An Open Letter to All Public Relations Agents, Bands, Managers and Record Labels

A situation happened this week and I am sad to say that our bluegrass community has been sneakily infiltrated by a corporate dictatorial attitude. I hope that none of my fellow media will take this as me “spewing sour grapes.” For it didn't just happen to me alone. It happened to all of us. This is me taking a “watch-dog” approach on something from which everyone of us in the bluegrass community can learn and grow.

I've been following little teaser posts that a public relations agent, who handles many top-name bluegrass bands, had been posting on a social media Internet site about some big news over which she was excited but not able to share just yet. Towards the end of the week I saw a post from her, along with follow-up comments, where she promised to share the news with only one of our bluegrass media, acknowledging that they could “break the news.”

When I read this, I knew how wrong it was going to be, but in fairness to the agent and not wanting to jump to conclusions, I held my silence … just hoping that the news would be of some personal nature and not relating to one of her clients.

I was wrong! Sure enough, the news was about a top bluegrass band; and yes, the one single bluegrass media outlet ran the story a day ahead of everyone else. Now, Prescription Bluegrass is on this agent’s distribution list and we have always received her press releases and dealt with them in a timely manner. It helps us to be prompt with the news, but it also helps her business. We're also on the particular band in question's record label distribution list, on their management's list, and we're on the list for the partnership this band just created to release their latest CD. So it's not as if we're an unknown entity in the bluegrass news world. We're listed! Yet we still did not have any official word of this news. Our only clue was the social media posting by our previously mentioned agent stating that the news she'd been clamoring about all week was out and giving a link directing all to that single media outlet.

In fairness to this particular agent, I assumed that in the larger picture she could be just a cog in the machine and that others were dictating to her what, when and how things would be done. I was right.

In this case, the individual is not solely to blame – but still must share the blame. Being a cog in a machine means that you work when everything else is working or you stop the machine. However, WRONG is still WRONG. Even if we can point the finger to someone other than ourselves, we're no less guilty just because we can point away to another. We're each responsible for our own willingness to go along with what we know to be wrong.

In her case, this agent willingly posted teaser announcements and openly called attention to the fact that one media representative was being singled out for special treatment. I have to wonder if she really thought through her actions or if she allowed herself to get caught up in the media hype she was helping to present.

I sent a courtesy email to her asking for an explanation and we eventually had a phone conversation during which I was told that the corporation handling the release of this band's new CD – a corporation that runs a chain of restaurants - was dictating the marketing and public relations course of this new CD through an outside firm they had brought in. This public relations authority supposedly did not want the story to go to any bluegrass media but rather to their own contacts within the mainstream media. Also, supposedly, after a protest from our bluegrass PR Agent, they backed down enough to allow just one bluegrass media to “leak” the story before they sent it to their media contacts. At least that's what was told to me by our bluegrass PR Agent.

Where did we, as a bluegrass community, turn the corner? When did we decide that it was OK to turn our backs on our friends and supporters for the sake of the almighty corporate dollar?

I sincerely hope that someone tells this PR agent that playing favorites in this business with her client's news is not going to gain her or them much in the way of future help or favors when she or they may need them – even more than they needed them now. A public relations agent represents their clients first and foremost. What one does and how one acts or reacts to anything, but especially music business matters, reflects upon those clients in many ways. In this case, the band in question most of all, but in some smaller degree all of the other clients on the this agency's roster as well.

Even if we are being dictated to, we are still masters of our own domain and in the end it is our name that is tarnished when we go along with what we know to be not in our own best interest - if we go along with what we know to be wrong.

How would one expect we'll feel over here at Prescription Bluegrass when this agent sends a press release on any of her clients in the future? Can you imagine how we'll react when it comes time to publish news stories about those clients or to play their music on our syndicated radio broadcast?

Even more than just her PR firm, this agent has a bluegrass band of her own that she also represents. And her actions reflect upon them too. How will we decide when we have a chance to play one of their songs on the air or to pick from the hundreds of other choices available to us?

While we all like a scoop in the news business, a hand-fed news story to one media representative before any of the others have an opportunity to see it is not a scoop. It is special treatment for that one particular media outlet, and a slap in the face to all the rest of the news outlets, especially after all of us have been viewing “teasers” on social media outlets.

Another wrinkle in the defense this agent tried to present: She claimed she was only allowed to send this one single media the full news just one day ahead of the release. Yet, in their published story the favored media outlet article says they talked with the band leader about this issue at least a week prior to the release. The math just doesn't add up to only one day's notice.

For this agent to willingly place teaser posts on her social media outlets and to openly acknowledge that one media outlet only would be allowed to break the news is contradictory to her after-claims that she was just following along with what was being dictated by the corporate machine. On the contrary, she was actually fueling the problem. It's hard for me to buy the argument that she knew it was wrong but was powerless to do anything to change the course. If nothing else she should have at least kept mum about the “big news” until such time as it was released. Had she not made the situation so public so far in advance of the news release, all of this may have just gone unnoticed.

During our conversation, this PR Agent offered to pacify me by sending us the album cover artwork to publish ahead of anyone else. I guess she just doesn't get it. This is not about Prescription Bluegrass publishing a news story or anything else through special treatment. Wouldn't that be just the very same thing that happened with the original news release? Wouldn't we then be just as guilty for entering into the very same practice for which we are crying foul? Did she think that if we agreed to accept that offer that we'd have no basis for our protest? I wonder? No, this is about conducting business with ethics and fairness. This is about treating our fellow bluegrass professionals with dignity regardless of what any corporation dictates.

So in this case, the news about the band getting on the corporate restaurant's label and distribution is not earth shaking, although it may be a big deal to this agent, to the restaurant and to the band and all of their representatives. But the rest of the world will keep marching to about the very same cadence we were marching to before her “big” news. I just hope that when the time comes that her news is genuinely of some major importance that she has learned something from this and she values all of her business associates with equality.

Our bluegrass community is too small to enter into these games where giant corporations can control our decisions. One of the most endearing qualities of this genre is that our community is so very often compared to a family. And family members don't stab other family members in the back if they want to remain within the family fold. Advice to all who should find themselves in a similar circumstance in the future is to be careful with whom you make deals. Burning bridges behind while you speed ahead only means that you can not go back.

What is it about “Never Say Never?” You never know when you'll want to return.


Brian McNeal

Prescription Bluegrass Media



1 comment:

John Hart / NewFolkRadio.com said...

What the PR agent did is most definitely not in the interest of bluegrass, not in the interest of the family of sites who serve bluegrass, and certainly not ethical. The bluegrass site that accepted the PR agent's offer should have refused. All pr should be released to all sites simultaneously in order to maintain a public relationship with those sites. If one site is singled out for superior treatment over another site, the entire community of bluegrass sites will be offended and question the integrity of the PR agent and agency. This kind of action must not be allowed in our industry.