Most record labels have in-house PR departments overseeing all of the label publicity efforts. The department can be comprised of a single publicist, or it can consist of two to three people. It can also be as large as 10 to 15 people with a variety of fancy titles and hapless assistants dividing the labor. In these cases, a different publicist is sometimes responsible for specific bands, and different levels of people work on different campaign elements, from TV bookings to tour press. With all that manpower, why do so many labels, managers, and artists hire out and spend money on an independent PR firm? Why pay money for something that's already being provided by your label?
Well, the answer's not that simple.
There are a variety of reasons to hire an indie PR firm. Sometimes, a band may have a preexisting and long-standing relationship with a rep at an indie firm and will want to continue that partnership even when signing to a new label with its own publicist. Usually, the two PR reps work in tangent and in concert. The more, the merrier, and the bigger the army to cast the net and focus on key efforts, targets, and goals.
Sometimes, the band might need someone who deals with a specific element or area of the media in which the in-house person does not specialize. For example, if you do a dance remix of a song and want to work it at EDM-centric publications, you may need to outsource it to an EDM publicist.
Other times, an in-house PR person(s) may be spread thin, and a band requires a bit more personalized attention provided by an independent PR rep. It can also be as simple as the band or manager wanting to hire the person who works insert-band-name-here and be "guilty by association," so to speak.
So once a band assesses its PR needs and if an indie agent, rep, or firm is deemed necessary, here are the general options you will have to choose from. Indie publicists can be drafted from all sorts of previous situations, so be sure and do your research and read their company bios on websites. But don't be too enamored by big names and 50-cent vocab words describing what they do, because that may not be right for you or mesh with your specific needs at whatever level you may be.
Big celeb firms
This type of firm is for you if you hang out with the Kardashians and are trailed by the paps.
Big celeb firms handle the likes of Miley Cyrus, Rihanna, and Ariana Grande, with offices on both coasts, usually. They cost several thousands or tens of thousands per month in retainer fees, and they usually handle the celeb element of PR. This is a whole different world and separate from music-driven press, and it often requires dealing with drama, like trolling gossip reporters, the paparazzi, and the unsavory side of fame. They also handle crisis management, image issues, damage control, and super mainstream PR. They are able to address a wide variety of PR needs and issues, and these are usually things that you may never even think of or ever have to deal with.
This type of firm is for you if you get celeb attention, but don't always want it.
These firms are usually made up of two to 10 employees with a mixed bag of clients of varying celebrity status. They tend to focus on a specific field and have a concentration, and they stick with a genre or a discipline, but that's generally and not universally applicable. Boutiques usually do have a specialty, though. A few boutique firms may have smaller ops, but they have A-list clients as well.
Two-person lead teams
This type of firm is for you if your music-focused press is your priority.
A lot of times, publicists with joint history at the celeb firms or even labels team up and launch their own firm, taking their client roster, their expertise, and their know-how with them. They have a wealth of wisdom from running the show or doing PR for so long. Again, these operations have the luxury of designing their rosters however they wish, and small-to-medium firm size does not always mean small client size, either.
This type of firm is for you if you want high impact and personalized results.
So many publicists leave their label jobs and launch their own firms, finding it more lucrative. It comes with the freedom of cherry-picking a roster of clients, instead of working what's been handed to them by the label's A&R staff. There's a degree of personalization in this setup that you cannot get anywhere else. Since the one-man army often has interns and assistants, the manpower and hours are there, but the personal attention, and the fact that the publicist's livelihood depends on the one-on-one, laser-sharp focus makes this an unbeatable situation. And it's usually easier to get in touch with someone directly without being patched through a network of assistants before getting transferred to voicemail. Much like boutiques and two-person teams, these operations may be small in size but huge in scope.
While there are differing degrees and variations of size, these are the most common PR firm setups. If you're having trouble deciding which is best for you, remember this tenet: Go with your gut and that which will serve your immediate needs. You may not need extra bells and whistles... or you might.
Amy Sciarretto has 20 years of print and online bylines, from Kerrang to Spin.com to Revolver to Bustle, covering music, beauty, and fashion. After 12 years doing radio and publicity at Roadrunner Records, she now fronts Atom Splitter PR, her own boutique PR firm, which has over 30 clients. She also is active in animal charity and rescue.