +/- 150 people which Really not much.

It's been very funny to me how much my old interests in neurology, cognitive bias, and social manipulation and control have become front-and-center relevant to my music and my business in 2009. I didn't realize I was studying up to be a mogul so early on. Our brains are learning machines, designed for pattern recognition, built not to enable us to think but to minimize thinking.

For instance, I have a hard time checking out new music in 2009. This is because of pattern recognition: so often, the music that I check out is worthless horseshit. So I have a very real cognitive barrier to seeking out new music or even listening to the 20-30 submissions I get in my gmail inbox every day...and every day, that barrier gets wired to be stronger via simple repetition.

So the clear implication of this, to me, is that we're evolving (have already evolved) into a system where networks of gatekeepers and artists reward their participants and resist new members.

August 27 | Unregistered CommenterJustin Boland

"So the clear implication of this, to me, is that we're evolving (have already evolved) into a system where networks of gatekeepers and artists reward their participants and resist new members."

That's so right. That's why it's essential to build a new yard with a modern set of gates..


August 27 | Unregistered CommenterBruce Warila

I've been on both sides of the press release. I have sent them on behalf of musicians/bands and I have received them when I was managing editor of a online business publication.

A problem I have run into lately are musicians who don't want to put in the time to respond to fan emails and who don't put out much content of any sort for fans. That means the entire PR strategy isn't going to be as effective as it could be and therefore I'm wary of getting involved. I don't want to work on a project that I know isn't going to produce the best results.

Most musicians are still operating under the assumption that they create the art and the audience listens. But fans have come to expect more these days. I can understand why musicians don't want to spend the time doing the non-music stuff, if they don't enjoy it, but music as a whole has become much more social than it has been since the days when everyone sat together and made music as a community.

August 27 | Unregistered CommenterSuzanne Lainson

Shotgun never worked well, pre-Web 2.0 included. As recommended here, PR is about relationships. As such, stories are developed through direct contact, telephone or e-mail at the least. It's about pitches, not press releases. Nevertheless, I always include a well-written AP-style media release as part of a campaign, but rely mostly on direct story pitches. Besides being a music artist, I'm a seasoned PR pro.

Good advice here, too, about researching contacts through twitter, etc. is another, great source for researching journalists' online activity.

Certainly, with blogs and mini-blogs it's a long-term process of observing, learning and getting known, slowly, carefully.

August 27 | Unregistered CommenterAllen Shadow


I couldn't have said it better myself - you are so correct: it's a long-term process of observing, learning and getting known, slowly, carefully. thanks for the insight from a PR Pro.
- Ariel

August 27 | Unregistered CommenterAriel Hyatt

Such an informative and valuable interview. Thanks very much to both Ariel and Deirdre!

August 27 | Unregistered CommenterAndrew McMillen


Thanks, also for the good reportage here and elsewhere. I'm a subscriber to your newsletter, and have been learning much from you. While I've been in traditional PR for decades, I'm relatively new to social media. There's much to observe and learn, but I'm making progress.


August 27 | Unregistered CommenterAllen Shadow

"Shotgun never worked well, pre-Web 2.0 included."

True. I used to freelance for national magazines. To get an assignment I would send a query letter to an editor. I'd send a unique letter to each editor based on all the research I had done on the publication. I knew the types of articles published, the style of the articles, what topics they had already covered in the last year, and so on. Each pitch was tailored to fit.

I don't put quite that much effort into doing publicity for a band, but I still think in terms of what makes a good story. And if I want a feature article, I will approach individual editors with ideas. If, for example, you know an editor will give you a cover story, you work closely with that editor.

When I was an editor myself, I liked to get press releases from the businesses I was covering because a good idea meant I didn't have to spend the day looking for a topic to write about.

August 28 | Unregistered CommenterSuzanne Lainson

PR and creativity are two different entities. You may be skilled in one and not in another. It is nearly impossible for an author, composer, or orchestration specialist to create a work and do PR at the same time. That is why a lot of what we are hearing, reading and seeing today in my opinion is not quality material. A successful artist puts his time and effort into his books or compositions and hopefully finds someone just as skilled in PR as he is in creativity. I believe we would have much better quality music, books and other material if we were able to work as a team. I believe there is not enough diversity in the music industry and the writing industry. Many important compositions are shunned or ignored because the composer or writier has decided to grace the classics or orchestrate something without using electronics or noise.

Bryan Chauncey Mays

Hi Ariel:

This interview truly gives me pause. As a former newspaper reporter and 20-year PR veteran, I disagree completely with the assumption that the writing and distribution of press releases is no longer worthwhile. In fact, I believe it's more important than ever. We recently distributed a press release that generated more than 400 stories in newspapers and trade publications across the country. A number of these stories remain in the search engines months later. Statistics show that more than 90 percent of the press releases the news media receive are thrown away, either because they don't contain a strong hard news hook or they are poorly written, not following Associated Press style. In writing this, I don't want to discount the importance of social networking through Facebook, My Space, Twitter, etc. Nor the importance of communicating with fans and music industry professionals. However, artists who want to build much-needed media exposure (and credibility) need to keep the writing and distribution of hook-driven press releases on their PR/marketing to-do lists.

August 28 | Unregistered CommenterChuck Whiting

This is all very interesting...I agree with Chuck, and most of the others! This is why the task of maintaining PR for an artist is seemingly never-ending and always a bit mysterious. You really do need to play the traditional route, otherwise you may not even get your event listed (not that that will necessarily get anyone to your show, but at least people may see your name), but you also need to participate in all of the online opportunities. The great thing is that these are opportunities; the tricky thing is that discovering what works is a science in itself. Many musicians are doing all of this themselves and are not particularly social to begin with! Furthermore, if all of one's time is spent trying to find out how to connect with an array of individuals and what these individuals happen to like or not like, what happens to the art?

The issue with music PR is that it is time-consuming. It takes time to maintain a current list of music media outlets (whether print magazine, online blogs, or anything in between). It takes time to stay active in various social networks.

So an artist or band either does it themselves or they hire someone to do it. And if you hire someone, either it is going to cost you, or that person is (1) working for free, (2) not putting in the time to do the job adequately, or (3) is getting less than $10 a hour for all the necessary time.

That's the issue. Not how you do it, but how much time it takes.

Now, having done all of the above, and also writing press releases and bios, I do think some people have more skill at it than others. Artists/bands are not always good at seeing story opportunities by themselves. So there are good reasons to work with a skilled professional.

But good music PR has a cost, either in fees you pay or in time you invest yourself.

August 30 | Unregistered CommenterSuzanne Lainson

In very broad terms I think that press and publicity (e.g. servicing existing outlets) is best left to professionals, and social networking best left to the artists. There's some overlap to be sure, but in the hands of DIY musicians PR can be amateurish and naive; while social networking done by PR firms can be ham-fisted and inauthentic. Both will damage the artist's reputation with the intended audience.

I can understand artists wanting someone to handle PR for them. I've done DIY press and PR for several of my own releases, and looking back the ROI for my time was dismal, even for the limited scope of the campaign. Even so, I learned a great deal, including the fact that it's probably one of the things I'd pay a professional to do in the future.

That said, I think it's better to have NO social networking presence at all than have a hired firm "do" your social networking.

August 30 | Unregistered Commenterscottandrew

what a great interview! thanks a lot!

August 31 | Unregistered CommenterCarl

Great article and commentary. It seems that doing effective PR work is an art form in itself, much like writing a song. You create your song (your pitch) with the intention of reaching a broad audience of consumers (tastemakers, bloggers or print media, as well as fans). As Chuck mentions, an effective way in which this is executed is using hook-driven pitches, similar to writing catchy hooks and choruses. Aside from the cheesiness of the analogy, the bottom line is that being a recording/performing artist and being effective at PR and social media marketing both require their own respective amount of time and energy invested in it.

My question is, given the limited amount of time, energy and resources to allocate to both music creation and authentic, artist-driven networking and PR, which is more important for an artists' success? If the artist spends all her time working on music and comes out with an incredible song but no campaign in place to connect to an audience, the song sits there collecting dust. At the other extreme, the artist could have a comparably inferior product, but is nonetheless gaining a following because she has invested her time in building a social movement, with the inferior song being a small fraction of her ultimate presence as an artist. Ideally, an artist can hire a third party professional to handle PR while they focus on music, and both grounds are sufficiently covered. But for the artists without the budget, what is the good balance to strike? With so much content out there, and fans caring less about production (and even songwriting) quality, should some of the creative efforts take a back seat to the "business" end?

August 31 | Unregistered CommenterWeston Nakamura

"My question is, given the limited amount of time, energy and resources to allocate to both music creation and authentic, artist-driven networking and PR, which is more important for an artists' success?"

A really good question. To tell you the truth, I think right now the marketing is more important than the music, especially if you are focusing on live shows and merchandise. If people think they will have fun or a great experience at your shows, they will come, even if you aren't the most talented band/performer. (I've seen this often the case with local bands. The most popular aren't necessarily the best in a musical sense.)

Similarly, if you have a great looking T-shirt, you should be able to sell it even if the music is just so-so.

Another trend I have noticed is the amount of coverage given to musicians who are successful at social media. The story isn't about their music, but about their fan relationships. So anyone who excels in that aspect may get a story written about them. Tech writers, in particular, don't care about the quality of the music as long as the artist is doing something successful in terms of online marketing.

August 31 | Unregistered CommenterSuzanne Lainson

Good point. Stories about connecting with fans online are likely to have a limited shelf life, and may already have reached a 'heard it before' saturation point. I think the "buddy" system has limited value, and the thing that convinces me is that when I play a show a few towns over, I'm signing autographs, while hometown shows, though well attended and profitable, don't carry the same weight of being an exciting event in the minds of the listeners. It used to be that we hired PR people to make us a little more mysterious and larger than life; maybe a little more interesting than we really are, but I don't think a fan looks up to an artist in the same way if they're too accessible.The problem is all the searchable data on the net makes it really hard to pull off a good publicity stunt, or tell any really useful lies; through research, I've found that most of my favorite stories about artists I idolized in younger days are horse puckey, concocted by PR flacks working for major labels, who needed a hook to get a journo to write something, anything, about a band or artist. Example? The story about Jim Morrison being so drunk in the studio they actually had to nail his shoes to the floor to keep him from leaning into the microphone-never happened. I emailed a guy I found online that was in the room. The myth-making machinery is broken, and I'd like to know how to fix it.

November 1 | Unregistered CommenterMojo Bone

Yes, you pretty much have to be who you are these days because everyone will find out anyway.

I've done PR for musicians. My goal isn't to fake who they are, but to convey who they are in the most interesting and concise way.

I've seen some musicians doing a great job of spreading the word about themselves without any professional help. They find something they are good at, like putting up YouTube videos, and use that for self-publicity.

Where I still find some shortcomings when it comes to artists handling PR themselves is doing bios. A lot of artists really seem to want to talk about how they took up a violin at eight, or how they met their bandmates, or whatever. They aren't good at figuring out what is most interesting about themselves and focusing on that.

November 1 | Unregistered CommenterSuzanne Lainson

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