Emily Kelly and Bec Reato are the ladies behind the kick ass Australian-based, Deathproof PR. Collectively over the past decade they’ve worked on promo for hundreds of bands including: OFF!, Parkway Drive, Eddy Current Suppression Ring, Bring Me The Horizon, The Gaslight Anthem, Bad Religion, The Black Keys, Bloc Party, The Bronx, Interpol, Millencolin, Spinal Tap, Pennywise, Placebo, Rancid and Weezer. They’ve graciously organised countless interviews for me with many of the aforementioned and more. I believe that they are one of the finest at what they do. I interviewed Emily to get a little insight into life as a publicist and Deathproof PR.
For over ten years you’ve worked with some of the most unique and successful bands in both the Australian and broader international music community. How did you come to be a publicist? Was there a moment where you decided, that’s what I want to do?
EMILY KELLY: I originally had hoped to carve out a career as a music journalist, but quickly realised that that wasn’t going to pay the bills so I looked for communications-based roles within the music industry. PR was the obvious choice, I guess. It wasn’t necessarily a career path I deliberately embarked upon, it was just the best fit for me at the time.
What is the most significant positive change you’ve noticed in relation to how publicity for music is done in the past decade?
EK: Well it’s definitely become almost entirely reliant on the internet in every single way. It’s a really exciting time to work in communications really. Deathproof relies almost solely on online resources like Sprout Social, Sassu, Google Documents, Dropbox for every single administrative and organisational aspect of our company. Also PR opportunities online are growing exponentially every day. Blogs, streams, downloads, videos, EPKs, apps. There are some exciting new possibilities for PR if you have the time to seek them out/create them.
As a publicist, what is your biggest pet peeve?
EK: Easy—lack of communication. I’ll answer just about every email that is sent to me, because I think it’s polite and being known as a prompt and efficient communicator can open lots of doors. I’m always infuriated when clients or peers totally fail to return calls or emails. Even if I get a one-line response asking me to politely fuck off, that’s fine, I just appreciate the 2 seconds it takes to reply.
What do you feel are some of the biggest mistakes bands, promoters etc. make trying to get their work/projects publicity?
EK: I’ve noticed that Deathproof is approached by a lot of young bands who email us with information about themselves, followed by the question – ‘so what do you do’? This always makes me laugh because I find it odd that they’d approach a company to ask for help when they’ve no idea what they do. It comes off as lazy and a wee bit insulting.
I’ve also noticed scandal seems to be a tactic commonly employed by bigger labels and promoters in modern day music PR, but I think it’s a very fine line to walk and its one I’ve never been particularly comfortable exploring. Bands who deliberately say divisive shit or create controversial cover art feel tacky to me. It’s a sure-fire way to get attention but so much of the time it feels too calculated. Maybe that’s just bitterness and old-age speaking.
You often hear that it’s all about who you know and your relationships with folks in the industry that can help you get a leg up/noticed/heard; do you believe this to be true?
EK: Yep. There’s definitely ways to generate your own buzz and open your own doors, but having the right people championing your cause is utterly priceless. It sounds like a bit of a bummer, but I don’t think it’s anything to be too disheartened about. I find industry folks are always excited to find the latest new talent so that’s reassuring.
You guys met while working for Shock Records, what were your first impressions of each other?
EK: I remember looking up Bec’s profile on Myspace to suss her out. She was in the Sydney office so I had worked with her for many months prior to actually meeting her. I think in her profile pic she was wearing an excess of black eyeliner and had a nu-metal quote on her page so she pretty much seemed like a good sort to me.
In DPPR’s ‘about’ page on your website it mentions you both bonded over a “genuine fear of mortally wounding Mike Patton while in transit to media appointments.”; please elaborate, is this something that almost happened?
EK: We were both scheduled to drive Mike Patton around for his onground promotional duties while he was in town with Tomohawk. Onground promo is generally incredibly daunting. You have to maintain a friendly chit chat with the artist/s in your passenger seat while simultaneously chucking Hook Turns in the CBD, avoiding speeding tickets and pedestrians, finding convenient parking, touching base with media and keeping to a tight schedule. Bec confided in me that she was terrified of her upcoming press day with Mike. The car she had to transport him in was a manual and she’d never driven one in her life, which just adds to the hilarity, really. We were in hysterics envisaging the headlines wherein Mike Patton’s publicist had stalled the promo car in a busy Sydney intersection and killed this epic rock star. The press day was uneventful in the end. Mike was a legend and no one was injured.
How do you complement each other in regards to your work at Deathproof?
EK: We lucked out pretty hard with our pairing. We’ve found we complement each other in more ways than we had even initially anticipated. Bec’s strengths are in administration and organisation whereas mine are in brainstorming and creativity. Bec can also be pretty aggressive while I’m far more laid back so that’s nice too. I think Deathproof brought those qualities out in us but we certainly use that contradiction in personalities to our advantage in the workplace.
What does Death Proof PR do differently from other PR folks?
EK: I’ve not been intimately involved in other companys’ PR campaigns recently so it’s difficult to gauge exactly where our differences lie or what sets us apart. I think we’re pretty savvy with online and social media. We’ve definitely made a concerted effort to stay abreast of developing technologies as it’s pretty damn evident that’s where the good stuff’s going to happen in the next decade. It’s actually a full time job just keeping up with that stuff, and it hurts my damn brain staying abreast of wordpress plugins and social media strategies, but I think it’s all worthwhile eventually. Print media is definitely still a priority for the time being and that’ll take a while to change, but eventually the best opportunities in PR will be digital.
There’s been a few instances in my interviewing life where I’ve been frustrated by PR people that haven’t gotten back to me in regards to my request to interview their clients and they’ve gotten annoyed at me for then by passing them and ‘official’ channels by going directly to a band for an interview…what are your thoughts on this kind of thing? Does it create headaches at your end or with your publicity plan if writers do this?
EK: If a publicist has told you the interview is unlikely or will take a while, then I’d suggest you should be satisfied with that response. Publicists are generally working in close conjunction with artist management so I’d say it’s worth adhering to their suggestions. That said, if you’re being ignored completely (*B’s note: to clarify yes this has been the case) and don’t get a response then I personally wouldn’t be upset if you went straight to the source. We like to accommodate zines, websites and community radio wherever possible and we don’t make a habit of ignoring them. It’s become increasingly apparent that the passionate folk that do this stuff in their spare time will end up being the most important players in years to come. Karma will bite you on the ass if you ignore them!
Can you tell us a little bit about the process for how setting up interviews at your end happens? I imagine co-ordinating lots of press and the bands can be quite involved.
EK: I can but you’ll be really, really bored! PR is equal parts organisation and hand-holding. Teeing up a round of interviews is relatively easy but walking each party through the process is the art form. Media need their tools, their instructions and to adhere to run dates. Management need readerships and circulation details. The artist needs to pick up the damn phone and be courteous and talkative. Someone needs to connect and monitor these calls to ensure they run on time. We need to ensure this all actually happens.
How has the closure of street press and music publications in Australia affected what you do?
EK: I think it remains to be seen. So many print media publications have disappeared this year, we’re only just starting to see the effects. It’s definitely heartbreaking. Not just because we’re witnessing the decline of this medium and demise of jobs and entire profession, but because it makes our job increasingly harder when the PR opportunities fall by the wayside. Like I said earlier though, I think they will start popping back up in other –perhaps unexpected- places.
What’s been the biggest challenge you’ve faced with Deathproof PR so far?
EK: The biggest challenge is picking which bands to work with. There’s no shortage of bands hitting us up for assistance so we’ve had to develop a set of rules that helps determine whether they’re good candidates for PR. And it’s not as simple as whether they’re talented or not. There’s so much more to it.
Personally for you, what is the most successful publicity campaign you’ve worked on?
EK: I found working on the most recent Smith Street Band album and tour to be the most professionally satisfying campaign I’ve done, so I guess in many ways that can be called the most successful. It was nice to work with a band who I’ve been keen on since I saw them play to a dozen people two or three years ago. Hearing them on Triple J and seeing them pack out rooms now is nice.
In your experience, what are some key things that can make or break a publicity campaign?
EK: One of the big ones would have to be the band’s willingness to participate. To make themselves available, be good interviewees, be as communicative as possible with their team and take our advice.
I know people like to be diplomatic when it comes to answering a question like this next one (it goes back to what we were talking about re: fostering positive relationships) but is there anyone that has been a complete nightmare to work with?
EK: Definitely, but I’m not telling you who! The biggest nightmares occur when the artist or management’s expectations are disproportionate to our own. Working with an artist who believes they deserve only cover stories and breakfast radio is a tough time. Often you’ll see overseas management trying to call the PR shots in other countries when they don’t actually have an understanding of the Australian media landscape. It’s disheartening when they don’t trust that the local publicist knows more than they do, but then I guess the role of an artist manager is to be pushy and persuasive on their band’s behalf so maybe we’re all just doing our jobs eh?
In a previous interview you gave a great tip: “To ask for advice from anyone and everyone who’ll impart it.” What is the best advice you’ve ever gotten in regards to what you do and who gave it to you?
EK: “No regrets, just lessons learnt”. I’d love to say that was imparted upon me by my dear old nan or something but I’m pretty sure I saw it on the internetz somewhere. I try to take away something from all the failures I’ve experienced. Even if it’s just the ability to laugh at my own shitness.
I know Death Proof finds working with local bands most rewarding; why do you love The Smith Street Band so much?
EK: I don’t even know where to start really. I think they’re the best thing to happen to Australian music in a long time. Wil Wagner is a fucking delight. He has talent and warmth spewing out of him. I’ll back anyone who can pair those two qualities. Also, he is a Collingwood supporter.
Why is your “#1 regret of all time: Not attending The Fest 2011”?
EK: I love travel and I love music and I can’t imagine a holiday that would’ve combined the two more perfectly than the Fest 2011. A dozen of my dear friends took to the USA to see some of the best bands in punk rock and I stayed at home, sweating furiously over my new business and taking things very, very seriously. I can’t fault my mindset at the time, but I can see in retrospect that opportunities that special don’t arise often. I needed to have my work/life balance figured out but I hadn’t gotten there yet. Running your own company is the roughest gig sometimes. It’s actually hard to draw yourself away from your desk when technically you could stay there all night and work on developing a bigger/better business. I’m only just learning to walk away from that.
What is Deathproof PR currently focused on?
EK: We’re working to expand our business beyond music PR. It’s what we’ve done all our lives, but thankfully being your own boss allows you to shift your trajectory in different ways so we’re taking advantage of that freedom and looking at trying some new things.
Also, peep OFF!’s new film clip featuring Jack Black that premiered today!
Hug a publicist,
*Photos: 1- Deathproof PR + OFF! / 2 – Emily + Frank Turner / 3 – Emily + Gaslight Anthem
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