PRNewser Interview: Mark Satlof, Shore Fire Media VP

[Satlof with Stephen Colbert]

It doesn’t take a genius to understand that the music industry game is changing. Just yesterday, Jay-Z announced he would be leaving Def-Jam, his longtime record label in favor of an unprecedented $150 million deal with concert promoter Live Nation.

If anyone can provide an inside look into this world, it’s Shore Fire Media. The music focused PR and Online Marketing agency represents artists including Bruce Springsteen, Norah Jones, Elvis Costello and Paul Simon.

VP Mark Satlof recently talked to PRNewser about client Billy Bragg’s Op-Ed in the New York Times, working Grammy night and changes in the music industry from a PR perspective.

Morning ritual: coffee, tea, other? Please elaborate.

Coffee, drop one of my two kids off at school, Times and Journal on the train…then more coffee and a half hour of peace before the office gets buzzing at 10am. From the moment I sit down at my desk, my stereo goes on and in the background all day I’m listening to music from a mix of current and potential clients and just for fun stuff.

Are you sad, happy, or indifferent about the closing of Yankee and Shea Stadiums?

I’m aghast. I acknowledge that much of New York’s greatness comes from our architectural churning, from our tearing down and building up and on top of, but much of our richness comes from our history and institutions, and we’re letting too much go too easily. My default position is ‘don’t change a thing.’ For example I’m in constant fear that Katz’s will close, so I go there as often as I can. Some hedge fund guy should buy it with his pocket change to make sure it never gets torn down. And the Shea situation for one highlights another gripe. I thought that, as a city, we’d mostly resisted the corporate-naming trend, and I recall that Shea’s getting one of those gross pay-for-play names. If Bloomberg could, he’d sell the Brooklyn Bridge(he’s already complicit in selling the naming rights to the New York Public Library main branch).

Google is:

The stock I’d wished I’d bought. Even at the time they went public it was obvious that they were in a class of their own, and were already leaving their competition in the dust. And that was when they were just a search engine. Now, a chunk of our day-to-day work as publicists revolves somehow around “Google”…Google Alerts, Google News, Google Calendars, even our blog.

How would you describe the state of the rock music scene in New York?

I think the rock music scene has always been great and it will always be great, though it hasn’t been the same since our patron saint Johnny Thunders died. But there definitely are more and better rock clubs today than at any time in the last 25 years, so ergo there are more bands playing every night and more places for musicians to cut their teeth. Twenty years ago you could count the clubs who booked the best bands (the cool clubs) on one hand. Now, we have one younger staffer who’s at five rock clubs one night, and another five the next.

Favorite thing about working in the music industry?

The percentage of pinch-me moments is pretty high. If you’re a music geek, you just can’t beat our roster. I end up in situations that I could never have imagined in my wildest dreams. I’ll get home and think “Oh my god, I just got to hang out with Carole King, and watch her bring an audience to tears with ‘You’ve got a Friend.'” I saw Elvis Costello in 1984 as a teen in Connecticut (I clipped the live review and still have it). It was impossible then to think I would get to work with him 20 years later. Lou Reed’s an idol. I was introduced to him as the publicist for one of his greatest hits records. He turned to me and said flatly “good luck.” Having Ike Turner sign a photo saying “Thanks for helping me begin again.” Doesn’t get any better than that.

Least favorite thing about working in the music industry?

After thinking about those pinch-me moments, it’d be boorish to complain about anything. But I am disturbed by the music business bashing that’s in vogue these days. The music and the musicians are the reason we’re doing this, they are by far the most important part of the equation. But behind every success is team of dedicated and passionate associates…managers, label folks, journalists. And publicists. Most of us didn’t get into doing this to get rich, we got into it because, well at its most basic, we could get free records and could get into shows on the guest list.

What’s the oddest thing a journalist has asked one of your clients?

Our clients don’t get too many oddball questions. It’s mostly the Europeans who ask “What is the meaning of life?” (especially the French). And they always bring a camera to get a snapshot with the artist. Our clients come back from Europe and they take it out on us, saying they don’t want to doany more interviews. We get lots of requests for lists..what are your favorite kind of shoes, or cars or something else batty. Most of our clients aren’t into lists.

In our experience with music PR, getting touring artists to show up for TV morning shows is always a challenge. What “words of wisdom” can you share with our readers on this?

We don’t have that problem. We map out tv at the beginning of a campaign, and if it’s for a tour, we’ll identify in advance what cities we think are possible based on the schedule and the market (we’ll generally only recommend major market tv).

Then we’ll get the client to sign off on our plan so there’s no surprises. Our clients know that we’re not going to waste their time, so in return, they trust our recommendations. I do remember one case where a very hot band (at the time) overslept for an appearance on Regis and Kelly. The show was none too happy. But other than that, we’ve got a pretty professional and committed bunch of musicians who we get to work with.

Billy Bragg is a Shore Fire client. He recently received a lot of attention for his New York Times op-ed, “The Royalty Scam” in which examined how musicians can make a living in the internet age. Can you talk about how that came about?

We’d developed a relationship with the editor over many years. When he joined the Times a few years ago he reached out to us in his first week (actually before he’d even started officially) and let us know that part of his mandate was to get artists on the Op-ed page. He had a few specific artists in mind but also asked us to pitch him on occasion if we had a good idea.

We shared that information around the office, and let everyone know to keep it in their back pocket… don’t pitch the guy unless you’ve got a clear idea of what you’re asking for. Billy is so outspoken and articulate that his publicist here, Matt Hanks, knew he finally had the right match and the right story for the page, and it worked. It turned around very quickly, starting on a Monday and running on Saturday. It helped that we knew that Billy basically works 24 hours a day and is up for anything interesting or smart.

Also, what has Shore Fire done to capitalize on that media attention it’s created?

We knew the story would generate discussion in the music and music business blogs (and it did). We didn’t send a press release out. But we did hand-pick a list of about 50 places – the aforementioned blogs and some hold-out tv and public radio targets. And we are setting an interview or two pegged specifically to the Times. For the most part we keep our campaigns focused on our clients’ music, but in this case Matt thought, rightly, that this big mainstream break would help the overall campaign.

Shorefire is split up into “Publicity” and “Online Marketing” departments. Talk to us about the different roles these departments play.

Every one of our “publicity” campaigns has a significant online component, but we found that our clients were looking for more in depth campaigns and in many cases, campaigns that were only targeting online media. We wanted to provide the service they were asking for, so we started a separate online department that’s driven by the Shore Fire ideals: diversity and brilliance in our clients and the work we do for them; an unmatched level of strategic, creative thought and action in each of our campaigns.

There is some overlap of clients between Publicity and Online, but we are finding that we can work very well as a complement to either as part of a team . Overall, we are able to serve our clients better. In several cases we have recommended starting with an online campaign and then moving to a more comprehensive campaign as the level of activity warrants it.

What percentage of your clients ask about social media campaigns?

Not too many. The subject comes up in some initial discussions but we achieve our buzz building mostly through editorial placements and our experience is that this filters into social networks organically. For example, our online department puts considerable focus on placements on myspace, youtube, mog, etc. We also help maintain some clients’ myspace and other social network pages.

What are some of the biggest changes over the last five years in how an album / artist is promoted?

The notion that everything has to be front-loaded, i.e run in the first week, is less the dogma these days. We’re seeing longer gestation periods, cases where the music is available digitally on iTunes for a while before it is released on the old fashioned cd.

That can give a song or an album some time to develop a core fan base ­ a real audience – before we go after bigger media, tv and the like. One of the greatest advances is our ability to get music out to the media, through myspace, streams and mp3s. The flip side is that the clutter has increased exponentially in the last few years, so we find we need to hone in on one or two songs on an album, especially for new artists ­to get journalists to listen.

Shorefire had a busy Grammy Awards this year, with 26 nominations and 11 winners. What goes into an event like that?

We were of course thrilled with our clients’ wins. Herbie Hancock’s underdog Album of the Year win was particularly exciting and when he thanked Shore Fire on the national broadcast, all of us here heard from long lost friends and distant relatives besides our good friends. In a way, all of our campaigns are aimed at garnering Grammy nominations and wins, by focusing on high level, quality press and the broadest, smartest media reach possible, so it’s always a gratifying time of the year. We’ve had over a hundred nominations in the past four years, in dozens of categories, and about 30 wins. We also typically have several artists performing; this year that included Herbie, John Fogerty, and pianist Eldar, while Carole King presented.

We usually have three or four staff at the Awards to cover the red carpet ­and very often, the winners press room. We spend the weeks leading up to the big night pitching advance coverage and trying to get a sense of who will be on the red carpet. For the red carpet, our publicists come with a prepared bullet point sheet about the artist, their album, their nomination. That cuts down on the silly questions.

It’s exciting, but it’s work. This year, after Herbie won his Album of the Year, the final award of the evening, the Grammy team wanted to whisk him off to a performance at a party that he was already late for. But Herbie’s publicist stood firm and recommended that he stay and do the press room…in retrospect, the only right thing to do. That would have gone the other way if she wasn’t there.

I’d also like to point out that our clients Glen Hansard and Marketa Irglova received the Best Original Song Oscar for “Falling Slowly” from the “Once” soundtrack. That was a bit of an upset too, but we saw it coming. At the Grammys, their publicist relayed that inside the building (among the music industry) they went unrecognized, while on the street in LA they were stopped constantly. So we saw a popular groundswell that the Oscar voters picked up on too.

Where would you like to see Shorefire Media one year from today?

We’ve been able to grow at our own pace and on our own terms to the point where we have a terrific 20 person staff and a roster that speaks for itself. Our President Marilyn Laverty started Shore Fire in 1990 with one employee and two desks. (I was a consultant and sat on the floor when I came to the office.) I want to continue this measured growth while maintaining the great roster and delivering A+ campaigns. I’m also interested in pursuing more branded/sponsored work, and internet entertainment businesses. We want to be involved in anything that converges with entertainment. And we are always looking for exceptional employees to be part of our growth.

Check out the Shore Fire blog, The Suite 16.