RADIO INTERVIEW 101 Getting Your Own In-House Publicity Staff
New for 2016: All serious entertainment companies have their own in-house staff: book publishers have their own publicists; record labels have their own promoters; booking agencies have their own agents, etc. Most of you reading this, however, are individual writers posing as publishers or film companies, and thus have no staff; so you need to hire out for everything. Well of course you can hire out, which is how everyone starts, but at some point and under certain conditions, it will make more sense to hire your very own first staff publicist. And unless you already have so many sales (income) coming in that you cannot get product out the door fast enough, then your first staff should be: a publicist! Don't make the mistake of thinking you need to hire a "better" producer or editor; these people won't make a single additional sale for you because no additional people will see it. A publicist will make additional sales. And there has never been a "real" publisher or film company that had no publicity.
For a writer or filmmaker, and for the purpose of this article, the main activity of your new staff member will be to get in one-to-one communication with the owners/producers/gatekeepers of media outlets with large numbers of users/viewers/readers/listeners. In particular, the focus is radio stations that have at least 300 simulaneous listeners (this is a small-market size station) and larger. This means your person must be good on the phone, but of course email is also needed. So the bare minimum you will need for this person to work is an office, a phone, and at least 20 hours a week. The one exception to a phone would be if you are promoting only to college radio, or online radio, or most any other online-only publication, which you can do with email only; however you will not get enough views/listens to sell much product, and you can probably do the emailing yourself (a few hundred email conversations per week). So we'll assume you need views/listens, and therefore you need a phone and a phone person, because the owners/producers/gatekeepers of media outlets with large numbers of user ares going to be tough to get.
The biggest cost is going to be hourly pay. In the larger cities, a person decent on the phone but with no publicity experience is about $15/hr, and in the small towns are about $12/hr. They will be mixing the job in with their other jobs in order to get a full income, so you need to be flexible in your hours and days, but 20 hours a week over a 3 to 5 day week should be enough to promote to a small list of media outlets, in particular, a radio panel of 50 to 100 stations. Yes you could hire an experienced publicist that worked at a publisher or film distributor, but for them to stay with you, it's going to be at least $25/hr for someone with a year or two of experience, and $35 to $45/hr for 5+ years experience.
Monday and Tuesday are probably mandatory, followed by Thursday. Especially for radio. Morning hours are critical: stations need to be called as early as 8am their time, and as early at 5am for radio morning shows; if you are East Coast, this is easy, but if you are West Coast, prepare to be on the phones at 5am at the latest in order to reach East Coast by 8am.
Most of your publicist's time is going to be spent dialing the phone and waiting on hold, so you almost always need a second person to do the setup work: dialing and holding. This "dialing and holding" job is actually a full time career at major record labels! When the media person gets on the line, the assistant gives the call to your publicist. This keeps the publicist in continuous conversations, and is the most effective use of their time. An assistant for this position is much easier to find, since they do not need a great phone voice or people skills like the publicist does; just lots of patience. This person is good for minimum wage, up to $10/hr. Without this assistant to help the publicist, you are probably going to be shocked at how much time your $15+/hr person spends just staring at the phone waiting for someone to talk to. You might be wondering why the publicist would not just set up phone appointments by email first? Because, larger media outlet don't take email seriously. Radio certainly doesn't. Think about it: you are proposing to them that you will be a great interview guest, yet, you cannot seem to call them up on the phone. The phone is a great filter the media outlets use to eliminate low-level guests that would waste their time.
Next up is your office. Larger cities and smaller towns are about the same: A small 100 square foot office is $200 to $500/mo, and is plenty of room for 4 people to work. Don't expect things to work out well if you try to have the publicist work out of your house or apartment; you can try it for a few months, but the staff will probably be short lived unless there is an office to go to. It just feels to weird to them. And this is certainly not a job that can be done at a coffee shop, or at an open shared-workspace office; phone publicist need to be LOUD and FUNNY to make the best impression with media people. Especially for radio; remember that radio people are audio-only, and make their living by how people sound.
Now the good news: The phone system nowadays can just be a voip (internet phone), which compared to ten years ago is dirt cheap. Or of course, a cell. The phone system MUST be able to catch all incoming calls, so that NO media person gets a recording when they call you. If a media person calls an unknown person (you), they expect a human to talk to and usually will not leave a message or give you another chance, especially when their next call is probably to a publicist at a major label, publisher, or film company. If your publicist cannot get the incoming calls, the assistant MUST get them.
Once you get your office and publicist (and hopefully an assistant) going, there will be about a 6 month warm up time for them to get the hang of things, and this is with you showing them what to do. Another great thing is that the publicist will always be asking you for more hours, so if your sales kick in and you need more help, they are right there ready to go. If however you add on the work of calling venues, or stores, or theaters, you might consider getting a different person because the type of calls (and databases and knowledge) are so different that your publicist can get easily confused. Plus it's a good backup plan too, to have a different person for those jobs, because if your publicist quits then you still have part of your operation running.
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