Kathryn Frazier is a veteran of the publicist game. With around ten years under her belt, she has established her business, Biz 3, working with various independent acts like Company Flow, Atmosphere, and Aesop Rock. Today she has a stable of publicists within her Chicago firm and some of the top magazine editors in the business on speed dial. We caught up with Kathryn to get some tips on the publicist game.
Halftime: Could you give us a lil background on your work and your own description of what your work entails?
Kathryn Frazier: I am not sure how long I’ve been doing it I think eight years. I started doing it because I used to be a promoter for a big venue here called the Metro and I wanted to work for myself. I wasn’t ready financially or maturity wise to go into grad school like I intended. To be honest I have no idea why I picked publicity. I happened to know a woman who was working with Nirvana at the time independently and I was like you seem to have a fun job what do you do? It wasn’t actually as well thought out or planned as I’d like to think it was. It just sort of happened. She is now the head of publicity at Interscope. She told me logistically what you do. She said you send out things this far in advance and she taught me how to do it in one night. I approached an artist that was big in my world, big in indie rock and told them I would do it for free if they gave me a chance because I was totally unknown. Generally speaking an unknown publicist is not a great one. I shouldn’t say not a great one because we ended up doing good but that’s why you pay people for publicity to use their contacts. He was pissed off enough at his label that he wanted to do it so that’s how it started. I waited tables for eight years to pay for it and pay my employees who eventually came along.
I started doing more hiphop stuff when I became friends with a Jon Caramanica, who was only working as a writer for a website at the time and now he is probably one of the biggest hiphop writers. He was like a kid who used to call me to get promos. He hooked me up with Company Flow and said hey they need a publicist and I knew Company Flow and liked them. They were going to go with a big place, Girlie Action, so I bought a ticket that night to come to New York to meet them before they could go to anyone else. For me that was really wild because I had no money and I was really anxious but it worked. El-P and I got on famously and that’s what started off that era of Biz 3 because once you do Company Flow when Company Flow’s big a lot of people follow suit. I met Aseop Rock independently of all of them and I just started working with Mr. Lif and all of these guys who were unknown at the time. Same thing with Atmosphere. I did Atmosphere for free. I basically did people for free or almost nothing and just spent a lot of years working on them and they all started to get sort of famous in their own world and it just keeps going.
The simple part is you send out records to writers and somehow convince them to write about them. Now that the labels are paying a good deal of money it’s not just that. I had to institute a way to show them exactly what we were doing and if a record went great or not great. That’s actually more work than trying to get publicity. Our whole thing is getting people into places they wouldn’t normally be. Getting RJD2 a home rehab piece in a lifestyle magazine or getting people in wine magazines. It just makes it more fun and can help you move out of whatever genre you’re in if you’re interested in more people knowing who you are. The end result is we do a lot more than publicity. We end up managing people. Most of our artists are some of our best friends. I was on the phone with two of my artists last night for two hours talking about their girl problems.
What do you think is the most important thing to have a successful campaign?
KF: The most important thing is to only work records that are really great. So if you don’t think something is good you have to pass on it even if you need money. I pass on things that I know other people like and would be an easy sell for me but I just don’t feel it. I think a good publicist is when writers trust you. If I call you up and I say I have something you’ve never heard of and I want you to dig through your pile of eighteen fucking million records to listen to this they have to trust that Biz 3 only takes on stuff they like. We live in Chicago so it’s not as expensive to operate here so I don’t have to take on stuff for money. That’s a big thing because I have friends at other PR companies that are like I hate this record but they have to do it. That’s the first thing. To me it just follows. If you feel something, you really like the music and you know it then it’s not hard to pitch and convey to someone else. I just saw Fahrenheit 911 the other night and I’m like â€˜Did you see this movie?’ to everyone who will listen to me and I feel passionately enough about it where I can convey it to them to the point where they are like I’m gonna go see that movie it sounds really interesting. I don’t believe it being super pitchy. We put stuff out and we’ll give you word on it and if you want to have dialogue with us about it we’ll talk to you. People don’t generally like publicists because they come off as telemarketers. Every time you get a record its like oh it’s amazing and its like how can it be that everything you have is amazing. There are certain people that I don’t bother. They get the record, they can listen and then there are other times when I’m like I think you’re really gonna like this based on our last conversation and then they trust you. An example of a campaign I worked like that was The Streets. When we sent it out everyone hated it. I had to be really persistent. I was like you have to sit down with this thing and not in your little cubicle. Go home and listen to it. You have to talk to people like they are your friends. So my third point would be to be informal. Don’t send corny bios and treat people like they are stupid. Be informal and treat them like your friends and they will at least check it out and if they don’t feel it they don’t feel it.
As a writer I get a bunch of press packages and I wonder why people even put a press sheet in there because its kinda like I already know hip hop and I’m not gonna read this press sheet.
KF: I don’t care that much about press sheets. Labels want to have you write a bio and agonize endlessly about it and I’m more like get the record to them and I’ll call them up and we’ll talk. I get stuff sent to me and I don’t read their bios, especially if they look like shit. A lot of it is presentation. This record label wanted me to work on Antibalas and I said sure and they sent me this press kit that was insane. It was a phonebook. It was really well laid out and nice looking and it actually made me want to read it and actually listen. I think the publicists should keep the bios on hand if someone chooses to write about something and they need background information.
What are your thoughts on sending out things like enhanced CDs or electronic press kits?
KF: I think they are great but is anyone going to actually look at it? People are busy and a lot of writers its like do you even like music because they don’t listen to anything. They don’t go out and buy the stuff. I use electronic press kits more when I’m booking TV. That’s when I find that they are a lot more useful. TV bookers seemed more concerned with having that.
Do you find that you depend on writers to let you know what they are covering or do you have to keep track yourselves?
KF: You have to totally keep track yourself that’s why I have all these employees now. You don’t have to if you’re not that good. Back when we first started I didn’t track that much. But when you progress its like these people are paying money and they actually expect something from you. It’s not just reaching out, they expect you to update them. If they don’t get a piece in Spin you have to show them why. Here are these seven writers, here’s how often I hit them up, here’s what they said. It’s very documented. My press reports are 100 some odd pages long. Back in the day it was like oh yea they are doing it and we wouldn’t even write it down.
For someone doing what you do what is the industry standard they can be expected to charge?
KF: There isn’t one. It really does vary. I thought we were getting expensive and I heard this woman that is a peer of mine in NY is charging four grand a month. I think most of the people who do what we do are much more expensive than we are but we all get the same amount of press. We all book TV and get coverage in magazines but somehow they are charging four grand a month. The average is $2500 a month. I have other people who can’t afford anything. You could do something with someone for one thousand bucks flat or three thousand a month. It depends. Its not even like I’m cranking in the profit, we have a clipping service and my bill for that is probably about $600 a month just for press clips.
Does that include mailing?
KF: No, mailing is not included. You can do a decent mailing with promos for about a dollar something.
How important do you feel a publicist is in hiphop right now?
KF: In hiphop publicity is especially important. Luckily, when I started doing it I did it before the new breed of underground hiphop got a lot of press. It hadn’t been trendy in press so what I was offering up to these editors truly was interesting. I can remember when editors were like oh my god he’s white? That was an angle no one wanted to push so there was a time and a place. Press is very trendy especially now because the whole world burns and downloads music and it’s really hard to sell records. People who used to be successful at an independent level could sell 30,000 records without doing any press. Now you have to bust your ass. You can be on Conan O’Brien and Letterman and still sell only 25,000 copies. You have to do everything you can to stay in the game. That’s why everyone tends to put their publicity money up first because if you can blow someone up in press it can really work and help and in the end be more cost effective than advertising. If we get an artist a feature in The Source that’s great because chances are they wouldn’t be able to afford a full page ad in the Source, Spin or Rolling Stone.
Do you offer any guarantees?
KF: No, definitely not. We guarantee our hard work and diligence. I make that really clear with people because in the past before I was experienced we had some really good luck on people. Then everybody else would come and want to get the same and if they didn’t they were like you didn’t do that good of a job. In reality I had to work twice as hard on your record. There are definitely records that haven’t gone well and we’ve had to hit up writers three or four times more than we normally would just to hear them say no. I had a guy recently who’s been talking to all the major publicity companies and he’s like they are saying they can do this, what can you do? And what they were saying they were gonna do was bullshit. There was no way they would get his artist a feature in Vibe and I’d bet my life savings that was not gonna happen. So I’m not gonna give you anything. I’m gonna say I think it’s a good record and I’m gonna try and say realistically this is what we can get but I am gonna go for bigger stuff. I’m not into hyping stuff up because it just disappoints people and makes them feel bad about the art that they made. You can make a great record that can be ignored by press it doesn’t mean your record wasn’t good. Unfortunately, press often wants to have a story or crazy angle and it’s not so much that the music is incredible and that’s one of the realities.
What do you feel are the most important qualities a publicist should have?
KF: I can tell you because I hire them. When I’m hiring someone they have to know a lot about music and if they don’t there is no way we can maintain credibility with writers if we’re not music fans. There have been a ton of people who were great and I wanted to hire them but they don’t know enough about music. You need to be able to sit on the phone and know your shit or they won’t believe you when you say something is great. They have to be diligent and trustworthy meaning they are gonna do what they say they are gonna do. I’ve heard endless stories of people saying they are gonna call 350 people they sent your record to and they just end up taking your money. So they have to be diligent, know a lot about music and personally, I think they have to be funny or interesting to talk too. Shy awkward people don’t make it as publicists. You have to be able to think quickly when you talk to people I was talking to a writer from the New York Times yesterday and he was like why is this record great and why do you expect me to do something? In a way its like whoa people don’t usually put it to you like that but you have to be able to articulate yourself and expand on things and it helps if you are funny and cool. If you burn bridges, it will hurt you in the end so being personable is the formal way to put it.
It seems to me it would be tough to follow up with someone several times and not be annoying.
KF: That’s why I tell my clients don’t think we’re gonna hit someone up a million times for you. I’m not gonna drive someone insane. We also work projects over a long period of time so there have been people who have been hit up a few times but its been over the course of six months so it probably doesn’t feel like that much. It will be more like I reached out to everyone and now I’m gonna reach out again and the next time I go through the list I’m gonna assume they’re not interested. That happens a lot and that’s another thing new publicist take that personally. I don’t look at it like rejection I look at it like I gave you the information if you want to respond you will. That’s how writers and editors look at it. They know the deal if you send them five records over the course of two months and you hit em up with mass emails or even specific emails they are gonna respond to the ones they are interested in. They don’t necessarily have to write you back and say no thank you I won’t be covering this. I don’t bug people. I really don’t like that If I get on the phone that means I’m really serious. You pick your battles and weigh when it’s a good time to call someone.
You mentioned calling some editors from some big magazines and obviously at the beginning it wasn’t easy to get at them. How did you go about building those relationships?
KF: That’s why you pay for someone like us. It took me eight years to get the main editors on phone or for all of our small writers to become big writers. That’s why they are paying for us. The only way you can get at them right from the get go is if you start your own PR company and Prince is your client or it was something incredible that someone wanted to talk to you about anyway. When I get new publicists they work a long time doing other things and then I will give them something big and let them deal with the editor of Rolling Stone for one of our bigger clients. It gives them a chance to get in with that person whereas any other time that person may not ever take their phone call. That’s the fast track to becoming a publicist.
What are the differences when you do publicity for major label artists versus independent artists?
KF: Magazines definitely write about major label artists more. I’ve had artists that I think are on equal ground with other artists and for some reason the artist is getting way bigger opportunities because they are on majors. I don’t know if majors have secret deals with all the publishing companies that they have to cover all their little stuff but they certainly seem to take more interest. Big magazines are more likely to cover an artist independent through a major or on a major because they know its going to be out there and much more available. With that said almost everything we work on is indie and a lot of it has done really well, so you can get major press and be on an indie.
What are the pros and cons of doing publicity and running your own company?
KF: For me it’s mostly pros because we do it a certain way. If I was working at a label and I had to work everything they gave me that would be a huge con because you don’t get to pick what you do. The pro of being an independent publicist, in my case owning the company, is I only pick stuff I like. That is a major pro. A con can be that you feel like you are a telemarketer if you do it a certain way. If you figure out it doesn’t have to be that way it can be fun.
Lastly, any tips and suggestions for aspiring publicists?
KF: Pick out music that you like and you’ll do fine.