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Rainmaker Publicity: Lessons From 8 Years In the Marketing Trenches
Anne Freeman,

Rainmaker Publicity is a Boston-based, independent publicity company that specializes in representing independent artists. A full-service publicity company founded by Rhonda Kelley, Rainmaker Publicity works in print, broadcast, and electronic media, developing publicity campaigns for its artist clients via "previews, reviews, features, special events, news items, and other strategic campaign tactics."

Rhonda Kelley and Rainmaker publicity is celebrating eight years in business, having represented over 600 independent artists and record labels. I interviewed Rhonda recently to tap into her hard-earned expertise to learn more about the publicity business and the role it should play in an independent artist's career.

[The Aspiring Songwriter] Congratulations, Rhonda, on celebrating eight years in the publicity business! Before we start our discussion, please take a moment to explain to us the difference between publicity, promotion, and marketing.

Rhonda Kelley Thank You! It is quite an accomplishment in this highly competitive market. I feel very lucky that I am still loving it as much as I did when I started in 1996. As for the terminology, it is very simple. Marketing is about sales, retail, product placement and positioning. Publicity is about press including magazines, newspapers, webzines and television. The goal is attention, visibility, and buzz. Promotion is a huge umbrella that can include all of the above, as well as radio, street teams, mailers, posters, etc.

[The Aspiring Songwriter]Thanks for the explanations. Rhonda, tell us about Rainmaker Publicity - describe the clients that you typically represent, for example.

Rhonda Kelley There are no typical clients for us. I love many music genres. When I am looking at a potential client, I am looking for a CD that I can connect with. But, I am also looking at the press potential. If the music is too unusual or quirky, then it won't get picked up by most press outlets and I really can't give them their money's worth. I also won't take on a client if the CD is older than a year; I would rather wait for the next project. If a client has unreasonable expectations and goals (i.e. this campaign must translate into a record deal), I won't work with them.

[The Aspiring Songwriter] What aspects of publicity does Rainmaker Publicity provide for its clients?

The Catholic Girls

Rhonda Kelley Our goal is to get as much press in as many press outlets as possible for our clients. Before starting a press campaign, I hand pick certain editors, reviewers, and freelancers that I know will appreciate that genre of music and that specific CD. I may have eight writers at "Billboard" that do reviews for me, but in my opinion, only three that I would decide to send a CD to for those reasons. It really is not a numbers game in publicity; it is about knowing your market and knowing your writers.

[The Aspiring Songwriter] How did you get started in the publicity business?

Rhonda Kelley I literally fell into it. I had taken some time off from my marketing job in radio and created a television show called EDGETV (on the ABC Affiliate). It was a monthly special program where I featured musicians like The Cranberries, Aerosmith, and Harry Connick Jr, as well as other entertainment pieces. I had to do my own P.R. because I couldn't afford to hire someone else. Apparently, I did a GREAT job because soon local bands were calling me asking for my help, and it just took off from there.

[The Aspiring Songwriter] What compelled you to form Rainmaker Publicity and to focus on independent artists and bands?

Rhonda Kelley When I started Rainmaker in 1996, there were not many independent public relations firms out there focusing on the unsigned band. It was a small niche then, but one where I knew I could make a difference. I made the deliberate decision then to concentrate on the developing musician, not the established one. I felt [that independents] needed an advocate more, and they do.

[The Aspiring Songwriter] Rhonda, I'd like to talk about publicity from the artist perspective. Artists often struggle with decisions about whom to hire for their team, when to hire them, and (frequently) how to pay for them. At what point in an artist's career should publicity and hiring a publicist become a "must do" rather than a "would like to do"?

Blowup Hollywood

Rhonda Kelley Anyone who has chosen to work with a publicist from the first CD will tell you it was the smartest decision they made. You can spend $30,000 on a CD and it can be the greatest work you've ever produced but, if no one is taking notice of it, it just sits there. All indie bands need a publicist today. It is usually the first hire because until you have press (i.e. validation) and a press kit, you really can't impress radio music directors, labels or booking agencies.

[The Aspiring Songwriter] Once the decision to hire a publicist is made, what's next? What steps should artist take to "sell" themselves to publicists?

Rhonda Kelley No selling needed. It isn't about selling or angles, it is about the CD, the music. When I fall in love with a CD, I HAVE to tell the world about it. It's just that simple. I either get it or I don't.

[The Aspiring Songwriter] What is a good way for artists to find publicists who specialize in independent artists, for example?

Rhonda Kelley You can Google Indie Publicist and you will be amazed! I also have great referrals, as do other indie publicists. I can highly recommend HooplaPR (L.A., CA.), MazurePR (NY,NYC) and Canary Promotions (Philadelphia, PA). The other side of this question should be answered, as well. What to avoid. In my opinion, those companies that provide radio, retail, publicity, CD manufacturing, posters, street teams ... basically the one-stop shopping companies... in general are not specialists/experts in each field. Best to go with a radio rep that just does radio well, a publicist that does press and all things related to press, and so forth.

[The Aspiring Songwriter] What are the essential criteria that you look for when sorting through the press kits of all of the artists who request your publicity services?

Rhonda Kelley We get over 100 press kits in here monthly. We pick six to eight on average. It is essential that I am able to connect with the music and transfer that enthusiasm over to the reviewer. When you pay a publicist, you are paying them to act as your mouth piece, your broker. It has to be genuine.

Matt Boroff

[The Aspiring Songwriter] What issues are deal breakers?

Rhonda Kelley Anyone that is a Republican (LOL! Half kidding).

[The Aspiring Songwriter] To like the artists?

Rhonda Kelley That is very important. I will drop a band that becomes abusive in anyway. If a review comes in that is unflattering and the band goes after the reviewer, for example, that is not a good sign. My work ethic has never been in question, but if the CD that we are working is not getting picked up by as many press outlets as we had hoped for and the band blames the publicist, it is a no win situation. I also work on payment plans with bands to help ease the cash flow. If a band is consistently late in payments, they are dropped. The same goes with bouncing checks. Once is forgiven, two or three times is not.

[The Aspiring Songwriter] Does a publicist typically deal only with the artist, or do you also interact with other team members if the artist has them (manager, booking agent, etc.)?

Rhonda Kelley I work with the artists directly 90 percent of the time. If there is a tour coming up, I need to get info from the booker in order to be able to advance the show and write up a press release with pertinent information(venue info, contact info, cover charge etc.). I then will do the advance press and will report that back to the band. As for managers, I rarely work with them at this level.

I feel strongly that most bands don't need managers when they are unsigned or on an indie label. They need bookers, possibly better distribution, and a good publicity team behind them. I think that bands think that managers will do most of the above for them, but it rarely works out that way in the end, at least not from my experience over the past eight years. Having said that, I am working with a manager now for Emilie Autumn (Chicago based artist) because Emilie is in Courtney Love's Band, and she has two separate music careers going now and it is necessary.

[The Aspiring Songwriter] What are some topics that publicists should make sure to address when entering into a contract to provide publicity for an artist?

Rhonda Kelley What are the objectives/goals for this press campaign? At the end of the six months, what are you going to get? Or not get? Is a publicist going to break a band, get a band a record deal? Probably not. Are you going to get calls from labels and national bookers after an interview runs in Rockrgrl Magazine, Billboard, Music Connection Magazine? You bet!! It happens all the time.

[The Aspiring Songwriter] Rhonda, managing artists' expectations of what a publicist can and cannot do for their careers must be one of the more difficult challenges that publicists face. What are some common misconceptions that artists have about publicity, and do you have suggestions as to how publicists should address those misconceptions?

Ed Hale

Rhonda Kelley Publicists want to get as much press in as many magazines, newspapers, and webzines as possible for their clients. Musicians hire us because we have direct access and relationships with hundreds of reviewers, editors, and freelancers. Our job is to make sure that the written materials and photos that go into the press kit are top notch. Our priority is to get the CD in the hands of the right reviewers for that particular genre of music. I am lucky in that I have a choice to pick the best of the bunch and therefore my recommendations to those reviewers, editors, and freelancers are noticed.

[The Aspiring Songwriter] Every professional in the music business faces an "expectation meltdown" from a client somewhere along the way, and publicists are no exception. This often happens when artists anticipate that you can do more to promote their careers than what you can, in fact, do to promote their careers. If a meltdown occurs, artists often look for someone to blame for their dreams not coming true, and it can get emotional and difficult. How do you manage this kind of event with a client?

Rhonda Kelley When you do a publicity campaign for a CD and you expose that project to others in the industry, there is the chance that it will not be liked, appreciated or even reviewed. Again, I want to succeed, so I pick CDs that I feel are strong and worthy, but some fall flat or worse: they are criticized unmercifully. It breaks my heart when that happens to one of my bands. I tend to take it very hard. But professionally, I can't lash out at the reviewer. I can't take it personally.

Out of the 500+ bands I have helped in the past eight years, there are a small percentage of bands that can't accept that their project failed, and so they need to blame someone and that is usually me. Everyone in the service industry, from CDBaby to TAXI, have all felt the sting that comes from being in this business. It goes with the territory.

[The Aspiring Songwriter] Thanks for tackling that difficult subject, Rhonda. Is there a professional association for publicists, and for indie publicists in particular, which can provide career support?

Rhonda Kelley We all share information all of the time. There is nothing set up as of today, but I can see in the future organizing a meeting place to share ideas and warnings about particular bands and labels. If a band stiffs me out of money, they will probably do the same thing to another publicist. If a band tries to hire another publicist while still signed to another, that publicist will call me or I will call them to let them know. We all have referred bands to each other from time to time if the genre doesn't fit, but we feel it is a good project. Because there are so few of us out there, we all have more than enough work and therefore there is no real competition between us.

[The Aspiring Songwriter] Do you have a few tips on where and how aspiring publicists can learn about the business? Any good books, news lists or periodicals, for example?

Rhonda Kelley I don't think you can learn to be a good press agent by reading a book. I think you can learn how to format a press release and how to set up a database. But, I think you have to actually do it and in that process you will learn how the system works. You also need a certain type of personality to achieve results for a band. That can't be taught. When I am approached by aspiring publicists, I mentor them on the phone. I walk them thru the process by using an actual band that they want to work, and give them ideas on how to create a hit list of reviewers and editors for that particular genre of music.
More on Rainmaker Publicity
* Hometown: Boston, MA
* Rainmaker Publicity website
* Testimonials
* Contact Rhonda Kelly: Email or call (617) 889-4122

[The Aspiring Songwriter]Rhonda, thanks for speaking with me today about publicity. Do you have any parting comments?

Rhonda Kelley To remember that most of us serving the indie community are not getting rich off of unsigned bands. We keep our rates at a very reasonable range, from $200.00 - $300.00 per month. The majority of us are in it for the right reasons and have devoted a substantial amount of time and years in the endeavor.

Rainmaker Publicity is based in Boston, MA. They employ three part-time writers, two publicity assistants and one research assisstant. Their active roster includes:

7 Records (The Catholic Girls, SolarCade)
The Silvermen
Emilie Autumn
Pete Teo (Malaysia)
Matt Boroff (Austria)
Cowboys International
Leslie Clemmons
Martin Craig (The U.K.)
Ed Hale
The Hoodoo Pappas
Slang! (Bulgaria)
Karen Faye
Kathy Compton
Mike Corrado
Christia Mantzke

Provided by the MusicDish Network. Copyright © Tag It 2004 - Republished with Permission