Tips from a successful independent radio promoter: how to grow your indie radio promotion company

After you’ve had initial success promoting artists to radio, and are steadily  working with increasingly higher profile clients – you’ll want to build on that success and expand.

Where do you go next? Do you offer additional services? Extend reach geographically? Hire additional staff?

We recently spoke with Adrian Lock, Director of National Radio Promotion at Vancouver’s Pitbull Radio Promotions. “Capitalizing on success is the easy part,” Lock says, laughing, adding: “while people pay attention when you succeed, the opposite is true as well.”

Cultivate an excellent reputation

Your reputation and relationships will help you weather any failures (or perceived failures) you may experience. How you lose and how you win is  important. At every point in your company’s development, Lock suggests you celebrate your artists’ successes, not necessarily your own. “For me it’s about the artist and the music. They’re the ones that are carrying the weight and financial burden.”

Be inclusive, gracious and appreciative. “Give a shout out to the artists, the stations. Say, ‘thanks so much for supporting us’.” Your reputation precedes you, and having a good one  is integral. 

Capitalize on your relationships

“A promotion company shouldn’t take on a project because someone’s willing to write you a cheque,” Lock cautions. “One of the things we’re proudest about at Pitbull, is that we have repeat clients and long-term relationships. Artists know we’re fighting for them regardless of the results. If you work your ass off, even if something doesn’t quite meet the mark you’d hoped for, you still come away with the relationship intact.”

That said, if you believe passionately in an artist, there’s nothing wrong with saying, ‘What the hell, let’s give this a shot’ says Lock. “Honestly, if I love a song – even if it doesn’t fit an obvious commercial format, but I love the team and the artist and their passion, that’s everything. So as long as we all understand the challenges I’m willing to try to help build something for them.”

As you gain traction, don’t lose sight of what your success is based on. The details you need to focus on expand exponentially as you take on more responsibility. Whatever directions you intend to take to grow your business, the basics – communication, transparency, and consistency – remain key. And if you’re hoping to service new markets, ensure you understand them as thoroughly as you do your home market.

Play well with others

Instead of going it alone and offering more services in-house you can partner with others; specialists who run social media campaigns for example. Fostering new relationships can open up opportunities for co-branding and/or sponsorships. “We’re really proud of our relationships with labels, managers, agents and publicists, and, most of all, with our direct competitors. They’re some of our closest allies,” Lock says, adding that it’s important to understand that for you to succeed, somebody else doesn’t have to fail.

The past is prologue. The future is now

By looking back, you can apply lessons learned when you’ve exceeded expectations (or failed to meet expectations) to your advantage. By looking forward (with those lessons in mind), you can adapt them to the ever-changing landscape of radio and the music industry overall.

When considering and implementing growth plans, bear in mind that technology, platforms, tastes and trends change swiftly. By all means keep doing what works for you, but embrace change and innovation wholeheartedly. “From our perspective it’s all about the music and the artist telling stories.” That’s the case regardless of the platform. “For example, obviously any streaming momentum translates directly to the conversation at radio.”

Lock goes on to say: “There was a point where our day-to-day was contacting each station regionally to build a case for play in that region. Obviously, we still do that, but with the consolidation of stations and broadcasting companies, similar format stations are doing more block programming. Consequently programming decisions have a wider effect. So if you get an ‘add’ at certain stations that can translate across multiple markets. But if you’re not getting those ‘adds’ you’re not really able to build as much of a case regionally. That’s a big change,” Lock says.

The more things change, the more often you have to evaluate and analyze the landscape to stay on top of emerging trends. 

“We’re really in a new world, but at Pitbull we are calmly and strategically assessing areas we can expand in; areas that make sense, provide value, but don’t take us off target. I think the road has gotten longer, especially for new artists. It’s a long distance race not a sprint. It’s always been that way. But now even more so it’s about sustainability and perseverance; calibrating expectations, appreciating and acknowledging wins of any size, and using those as fuel for the fire over the long run over multiple singles and releases from artists.”