(Photo by Diana Lambert)
“All I wanted to do was help artists get the word out about their music,” says Jenny Hossain, Senior Publicist at WMA. “To reach those kids like me who were at the shows, who were in a corner of the library reading the latest Rolling Stone, who were online keeping up to date with blogs in search of new acts.”
Growing up, Jenny didn’t know her current career as a Publicist was a job she could explore professionally. Rather, she simply found contentment going to concerts and fostering meaningful friendships, and finding her safe space within the musical community. She then turned to street teaming, where she got to hype up artists by handing out flyers and CDs outside of concerts, record stores, coffee shops, and events. Through college and the years following, she tried out paths like A&R and Marketing, until she finally landed on Publicity.
It turns out, Jenny had been a Publicist her whole life.
When the COVID-19 outbreak made isolation the new normal, artists were forced to stop live performances. The creative teams behind-the-scenes, including Publicists like Jenny, were unsure of how to proceed.
I had the opportunity to speak with Jenny and hear about her experience working as an entertainment Publicist during the COVID-19 pandemic, where live performances are obsolete. In our conversation, she discussed her professional life before the pandemic, how the pandemic has changed her daily life, the effects on publicity and the industry, and her thoughts on the future of the entertainment industry.
Below is her story.
Matching the Energy
What was your professional life like before COVID-19?
“WMA had an incredible studio and office space. Going into the office was really exciting because you knew you were going to meet and connect with like-minded people, but also people who have totally different tastes from you and people you’ll no doubt learn something from, all working with a diverse range of clients. I think that was definitely one of my favorite things – that honest, unfiltered discourse in person and in the same room. While we mainly work in the music and entertainment space, we are a creative agency first. The projects we work on inspire us to create, but everyday life and interpersonal interactions, the back and forth sharing of thoughts and ideas, influences our output in its unique way too. That’s an energy you just can’t match virtually.”
Absence & Adaptation
How has the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic changed your daily life?
“My day-to-day in terms of the actual work hasn’t changed much throughout the pandemic. There is that stereotype of a Publicist, like Samantha on Sex and the City who is always on the phone or out and about networking, super outgoing and the life of the party. That may be true sometimes, but the core of music PR in the digital age is keeping your head down, doing the research, reading the news, getting to know and understanding your clients, drafting and sending hundreds of personalized emails a day, and writing press materials, all while on a deadline.
One major difference now is that after a full day of meetings and screen time, you used to go out to shows all the time. There would be networking events, happy hour drinks, something that just really connected us all in person and reminded us of why we do what we do as storytellers and creators. There was a huge positive to working out of a major hub like NYC where we could actually meet clients and label partners as well as the editors and journalists we collaborated with often, it just humanized the nature of the business all around. I’m not sure if we’ll be able to build relationships with media as organically, the way we used to in-person, via Zoom. We’re still figuring things out and how to fill that void in connection.
The work-life balance has been a true struggle while working from home. Now, the days kind of blend together and there are no real cut off times. I will admit you’ll still find me working at 8pm, not realizing the work day ended hours ago. It’s simple, but making sure to take a lunch break is key in maintaining my mental health through this too. I’ll watch an episode of a show or listen to a podcast I love or FaceTime with a friend and that really helps me feel creative again. While that doesn’t solve my need for work-life balance entirely, it definitely adds a buffer between staring at screens all day.
The pressure is real though. You’re trying to act as though everything is normal, but being in the same space while you work and while you do literally everything else can cause roadblocks in your creative process. We’ve never experienced anything like this before. Everything has been a question mark, we’re trying to be strategic with the means we have and we’re learning what works as we go.”
Livestreams & Locals
How has publicity and the entertainment industry as a whole been affected by COVID-19?
“People are truly engaged with the media in a way they never have been before. What’s come out of this, in lieu of touring through all these cities after an album release, is a constant stream of content and livestream events. We didn’t know if these types of livestreams were going to stick around, but as the production value increased, the conversation around livestreams changed and it’s made a real imprint on the way we consume music or watch performances. We’re truly globalized now because of social media and all the internet has to offer. Although the pandemic has kept us away from each other on a physical level, it’s allowed artists that, for example, have only had the opportunity to tour in the US reach out to new and existing fans all the way on the other side of the world. I guess that opportunity was always there, but with the whole world shutting down at once it pushed people to take advantage of these tools at hand or go to new lengths to market themselves and reach new fans.
The editorial landscape was already shifting before COVID-19 hit. Magazines and papers have been cutting back on their syndication, limiting the number of staff on board, or calling it quits and closing up shop. With COVID-19 we continued to see the uptick in journalist layoffs and staff sizes getting smaller, it’s heartbreaking. Regardless, we’ve had to get creative in our pitches and try to integrate social media opportunities with traditional written features, we’re doing a lot more Instagram takeovers, livestream sessions, or having artists write their own op-eds. Despite the circumstances, there is still opportunity for your clients to share their stories with various outlets that will champion them and there is still opportunity to get those larger features with high profile publications, you just have to work hard as hell towards that hit as a team. It has always been ‘content is king’ and ‘quality over quantity’ when it comes to PR, so the approach and process hasn’t really changed, it might just take a little bit more lead time and foundation building to achieve the end results you desire.
One thing I truly miss, though, is tour press. I haven’t had to pitch a 30-day tour for a client in a while. Obviously, that’s a weird feeling. I always enjoyed reaching out to regional papers and magazines when an artist performed in a specific city on their tour route. Going back to my personal roots and interest in music and why I got into this industry, it’s all about reaching that kid looking for a show to go to that they’ll feel safe at and it felt so rewarding knowing I helped place a band in a local paper to expand their reach. I hope we can find our way back to that but who knows what live entertainment is going to look like over the next few years.”
An Age of Connection
What do you think lies ahead for the future of the entertainment industry?
“Our industry has been shattered in the live sector. There’s no doubt about that. It pains me to see so many incredible and iconic venues closing down for good. I’m one of the lucky ones. I can still do my job effectively from home, and continue to help artists on the digital front as they figure out how to release music without a tour to support it.
We just keep pushing forward with what we have to work with. We have to find the middle ground between being hopeful and understanding that this isn’t going to be normal for a while. New, exciting things are happening and being developed in spite of COVID-19, we just have to be on the lookout. We need to take advantage of the fact that people are on social media more now than ever before and that people are consuming their news and stories via social media. How can we use Instagram? How can we use Facebook Live? How can we use Twitch? How can we connect the dots across all these platforms to shorten the line between artist and fan as well as the music and message at hand? This pandemic has given artists time to find ways to connect and make real impact. It isn’t just “make music, sell music, perform music, throw it at the wall then you’ll have fans.’ It’s ‘I need to create a strong product that I am proud of and that has a story, build my brand and message genuinely on my social media and then reinforce my project with marketing, advertising, and PR.’ Social media, the way we use it and the way we consume it, is just what works, and I hope we continue to take advantage of this kind of access long after the pandemic ends.”
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