Name: Kathleen Alder
Occupation: Publicist, PR Manager, Founder of Wildkat PR
Recent Event: Wildkat PR recently signed a deal with investment company Edition Capital and will open new branches in Paris, New York and Los Angeles this year.
Recommendations: Lizzo - Cuz I love you (Album) – interesting role model, I enjoy her lyrics a lot, she motivates me
Zeit Online - Was jetzt? (Podcast)
Pod save America (Podcast)
BBC Radio 4 – The Media Show (Radio show)
The Boys in the Boat - Daniel James Brown (Book)
Small Fry – Lisa Brennan-Jobs (Book)
If you enjoyed this interview with Kathleen Alder, visit the website of her PR agency Wildkat PR to find out more about her team, services and client roster.
When did you start out working in music PR - and what or who were your early passions and influences? What what is about music and/or sound that drew you to it?
Music has been central to my life since birth. My father is a music producer and I have always been surrounded by music. I learned the violin when I was three and I remember my dad working from home and so would hear the same music being played over and over again.
I went to classical music concerts, the opera but also pop music concerts early on. My passion was to be performing, so I was, to a degree, quite serious about becoming a professional violinist. One of my first albums was by Tracy Chapman and I listened to Fast Car and all the other great tracks continuously on repeat. In school we had a little school band where we made string arrangements of all of Metallica’s pieces and that became a big part of my life as well, making classical music out of metal and other different music genres.
Working in music PR came after I finished school when I wasn’t sure about what I wanted to do as I know that I didn’t want to study. I went travelling and ended up working in Venezuela in the El Sistema. Seeing music education in Venezuela from the ground level and to inspire them about music was a powerful experience for me. When I came back to Germany, I ended up working at a hip hop label with Snoop Dogg and Lil Jon. After a year of working for them, I was drawn back to classical music and the performing arts industry. The hip hop scene was fun but also tiring, and I knew that it wasn’t my true passion. I worked in a PR company and after only a couple of months, I knew that I wanted to start my own thing.
For most, originality is first preceded by a phase of learning and, often, emulating others. What was this like for you? How would you describe your own development as a PR agent and the transition towards your own approach? What is the relationship between copying, learning and your own creativity?
PR is often very personal and not necessarily something one can learn from a manual – it is very much what one learns on the job in a way that is individual and personal through relationships, creativity and experience. When I started as a PR, I knew what style I didn’t want to have. I worked in a PR company briefly, which was very traditional and seemed very set in their ways and approaches. I felt it was quite an outdated model of how PR should work or how communications can be. I guess I‘ve always had the talent of being a good speaker, a good communicator and networker and I felt that these were the basic PR skills that one needed.
I still look at what other people are doing, how they are running their campaigns, what their motivations are, what I like about it or not. But the more established we become ourselves, the more I draw inspiration from industries and genres not connected to the classical music and performing arts industry. I listen to a lot of podcasts, I read a lot and spend a lot of time on twitter and social media and mostly it is an amalgamation of lots of different thoughts and ideas that come together that create my own.
Back in the day, when I started my company, I was a 21 year old and my idea of PR was very different to someone in the traditional world. Most publicists were in their 50s and 60s, so I always used that to my advantage, explaining “I’m the target audience – I know how to get young people into your audiences”, which is what clients were always after. The more established the company became and the older I got, it was also about joining disciplines, so we don‘t just do PR, but also offer marketing, social media support, branding and events management – this is always been something I have been really interested in. Now we call ourselves a creative agency. I am always flattered when other people copy our business models or our work and I think equally if I see something good, I am trying to use it for my clients too. Mirroring and learning is still of continuous growth to me and my creativity.
What were your main work-related challenges in the beginning and how have they changed over time?
At the beginning, I was very young and slightly inexperienced compared to other agencies, and people didn’t like that. Instead of seeing the youth and newness as positive attributes, people only saw that I didn’t have enough experience to run a PR company, which was something I often had to overcome and prove people wrong.
Challenges at the beginning were coming from a freelancer mentality and developing into a company. Taking on a different role as well, learning to let go of certain duties and trusting the team that works for you. I made this decision quite early on, about 6-8 months into being self-employed and that was a big challenge for me. Learning how to grow a company, what that entails. Nowadays, the bigger the company gets, challenges are more about how do we keep all staff motivated and united, creating a harmonious atmosphere for the team, how do we not lose our core values and what the company stands for. With growth also comes more financial pressure and this can be somewhat daunting at times. There are more people on the payroll, more clients and overall there‘s a bigger machine behind it and these are new exciting challenges to deal with in itself.
How do you see the role of music PR in the creative process? What is the scope and what are the limitations of what you are capable of doing?
The role of music PR and the creative process is varied and dependent on each artist and project we work with and on. With some artists and projects, we’ve been involved with the entire process from helping to secure funding, organising a concert, booking a venue to writing press releases and doing press approaches. We can take on a minimal role, or be heavily involved from the outset. In that instance we create an overall strategy, do the marketing, the touring, help pitch for funding, we are there from the beginning and can see the whole project through from start to finish.
Every project, artist or campaign can benefit from PR. It brings new contacts, experience in the media and more ideas on how they want to present themselves to the public and new audiences. The power of PR is not to be underestimated, it is and can be quite important. But on the other hand, I’ve seen lots of artists and projects where people just seemed to have a natural ability to do it and an interest to do it and they do very well out of it. Sometimes we work with artists such as Max Richter and Steve Reich, who are already well known, you would think that music PR could enhance their image, but it’s a time related thing as well. How much effort can one put into it oneselve and sometimes it is just easier to delegate the work to someone else. PR isn’t rocket science, it is more that it can support an idea and bring it into fruition.
The limitations are that we are not the greater force behind projects. We can give feedback based on our experience and what has worked for us and similar artists in the past and what hasn’t. But the greater force always comes from the artists or whoever is behind the project. It is a collaborative process being a good music pr. You are aiding someone or paving the road for a vehicle that is already in motion, making it easier for it to travel on.
How are the actual music and its presentation it as part of a PR campaign related, would you say?
I think the packaging of the music makes a big difference of how the audience perceives it. Artwork might not be a priority to all artists, though again, some are very particular and have very strong visions on colours, abstract elements and what message the package is meant to transport.
I would argue that most artists are becoming quite savvy around how they present themselves and their music. By presentation I always mean how an audience perceives it or a prospect audience might experience it and it is true that a certain imagery would turn certain people off or engage others and speak to certain people. Do you create vinyl rather than a CD? Vinyl speaks to certain audiences and demographics. If it has a crazy pink typeface, it will be a certain person that picks it up, rather than a black and white photo of a piano which attracts another person. The artists that care about their presentation usually know their demographic well and know who their audience is and who they are speaking to.
Whom do you feel your obligation to – the artists, the journalists you're working with, your own demands in terms of quality?
If we are working directly with the artist and if it is the artist’s money that’s flowing into the PR campaign, I feel mostly obligated to the artist because I know as a performer myself how hard it is to make money (only the top 1% have endless money to spend), so I am assuming that the fee they are paying us is quite a hardship to them and quite a big investment. So, we normally feel most obliged to the artist or the project.
Though we have developed a relationship with key journalists, they trust us and engage with us, and because we are always seeking new contacts outside of our direct circle, I wouldn’t say there is an obligation that lies with them, it is more of a service exchange – the journalists are writing stories about artists and it is our job to give them the right information and the best stories. We also have our own high expectations about the quality we want to deliver and what we want successful campaigns to be like. I do get frustrated when I feel a campaign deserves more than what we’ve been able to secure, and as a team we always work to be more creative and adventurous so that we can always be proud of our work.
What are the most important conclusions you've drawn from the changes in the music-, music-PR- and music-journalism landscape? How do they affect music PR in general and your own take on writing in particular? What role do social media play for your approach?
For a long time, social media has played into our PR approach. The biggest change in the last year or so has been playlisting. While journalists are still very important, a lot more is happening online through streaming, curated playlists, sync, advertising and there are a lot of artists who score right who are doing varied things already and having fairly successful careers without necessarily being that known in the big demographic.
I would say the biggest change is that music journalism is becoming a smaller part of a successful artist’s career and that the overall package is becoming more important. Digital almost outweighs traditional music journalism, so online and music playlisting is something we’re really focused on now. If artists are clever with social media, it can be a great tool to reach more people and speak interactively with your audience. So, I would say it is a great asset but there are also artists that are not very good at communicating directly with their audiences, so sometimes it can also be a tricky medium to manage for clients if they ask us to.