You may not have been counting as closely as we have, but our freelance publicist contact sheet has about 50% more entries than it did when we first started running it in 2004. In addition, freelance publicists are increasingly offering brand development and online strategies to their lists of services. As they are forced to exit their shrinking publishing companies, can we expect to see even more freelance publicists and marketing experts in coming months?
“Freelancers are increasingly part of the industry,” says Sarah Burningham, founder of Little Bird Publicity, Marketing & Branding and previously Associate Director of Marketing at HarperStudio. “More and more authors are hiring freelancers directly, which makes sense since in-house publicists are strapped for time and budgets.” Gretchen Koss of Tandem Literary and her partner, Meghan Walker, know there are gaps to be filled: “Having been in-house for most of our careers we know, realistically, what can be accomplished by the in-house publicity & marketing departments and what is just too time consuming.”
“We do extensive outreach to the online community as well as to the traditional media and we customize campaigns so that no two are the same,” says Camille McDuffie of Goldberg McDuffie Communications. “We also do extensive follow-up at the galley and bound books stages. Often, in-house publicists have too many books a month to do publicity at that intensive level.”Suzanne Williams of Shreve Williams Public Relations says publishers’ tight budgets mean she’s less likely to be hired by a publishing house than by an author. “A year ago, the majority of our clients were publishers,” she says. “Now, with staff cuts within publicity departments, our client is as often the author himself.”
“Our business has doubled since the recession,” says Justin Loeber of Mouth Public Relations. “The big companies have cut their PR tactics. Agents refer us to authors, who hire us because they fear their projects will suffer if they don’t have a team looking out for them.” In addition, because of in-house cuts, he notes that “publishers have also hired us as their ‘PR agency of record,’ where we act as their PR department.” Though he says individual authors generally pay the same rates as publishers, “the reason my business if flourishing is that I’m willing to negotiate. In this climate, one would really bite themselves in the backside if they weren’t willing to negotiate with everyone’s budget.”
In-house publicists say they rarely hire freelancers themselves anymore. “Most of the freelance publicists we have worked with in the last couple years,” says Marcia Burch, VP Publicity at Simon & Schuster, “have been hired by the author at their own instigation, or already work for the author on a retainer basis.” She says there are few situations in which she would encourage an author to hire a freelance publicist.
“We used to suggest it sometimes if the book was in a category that had specialized media—multicultural, sports, gay, military,” says Carol Schneider, VP and Executive Director of Publicity and PR at Random House. “But by now we’ve published so widely that we can handle almost any subject. However, if an author wants to handle a freelancer, we are fine with that. We set up a meeting with the outside publicist to clarify who is going to be responsible for what part of the publicity campaign. The Random publicist acts as a conduit for any questions coming from the freelancer that relate to other departments in-house.”
Burch says the freelance and in-house publicist “split up the media [depending on] who has the best contacts—book events would be arranged by the publisher, speaking events by the outside PR person. Sometimes a publicist is hired to handle a specific aspect of the campaign, such as national TV or blogs and online. Very occasionally, the outside publicist will handle the entire project except for book events, but that’s unusual lately.”
Sometimes, a freelancer provides the hand-holding and explanations on behalf of busy publishers. Rose Carrano of Rose Carrano Public Relations says her role often extends beyond getting placements “to educating authors about the realities of the marketplace” and “managing expectations.”
Despite these marketplace realities, all the freelance publicists we spoke with are more excited about the possibilities of internet publicity than they are depressed about disappearing book review sections. “Traditional media is still crucial, but understanding how social media works is also critical,” says Burningham. “Reading blogs and spending time online is like practice, and practice makes perfect, or, at least, can help a good campaign reach the next level.”
Mouth even outsources some aspects of internet marketing. “We partner with a handful of firms who act as ‘white label’ staffers at our company—we’re working with one firm to create iPhone apps for a client, another to create a microsite, and another to create an online book trailer. We also partner with various internet firms to push and promote the clients’ content, as well as set up Twitter and Facebook pages for them.” But, he says, “traditional media shouldn’t be dismissed. A dream PR campaign still consists of a mixture of TV, radio, print, online, and even some key events. There’s no need to mourn the end of one medium for another. The more outlets booked the merrier!”
Mouth PR’s ultimate goal is to transition clients “from author to spokesperson or talking head,” creating not just buzz but brands, and many PR firms have added brand development to their list of specialties. Goldberg McDuffie’s long-term branding clients include not only authors like Jodi Picoult and Michael Connelly but literary organizations like the Whiting Writers’ Awards and Library of America. “We find it so gratifying to work long-term,” McDuffie says.
“A hard-working publicist who can work closely with and support her in-house counterpart is worth every penny, for the author and the publisher,” says Burningham. “Not only is a freelance able to really delve into booking and handle the nittygritty aspects of a campaign, but a good one can also make the in-house publicist look good!”