Pro PR Tips From Strut Entertainment’s Samantha Pickard

Kevin Young

July 23, 2020

Pro PR Tips from Strut Entertainment’s Samantha Pickard

For Samantha Pickard, Founder and President of Toronto-based Strut Entertainment, success, personally and professionally, is about helping people achieve their dreams. Period. “Helping people, helping artists get to where they need to go, I love doing that. It’s the really exciting part of the work we do.”

 Founded in 2006, Strut is a premier, boutique public relations, digital marketing, brand partnership and event management firm with clients including musical artists, lifestyle and fashion brands, actors, entrepreneurs and celebrity tastemakers. Every campaign, Pickard says, is something Strut approaches with a ‘Hell, yes, we can get that done’ ethic.

 Tips for starting out

“The first thing is that you don’t necessarily need a formal education in PR. It’s favourable to have schooling in communications/PR, but I don’t think it’s essential. What is essential is the ability to meet deadlines, to multitask, to sell, and to deliver quality work under extremely stressful circumstances. Strong writing skills are important, but stronger storytelling skills even more so. You must be able to be there for your clients and must also understand that PR and the work that you do isn’t about you. It’s about them.”

Forming relationships fuels success and growth

“You must have exceptional networking and friendship/business building skills.” That’s a constant, she continues: “I’m always meeting new people who can provide my clients with services. The best way is to build your network is to get involved with your community locally, through conferences, meetings, and mentoring. But you don’t have to start in PR. My recommendation is to work elsewhere in the music industry first – a label, in management or marketing. That puts you in a position to learn and build your network up.”

Building a client base

“You should never take on an artist just because you need to pay your bills. Anyone starting their own PR business has to be able to support themselves while building their client base.” 

Examining what Pickard looks for in an artist, and what she insists artists should have going on in preparation to work with a publicist, is instructive. “It starts with great music that’s ‘go to market’ ready. I know that sounds obvious, but I’ve seen people spend thousands of dollars on recordings that I wouldn’t let them put up on the DSPs or service to radio as the recording was so bad; so exceptional, professionally recorded music, that’s the first part.”

Potential clients also need to have certain assets in hand for a publicist to do their job. “You need to have a bio. Your social media must be robust, compelling and reflect your brand; same with your website. A website isn’t essential, but it’s good to have a landing page so people know where to go from there. Also, strong press photos – a least six. And the same photo with your head turned slightly to the one side or the other, in varying shades, does not qualify as six photos, so at least two or three different outfits and setups.”

Having artwork for your project and a plan for distribution, is also important, as is timing: “Start looking for a publicist, at the minimum, 3-6 months before you need them, which means you need your demos done, at least. There’s no point going to a publicist right before your release.”

When considering a client, ask yourself: “Can I sell this to the audience and media we’re pitching? That’s also part of the publicist’s role – opening doors to the industry for artists.” And, specifically, the right doors: “We work all genres, so when I make a referral to a radio tracker, for example, I have to know the project is one they’d be interested in.”

Adding staff and services

At any given time, Strut has 4 or 5 staff, tops. Anymore, Pickard insists, “And I’m just being a manager of staff. I don’t get to do what I love, which is working on creative campaigns, pitching the media and new clients.”

The timeframe of growth varies according to what you’re capable of handling responsibly and what your goals for the business are. Working alone, you’re entirely responsible for covering your business costs and your own wage. “If you get sick, for instance, you no longer have income and aren’t building your business.”

If you do hire additional people, you have to cover your income, their wage, operating costs, and make a profit. “And they have to be able to output that much work for you to be able to pay them,” Pickard adds. “So honestly, the timeline depends on your business model, clientele, what it is you want your business to become, and how in demand your services are. The industry has to support you. Otherwise it will be incredibly difficult, not to mention stressful.”

Remaining agile and responsive

Trends, technology, and the entertainment industry overall are constantly evolving. “And we’ve had to evolve,” Pickard says, citing the sea change in how information and music are distributed and consumed in recent years. “Thousands of media outlets have closed in Canada. What was available, even just two years ago, isn’t available now, but there are other, newer opportunities; podcast interviews, social media takeovers, online blogs, online press.”

Consequently, pivoting in response to dramatic changes in the industry, and adopting new tools and technology to make your life easier and your workflow more efficient is critical.

Pickard points to specific turnkey solutions that have become invaluable to Strut: “Prezly, for one. It’s a public relations software that, for us, replaced Dropbox, Filemaker Pro, Excel and Mail Chimp. It houses our database, media gallery, press/written materials and media advisories. We also use Asana, a project management tool that allows me to keep my staff and our campaigns on track. For deadlines, to do lists and action items it’s absolutely essential.”

Integrating tools such as these deepened Strut’s abilities to work more effectively remotely. Still, the pandemic has impacted their business, substantially. “We had to replace all our live touring and event income. But we’re lucky, we can still find virtual opportunities and were able to take on more project management, digital marketing, and social media clients.” 

In good times and bad, anticipating trends and implementing strategies to cope (and help clients cope), regardless of the external pressures affecting your business, is another constant – whether you’re starting out or are already established, working alone, or with a team.

Even at the best of times, Pickard sums up: “There are people who can and cannot run their own business. You don’t know whether you can or not until you’re in the middle of it, but you’ll find out pretty quickly because this is not for the faint hearted.”

Photo by @skitterphoto

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