Before You Hire A Publicist Or PR Firm…

Ariel Hyatt provides valuable insights into hiring a publicist or PR Firm and the red flags to run from so you don’t get ripped off.




Ariel is the founder of Cyber PR, a well-respected music publicity firm. She is known throughout the industry for her books, blogs, and dedication to education and she loves teaching artists which she has done in 12 countries for over 100,000  creatives helping them take control of their own marketing, leading masterclasses and workshops.

Visit Ariel’s Speaker Page


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Welcome to our Cartne video titled, ‘Before You Hire a Publicist or a PR Firm’. Our guest today is Ariel Hyatt.

Hello. My name is Ariel Hyatt and I am the founder of Cyber PR. That is an independent, musician minded-PR firm. We also help our artists with long-term term strategy. And I have been in business for 26 years.

Ariel, what makes a publicist good or bad for an artist?

What makes a publicist good for an artist is a publicist who understands who you are, what genre of music you play, and where your potential outlets lie. Small ones, medium size ones and large ones. And having a relationship with your publicist is key. I have heard stories of people that sign up to work with PR firms and then they don’t have contact with the people that are doing the pitching. That is the sign of a bad publicist. 

So when you ask, you know, what makes a bad publicist? I would say a publicist who is not taking the time to have you understand the way that your campaign is laid out, what the pitches  that they are going to be using, what their angles are and is not communicating that to you. That’s a bad publicist. 

So really, you want to make sure that the publicist that you’re working with is someone that you like personally, who understands your music, who is attentive, who is communicative, and who isn’t just looking to grab your money and push you off to intern or a minion on their team.

What questions should an artist ask when they’re interviewing a publicist?

The first thing they should ask is. “How many people are you publicizing at one time? Do you think you can do a good job for me? What are some outlets that you think could be really, really good for my kind of music and my brand?” And if they can’t answer those questions, they’re probably not the right fit for you.

I would also be mindful of really talking about ‘What does the press release look like? What does the pitch look like? What do you need from me in order to make the campaign successful?” 

Often times we will get hired by an artist and then they’ll go on vacation or they’ll be totally unavailable. And we have interviews coming in and they’re not available to get us the answers in a timely manner or, you know. 

You have to be willing to come to your own party during your PR campaign, and you also have to be willing to feed your publicist things. Are you livestreaming? Are you playing now? Do you have like a cool video that just went viral that your publicist can use a snippet of in the pitch? Is there something that you’re doing that’s newsworthy that the publicists can keep using to refresh during their time?

They can’t just write one pitch and rest on their laurels for six weeks or three months or however long you engage them. That is key.

Can a publicist represent multiple similar artists at one time? I once had a PR firm tell me that they couldn’t represent my artist because they had another client who was too similar.

That’s interesting. I think that’s a publicist telling the truth about where their capabilities are and if they already have an Americana artist in their stable or they already have, you know, someone with a very specific angle and they don’t feel like they can do justice. I think that’s a really beautiful piece of news to get. Although it could be disappointing, but I think that’s a publicist with integrity who says, “listen, that slot is taken on my roster right now.” I’m not going to be able to pull out future stories in this category concurrently. 

And I’ve worked with artists that you’ve sent me to in the past, and we’ve decided they’re not the right fit; maybe we need an LGBTQ+ publicist, because that’s the angle that this that your artist that you were working with wanted to go down.

And if you’re working with an agency that is completely specialized in a genre or a type of artists, like black artists or Americana artists or electro artists, it’s a good thing because they’ve got a few of them in their stable because they’re going to the same editors that are interested in that kind of content. So it can work in your favor.

And I love that a publicist has told you that in the past. That’s a publicist with integrity.

Are there red flags that an artist should run from?

Oh, yes. Here’s the number one red flag. If a publicist approaches you and says they’ve just discovered your music on SoundCloud or on Spotify and they’re pitching you, run screaming for the hills! No publicist who has integrity is sitting on SoundCloud and looking for the next thing to approach. Now, if you open for someone and the publicist happened to be in the audience and they’re interested in working for you, or if there is a legit reason, like your labelmate, your producer is recommended, then yes. But if a publicist just hits you up out of the clear blue sky and says, “I just discovered your music and I can’t wait to work with you”, that’s a red flag. 

Another red flag is a hard sell. I like to call this the used car salesman. If a publicist comes to you and says, “Well, you know, you have to make up your mind now. I only have one spot left on my roster.” And they’re pushing you, hard selling you in some way… We’re not car salesmen. That is not our job. And there should be room on a roster if you’ve got your ducks in a row and you’re planning. So those would be two red flags. 

Another thing I would do is look up what other artists has this publicist worked for. And don’t get seduced. A lot of times publicists used to work at major record labels, used to work at other agencies that had stars on their roster. 

Okay, so if someone worked at Atlantic Records, they can say, I worked with… and there will be an illustrious list of incredible artists that they worked with. Be very, very mindful that if a publicist worked with that artist ten years ago, five years ago, three years ago, nine years ago, they might not still have those connections anymore. The world has changed and it’s changed many, many times.

So ten years ago, 20 years ago, I did work with a lot of huge national artists. I don’t think I would ever say to this day like, Hey, I’m this person’s publicist. I was that person’s publicist a long time ago, but the contacts that I had and the doors that I kicked open for Lee ‘Scratch’ Perry. God rest his soul, or for George Clinton and P-Funk All-Stars, who I have not worked with in years, are not the same outlets that I’m pitching ten years later.

What are some of the promises that less than reputable publicists will make that artists should be aware of?

I see a lot of times, yeah. Red flag promises from publicists are the number of plays. I see this, of course, a lot more with playlisting promotions companies.  If they’re saying that they can guarantee you like 10,000 plays or a million plays, that’s not good. That’s not good. They can maybe say like, ‘hey, I think that I can get you a certain amount.’ That’s okay. Like a ballpark. But if a publicist is guaranteeing you X amount of things, that’s not a great – that’s not a great way to sell. We never know who is going to take what for editorial. We never know what the editor’s going to think. We never know what is going to end up as a yes. So any kind of guaranteed promise is probably not good.

On the other hand, I do like to say to my artists, “Listen, I don’t quit easily, so if you’re going to work with me, you are going to at least get ten, 20, 15 pieces of publicity that you can use.” I would never be comfortable with someone walking away from my agency with no pieces of publicity, even if the PR was on a smaller look blog or a smaller podcast. I can’t sleep if I feel like the result wasn’t delivered. 

So I think that’s another thing to talk to your publicist about. And a red flag is really listening when they talk to you about what kind of results they can deliver.

Where can artists find legitimate PR firms or publicists?

Do your research – asking other bands, other managers, other artists, ‘Who did you work with? Who did you like? What was your experience’ is key. I think a recommendation that comes from another artist is always better than Googling or trying to find something randomly online. 

Joining artists communities. There are so many wonderful ones where you’ve – where you can get some coaching and join in conversation. BandsInTown has won. The Rock Star Advocate has one. CD Baby DIY musician. You can find communities of people on Facebook. Ask around like, ‘Hey, have you tried this PR firm? Does anyone have a recommendation?’ And see what comes up and go with a recommended partner. But if you do go to the Google, definitely make sure you look past the first page to make sure that you’re finding the right provider.

This concludes our video title before you hire a PR firm or publicist. We want to thank our guest, Ariel Hyatt, for sharing her invaluable experience and insights with us.

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