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Pro PR Tips from Strut Entertainment’s Samantha Pickard Part 2: Strategy

Kevin Young

August 12, 2020

In our previous discussion with Strut Entertainment founder, Samantha Pickard, the Toronto-based PR professional offered tips for starting a PR firm. Here, Pickard discusses strategies for artist campaigns, building partnerships between ‘bands and brands, and keeping your business on track.


What’s in your toolbox

When developing an artist campaign strategy, Pickard says, the most important question is: “What do we have to work with?” Beyond that, she adds: “Are the basics (music, photos, videos, bios and overall content) being used to their best advantage on a client’s socials and/or in an EPK?”


Other factors she considers include whether the artist is emerging or established, their musical genre, and what else they have going on. “Do they have a tour? Are they partnering with community organizations or charities? Do they have a brand endorsement? Those help determine strategy by giving us different things to leverage.”


For emerging artists with fewer resources and team members, a campaign is typically focused in a specific area. “If it’s their first release, it’s often a local or regional strategy. It’s extremely hard to get national media for emerging artists. When they get more traction, we start a campaign targeting national outlets.”


Musical genre impacts media planning in terms of objectives and opportunities. “The mainstream media covers many genres. but they don’t drill down too deep, so you need to look at niche coverage. Another thing to consider is that not only are media and the music industry looking at an artist’s social media numbers but they are watching their SP platform numbers as well.”


Building a story

Timing is key, Pickard says: “We like to start no later than six weeks prior to a single release and eight to twelve weeks before an album release or tour, ideally, with all necessary assets in hand ahead of time.” Even before that, Strut may build interest gradually before even rolling out music. “You have to do the most important work first, and that’s seeding the story – not even pitching, just getting the word out there from a relationship standpoint – calling producers, key journalists and bloggers and starting a conversation.



“Typically, we divide our target media into two sections; the obvious media we need to support the project and the media that’s harder to get and that we need to approach differently.” For unknown artists a basic pitch or offering up a performance isn’t usually enough. “We cannot get coverage or an interview in certain media outlets if you’re too new, but we may be able to get them to commit to promoting the music along with a contest and promotion.”


Depending on the artist that could include fashion, fitness, beauty and lifestyle outlets, industry trade publications. influencers and various mainstream outlets – all requiring custom-tailored pitches. With both emerging and established clients, the flow and order of the rollout is similar. “You do your campaign onboarding and set up and start to seed a bit of information to tease the media; both people you know will love this music and respond, and people you think will eventually become fans and advocates.” The strategy for releasing a record or setting up a tour are similar, but tours are much more detailed. “With some artists, we could be working with 75 to 200 tour dates a year and dealing with multiple media outlets in each of the tour markets.”


Bands and Brands

I wanted to build my skill set, foster relationships with media outlets that work with lifestyle brands and businesses and grow relationships in other areas. And my bands needed brands. That’s why I expanded into providing services for lifestyle brands and small businesses.”


Brand/band partnerships, however, require close and continuous oversight. “As a publicist, I think you’re doing a disservice to artists if you’re don’t have the brand conversation early on. But brands can be hesitant unless they really trust the person who’s pitching them and know it’s going to be managed and run properly. There’s often money and lots of product involved, so reporting deliverables and being accountable is really important.”


One way to build that trust is to start artists out with short-term, in-kind agreements. “We can promote those on socials and through media and then we can go to bigger brands and say, this artist has now done ten campaigns with XXX brands.” They don’t have to involve money or large amounts of product, she adds: “It’s basically building up an artist’s brand resume or helping to remove a line item in their budget that they typically pay for, such as purchasing clothing.”


Pairing bands and brands is like being a matchmaker, even if there little or no money/product involved: “So you’ve got to be extremely careful. It can take months to build a brand/artist relationship, but it can end in two seconds. You want those relationships to bloom so you can offer them to other talent or come back to the brand for an artist on the next album cycle because they had a great experience.”


For artists and publicists alike, Pickard advises caution and consideration to ensure the partnership is equitable. “I’ve had conversations with young artists, and said, ‘Okay, we have a 22-page legal document I’m not comfortable telling you to sign’ because, for example, the artist is only going to get paid $1000.00, and it’s going to cost them $700.00 in legal fees to have a lawyer look it over, or because the fine print says you can’t work with another, similar brand for 1, 5 or 10 years.” 


Keeping your business on track and gaining momentum

“It’s incredibly difficult to know what your capacity is when you start out,” Pickard says. “For entrepreneurs in any business it’s about how you scale. When I started, I knew I couldn’t achieve what I wanted to alone, but many people have to start out that way, so the first step is identifying what you want your role to be in your business and what services you want to offer.”


Whether you’re just starting out, expanding and/or enhancing your existing services…

Pick your battles and make sure you’re well-armed: “You can’t punch with one finger. You have to punch with a whole fist. When I’m considering what clients to work with, I ask, ‘do I have what I need?’ If someone comes to me expecting PR to do everything, I won’t work with them because I’m setting myself up for failure.”


Today’s baby band may be tomorrow’s superstar: I read every email I get. I listen to every artist’s music, look at their socials and websites. Many times, amazing artists have come to me over the last 15 years, who, if I’d ignored their first email, I would never have gotten to work with. Taking advantage of unlooked for opportunities is the foundation of what we do.”


Get to know your competition: “Especially those who have a reputation for being hard working, accountable and kind and generous with their time. If I can’t take on an artist, I will send them to other publicists that I trust to do a good job.”


Grow responsibly: “If you’re looking to expand a division or service, ask yourself, is there a demand for it? Who are your competitors? Is there enough room for you to compete in that market or is it saturated? How are you going to fund that expansion? I was able to open a digital marketing division without changing our staff structure or adding expense by taking on a couple less PR clients a month and adding digital marketing clients. When you’re expanding you have to know you have the resources to scale.”


Don’t be afraid to ask for help: “That will make you better in every part of your business. I still ask for help from my peers in the industry. But make sure they’re people you trust and who can hold confidences.”


Be available and accountable: “This is a constant 9AM to whenever, evenings and weekends gig. At its core, it’s about managing people and relationships. A client will forgive you if you work really hard on a campaign, even if you don’t quite get the results they wanted and if you’re transparent and honest. What they won’t forgive is bad customer service or you ghosting them.”

Finally, remember that it’s not about you: ““I always say that doesn’t matter what I think about the music. It’s all about what my team and I can sell. Publicity is one part of a very important box of tools and it’s a team effort. I couldn’t do what I’ve done with the artists I’ve worked with without a great radio team, manager, agent, marketing person, my staff and the artist. I work with artists because I believe in them, and I can help them get to where they need to go.”

Photo by Alex Iby on Unsplash


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