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Insights of a Publicist: Interview with Brian Mayes

Posted At: May 10, 2010 11:25 PM
by Megan Parks

With all the glitz and glamour, the entertainment industry isn’t just about musicians and actors. It’s a business where great PR is a necessity for success.

Publicity plays a huge role in the music industry. Record sales experienced a major decline over the past few years mainly due to illegal online downloading. According to a study conducted by the Institute for Policy Innovation, global music piracy causes $12.5 billion of economic losses every year.

In order to compensate for the sales decline, labels are outsourcing their publicity needs to independent PR companies now more than ever. Executives in the industry have had to find new ways to get consumers interested in their clients’ music. The more news coverage artists can get, the more opportunities there are to get their music noticed and heard.

As a seasoned PR professional, Brian Mayes gives an inside look at what it takes to be a successful publicist. With nearly 20 years of experience in the entertainment industry, Mayes is one of the most sought-out publicists in the Southeast.

After moving to Nashville in 1996, he founded Nashville Publicity Group in 2002. Before founding the group, Mayes served as director of publicity at Brentwood Records and president and director of marketing and A&R for Audience Records, which he co-founded under the Pamplin Music umbrella. Prior to establishing himself in Nashville, the Los Angeles native worked in artist management and in various TV/film projects including The Late Show with Arsenio Hall, The Wonder Years andThe Grammy Awards. To see a complete list of Nashville Publicity Group’s current and former clients, visit his company’s site.

Q: Wikipedia defines a publicist as “a person whose job is to generate and manage publicity for a public figure, especially a celebrity, a business, or for a work such as a book, film or album.” Beyond just a standard definition, how do you describe your work as a publicist?

A: A publicist is crucial in today’s world, whether it be for a public figure or a new product. There has never been more competition for the attention of the masses, and you have such a small window of opportunity to get noticed. In a lot of ways, the success or failure of a project can point directly to the publicity campaign. If you can’t find a way to get noticed, you will fail. So my job, simply stated, is to use the media — television, radio, print, the Internet, the center of Times Square if necessary, to grab your attention for my client.

Q: How did you get your start working in publicity?

A: I was a teenager when I landed an internship with FOX Television Network’s late night talk show “The Late Show” with Arsenio Hall. I was placed in the Research/Publicity department and loved it. I researched upcoming guests and worked on publicity materials — I was hooked early on. When I started managing bands in college, I ended up doing publicity for the bands as well. And I loved it. So when I moved to Nashville in 1996, it didn’t take long to find a job at a record label doing publicity.

Q: What are some common misconceptions about publicists?

A: I’m amazed by how much confusion there is surrounding the words “publicity” and “publicist.” I am frequently asked what I “publish.” I also field phone calls from people on a regular basis that want to hire a publicist, presumably because they read somewhere that they should, but they have no idea what I do. So for the record, I’m not a publisher, I’m not a manager, I don’t book concerts and I’m not here to A&R your record. But if you are ready to engage the media, with the desire to have your story told, I’m happy to help you get there.

Q: What are key characteristics that every great publicist needs?

A: There are 4 key characteristics that should be required of every publicist:

1) Honesty and Integrity
2) Tenacity
3) Creativity
4) Aggressiveness

Q: Getting publicity for your clients has a lot to do with who you know. What suggestions do you have for new publicists trying to establish relationships?

A: Who you know is important, but what impression you make matters even more. Mind your manners, say please and thank you, and never blow off e-mails and voicemails. You never know when you’ll need to circle back around.

Q: Do you find it hard to work with a client if you aren’t passionate about their product or service, or, in your case, their music?

A: Yes, so I don’t. If I can’t get excited about the project, I don’t take it on. It doesn’t have to be my style necessarily, but the project, artist, story … something about it has to be exciting or challenging. Nashville Publicity Group has been very fortunate in that we have never solicited work. For the most part, we work on referral only, and we turn down more than we take on. So that has given me the freedom to say no when a project just isn’t a good fit.

Q: Do you see significant differences in music PR as opposed to traditional brand/product-related PR?

A: Not really … You adjust accordingly. And we do a little of both.

Q: What do you like the most about your job?

A: What gets me out of bed each morning is that I have a job that I truly love. And I’m so thankful for that. What I like the most is that every project we take on is different. Every single project has unique challenges and obstacles to overcome. No campaign is ever exactly the same. It’s hard to get bored when you’re always working on something completely new. Each project is a jigsaw puzzle — some just have more pieces and a higher skill level than others.

Q: What suggestions do you have for people trying to break into music PR?

A: Enter music PR because you love it. If you don’t, it’s not for you. It’s not a 9 to 5, clock in and clock out job … it takes long hours, and it’s a highly competitive, high-stress environment. But it’s challenging and rewarding, and a whole lot of fun. There’s nothing else I’d rather do.

What do you think is the importance of publicists in the entertainment industry?

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