We’re back with the June edition of our new segment Inside the Industry, and this month is all about Public Relations as MEB editor Joe Ballard posed some questions to Publicity Director Chrissy Borsellino of The Catalyst Publicity Group. They discuss her humble beginnings selling band merchandise as a teenager, her journey to Catalyst, advice for artists and aspiring PR students, the issue of sexism in the music industry, and much more.
Hi Chrissy, thanks for taking some time out to chat. I can only begin by saying congratulations on opening the brand new office in Brooklyn! How’s life been treating you over there?
Oh I love the new office space! Having worked from home with just my cat for over a year I was definitely missing having other people around. Now I’m in a shared office with some amazing “faux-workers” as I call them since we don’t actually work together. But it’s been great and my view of the Manhattan skyline definitely doesn’t suck.
To start things off, can you talk a little bit about your background and how you came to be involved with The Catalyst Publicity Group?
So I received my BA in Music Industry from SUNY Oneonta, where I learned the ins-and-outs of the music industry. Between internships and full-time positions I’ve worked in nearly every aspect of the biz, from artist management to licensing/publishing to concert promotion and now publicity. I met Catalyst CEO Jen Appel while working at a PR firm a few years back. We worked together on a band and stayed in touch after my departure from the company. At one point I found myself doing some freelance publicity for a few artists and around the same time saw Jen had started Catalyst. I reached out to her about it and we ended up having an amazing discussion. Our viewpoints are so alike; we brainstormed some really cool ideas and decided to join forces. I brought 3 artists and myself over to the company and we started things from there.
Having worked with well-known companies like Big Picture Media and music publishers Wonderlous Music, how did those experiences help prepare you for everything you do now with Catalyst?
My career has been a bit… all over the place. That was mostly by design but luck and opportunity also played a big part. I enjoy learning about the industry as a whole and have so many areas that interest me, so it was great to get to experience as much as I have. It has absolutely prepared me for everything I do now with Catalyst. Big Picture taught me how to run a great PR campaign, Wonderlous I learned not only more about music publishing, but also about building a company from the ground up. I’ve had priceless hands-on experience and wonderful mentors throughout my career that helped get me to where I am today. Plus, knowing as much as I do about other areas of an artist’s career allows me to mentor my artists and sometimes connect them to other opportunities outside of publicity.
Having done everything from publicity to concert promotion to selling merchandise as a teenager, what is the biggest shock – good or bad – that you’ve encountered regarding working in the music industry?
A hot button issue in the music community right now is the sexism women face as artists and industry professionals. I’d honestly have to say experiencing that myself first hand was one of the more shocking things I’ve encountered. Yes I think we could use more opportunity for women within the industry, but it’s more than that. It’s being treated fairly and not marginalized because of your sex. Working in concert promotion was probably the most stressful in terms of sexual harassment and discrimination. From suggestive and blatant (and unwanted) come-on’s, to hearing things like “women don’t belong on the road”, to people assuming I’m only there because I’m involved with someone on the tour/at the venue. Don’t get me wrong, it’s not a characteristic every man in the industry whose path I’ve crossed – or even the majority – but it was a shockingly larger percentage that I would have anticipated.
Catalyst casts a pretty big net when it comes to finding new artists; you’ve teamed up with everyone from post-hardcore (Fine Fine Titans) to pop (Jordan Jae) to folk/country (Kayleigh Goldsworthy). What are the top qualities you look for when potentially forming a PR deal with an artist?
Haha yeah we don’t really “specialize” in any particular genre, although our roster tends to lean heavily to the rock side of the spectrum. But for us it’s all about working with artists we’re excited about. If you have a killer sound and an amazing, compelling story, sign me up! First and foremost, you have to have good songs and enough content to roll out. But we really appreciate the artists who are willing to take chances and step outside the box creatively. There’s so much more to working a PR campaign than an artist and some music. Personality, a unique image, an interesting backstory, or being involved with a charity/cause for example are all things that will make an artist stand out.
On the flip side, what is the biggest mistake an artist/band can make when contacting Catalyst about a PR deal?
Not providing information on why you’re contacting me, or any links where I can check out your music! Oh my goodness nothing is more frustrating than receiving an inquiry that just basically says, “Hey, I’d like to work with you, do you want to work with me?” Um… I don’t know, do I? You had my attention and wasted the opportunity to sell yourself. I usually don’t respond to those, and I typically respond to everything. But man, artists, it is imperative that you learn to write a solid pitch email. Whether it be for a publicist, manager, booking agent, doesn’t matter. Everyone needs to know the basics in your preliminary email: 1) who you are/why you are contacting them, 2) why we should work with you/what makes you a good fit for us, and 3) links to your music – if you are contacting me for an album release, ALWAYS provide a link to stream, I don’t care if they are rough mixes. And lastly for me is not having a marketing timeline for whatever you need us to help promote. We can help you further develop it, but you need to be the captain.
With so many PR/Marketing firms out there hungry to work with upcoming artists, what is the main quality that makes Catalyst stand out from its competitors?
Well both Jen and myself like working directly with our artists. We are very hands-on when it comes to their campaign strategy and do a lot of brainstorming. Some people have joked we’re like a publicist-manager hybrid but that’s probably an accurate description. If you want someone that’s going to be a part of your team, champion your career, and help connect the dots in whatever way possible, we’re your girls.
Most artists recognize the ever-growing importance of connecting with their fans through social media in the 21st century, but what do you feel is the most underrated/neglected part of a great PR campaign?
More emerging artists may be using social media, but I’m not sure how many of them are actually using it to their advantage. I see a lot of self-promotion happening, “check out my video”, “buy my album”, “come to my show”, etc., but not a lot of active engagement. Be interesting – curate fresh content, run contests, give shout-outs to specific fans, ask questions – finding ways to get the network you have to grow it through theirs.
Branching off of that, what’s the biggest mistake you see bands make in building their brand and how can they rectify it?
Not putting in the work. Breaking into music is HARD. There’s not a ton of artist development happening these days with managers, labels and booking agents. You need to be a proven asset in order for most people to touch you. Remember, they all make money off of your success. Would you take a chance and bet your livelihood on something you weren’t sure would bring you any sort of return? Artists need to know their market, be building their fan base, selling their records, and booking their shows, until they are at a point where they can’t keep up with the demand. If people in your hometown don’t know your band, why should anyone else care?
You recently spoke at the 2014 LAUNCH Music Conference about bands making the most out of festival/conference appearances. For those of us who weren’t lucky enough to attend, can you sum up a few of the advice points you discussed?
Network, meet new people and stay in touch. Network with everyone you can. Local bands, radio DJs, venue bookers, managers, everyone – established and up-and-coming – you never know who will be that contact that brings you a big opportunity. If you’re going to a conference, be sure to bring business cards and if there’s a panelist you’re interested in speaking with, try reaching out to them before the event.
As someone who spent many years building up work experience and has seen the hard work pay off, what advice do you have for today’s high school/college students seeking out internships and jobs in the world of PR?
Well if you are certain you want to be in PR then go to college for PR. But you can also study journalism, marketing, or communications and get good basic, transferrable knowledge. I knew I wanted to work in music so I went a different route. To be a publicist you need strong writing skills and to understand the intricacies of the work. Internships are huge- you learn so much and make great connections. I always suggest finding a boutique firm to intern with; you’ll likely get the most hands-on experience.
And finally, any last words of wisdom (or randomness) for our lovely readers?
Support each other. We’re all in this together.
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