The job of a publicist is to get attention for your organization, its performers, its music director (if there is one), and for the performances put on by the organization. Publicists communicate on your behalf with journalists, publications, bloggers, and members of the public. I suspect they might give advice to an organization on how to run an effective advertising campaign.
When a publicist does the job effectively, the organization gets timely, accurate publicity; the information distributed by the publicist reaches the people who need it when they need it. Journalists write advances or reviews; bloggers put up blurbs and say "this looks interesting, I'm going."
Part of a publicist's job is to make it easy for concert information to be published. Journalists are busy and have publication schedules to deal with. That's why it's counterproductive to the organization paying the publicist when:
- Information arrives too late to be useful; for example, a week before the performance. A newspaper (or SFCV) needs some lead time to do an advance or to schedule a review.
- Information is tough to dig out of a press release. It's just not that hard to structure a press release so it can easily be scanned and the necessary information copied and pasted.
Every critic who isn't kept somewhat happy is a critic who might not be writing about a musical organization.
Organizations shoot themselves in the foot in various ways, with or without the help of a publicist when:
- Their audience communications are hard to read. This discourages the audience from attending or telling friends about the program. My favorite example of this would be a brochure featuring 6 point red type on a white background. I mean, really? It was so pretty until I tried to read it.
- Their web site or audience communications provide an email address...but the organization doesn't reply. This certainly discourages an audience member (or potential audience member) who has taken the time to write an email, but is then (apparently) ignored by the organizations.
- Their web site makes you click and click and click to find basic concert information. Alex Ross, among others, has been quietly imploring orchestras to PLEASE have a single web page that lists each program, with conductor, works, soloists, dates, times, and locations without any clicking at all.
It's just not that hard to get this stuff right. I've got pages of web site basics and publicity basics that are intended to help small organizations, the kind that can't afford a paid publicist, manage their web sites and publicity well enough. (And believe me, getting less-than-pro publicity from a small chorus is a whole lot less painful than getting it from an organization that has a staff publicist or a hired outside publicist.)
Every potential audience member who can't read your brochures, or who doesn't get a response from your organization, is a person who is less likely to attend a concert...or make a donation. That's why organizations pay attention to the quality of their publicity: publicity affects the bottom line, for better or for worse.