Beth Krakower is one of the leading public relations tycoons in the film music space. She is the tireless power player behind an impressive roster of musical luminaries, such as Cliff Martinez, Bear McCreary, Tyler Bates, Jeff Beal, Blake Neely, and many others. Originally from New York, Beth cut her teeth representing metal and rock bands, using her early knowledge of the internet as a weapon. Presently, she owns and operates her own thriving firm, The Krakower Group. In our deeply informative discussion, Beth illustrates her thoughts on the evolution of her industry and reveals her tips for effective communication.
From the time that you began working as a publicist until now, how has the climate of the industry changed? How has the rise of social media and digital content impacted your strategies and overall approach?
When I was attending college from '89 to ’93, I started interning. The college I went to was one of the three or four sites that tested what would become the internet. I was required to buy a Mac Classic computer as a freshman in college.
We were able to e-mail and conduct basic research. By the time I graduated, I thought everybody was doing this, but everybody was really just getting exposed to it.
After college I was hired to do radio promotions first and then shifted to publicity by the mid-90s. I was also the defacto web marketing point person at most of my jobs because I was the only person who knew what it was and how to leverage it. In the early internet days, publicists still had to make at least 300 to 500 phone calls a week. I worked in metal and rock music mostly, and then went to work for Milan Records, which was my entry point to working on soundtracks. Within a couple months of working there, the publicist was laid off, so that was also my entrée to the world of PR.
As the internet became more prevalent, the number of outlets went through the roof. Major publications established a digital presence and more and more people started blogging and self-publishing. This progression was expected because digital is cheaper and faster.
I believe it was Jeff Bezos of Amazon who said, ”If you want to reach 12 million people, you take an ad out on the Super Bowl. If you want to reach 12 people, you pick up the phone. If you want to reach 12,000 people, that's what the internet is for”. Micro targeting is perfect for film music because it allows me to reach consumers directly. We target 12,000 here and 12,000 people there, looking for the crossover that the client fits into. Very early on, fans of film music congregated on message boards, followed by social media. The reach is international and we focus on, not just the demographics, but the psychographics. We market to people based on their lifestyle and interests, not just the name, age, and location.
How has the role of a composer changed before your eyes?
The audience for original melodic classical music started to dry out - and at the same time movies started to grow in stature - and called for melodic classical music. Many turned to writing for film. A lot of the new generation left the rock world and turned to composing, so they could raise a family, get off the road, and have steady income. Now, there is a great demand for film music concerts, especially in Europe, so they get to be rock stars again. You've got 'Harry Potter’ that's touring, the Michael Giacchino 'Star Trek' ones, 'E.T.', 'La La Land’, and so many more.
Film music has also resurrected symphonies across the country. The problem with modern classical is that it’s very atonal, and the problem with Beethoven, Bach, and Brahms is that you've heard it a hundred times. Young people don't want to go and see that, so you need a gateway drug that gets people into the orchestra to understand that it can be modern, not stodgy like it used to be.
That’s why crossover artists like the Lang Langs, Yo-Yo Ma, BOND, and Tina Guo are successful because they reach the mainstream public with something different. They augment the idea that classical music can be hip and attractive.
You have an all-star client list that features the likes of Tyler Bates, Bear McCreary, Michael Abels, and more. What is your secret to balancing all of these incredible projects and getting great results?
Luckily, they don't all have projects out at the same time! We work together when things are coming out. Sometimes, it’s crazy and all your top clients have something coming out at once, so you pull your hair out and bring in extra help. My job is to think about what the right strategy is for each client. We’ve been balancing everything from pre-Emmy voter outreach, summer movie campaigns and the second wave of television releases, a lot of soundtracks for my record label clients.
Sometimes, it’s important for people to step back from the limelight. You can’t keep expecting the same people to write about your clients if they’ve covered their last 12 projects. You need variation and you need to know when it’s a project is worth publicizing. My clients look at all of their compositions as their children. It is my job to say “I know you love all of your children equally,, but this isn’t the one I should do publicity on.”
What I’m most proud of is not just that I have A-list clients, but that I have clients are loyal to me and don’t tend to go elsewhere. We’ve built authentic relationships over time and they trust me to know when the time is right.
In any service based business, things go wrong, life happens, and disasters occur, but communication is key. My clients know what is going on, what I’m doing for them, and why, even - and most importantly - if things don’t go as expected. Ongoing conversation is essential to enact a strategy and build those long term partnerships.
How do you measure success in public relations?
It really depends on the client and what the goal is. I'm really careful when I first start out with a client. I find out what success means to them and I try to set reasonable expectations for what they think success is going to be.
For example, for established composers, success is dependent on the quality of the outlets. With other composers, it may be about quantity and establishing a presence. Sometimes, they only want a trade-focused press.
It sounds incredibly customizable, would you say that’s correct?
Yes, it should be. I know some publicists don't do it that way. Back in the day, I used to work with metal bands and it was all about landing a story in Rolling Stone and getting a hundred stories and fanzines to cover you. It was entirely reliant on print and for the magazines, their goal was to sell advertising. In this day and age, there are so many different outlets and everything is so niche. Because there are so many options, you really need to sit and go, "What makes sense? Is it just working on social media, building a presence, and getting a certain amount of eyeballs to view it or is it getting broadcast interviews?”.
Your business is all about the maintenance of core relationships. What are your tips for positive networking?
I have some very basic ones and some that are long-term. When you're working with people long-term, you always want to deliver slightly more than you've promised or communicated what's going on along the way if something is not working.
In terms of meeting people in public, whenever I meet somebody new, I imagine writing their name on their forehead and it helps me visually. I try to incorporate their name in conversation within the first couple seconds. Remembering someone’s name makes them feel special. When you exchange cards, make a point to write down what you talked about and where you met them. These details are important to remember.
I have this one journalist friend. He's one of my best friends in the world. A guy by the name of Richard Torres out of New York. When I was living in NY, we would always go to events together and play the networking game. We start off by finding the people that were alone at an event. You know, the ones who are always looking at their phone or trying to figure out if they know anybody there. What they really want is somebody to talk to.
What we’d do is start talking to one person who’s there alone, introduce them to someone else we knew, and so on. By the end of the night, it would be a group of 12 to 20 people chatting with each other. None of them will ever forget us because we made them comfortable in a situation where they were uncomfortable. People who are already in groups never want you to intrude on them talking to whoever they want to be talking to, but if you start a group, you never know who you’ll meet.
Last tip, have you heard of 'resting bitch face'? People don’t do it in L.A. as much as they do in New York, but you want to make sure you don’t have that on at an event. Nobody will ever come over to you if you don’t exude positive energy.
You are incredibly accomplished and have gone through many transitions to get this point in your career, owning and running your own shop. What is the biggest sacrifice you have made for your job?
Well, I’m 45 and single - so some would say I’ve sacrificed a personal life. I don’t really view it as a sacrifice because I love what I'm doing. It's my company, so the more I work, the better it is.
My company started out as CineMedia Promotions in 1998. We were based in New York. In 2011, I moved out to LA for six months to test the waters and then I officially relocated in 2012. Because I don’t work in an office building, the hardest part is to not be lonely doing it. It’s funny because I talk to people all over the country and all around the world at all hours, but it's the not same as going to the office. You don't meet people outside of your work circle.
I do love working with all the film music festivals though. I get to travel to all these countries with clients for work, then take an extra week and see some places I would never have visited.
Can you share a public relations crisis that you've worked through? How did you grow as a publicist from this experience?
I'm one of those people who believes in just admitting things and move on, it’s like politicians always getting caught in their lies.
At the time, I was mostly working with record labels. I was preparing for an Andrea Bocelli record that was slated to come out on September 12, 2001. We had everything set up with NPR, as well as many other major features. That Monday was September 11th. Two planes hit the Twin Towers. How do you deal with the fact that for several months everyone was thinking the world coming to an end? There was no focus on art. We had to scrap every plan and start from scratch.
Sometimes, the hardest part is saving composers from themselves - I had a client where I had to have a story redacted because the entire story was about how his name wasn’t on the movie poster, another composer’s was, but that was ok because he had been fired from the project for two weeks, hired on another one and his name was on that poster (but he didn’t end up writing the music for it).
Mostly the issues are bad photo choice, being misquoted, or accidentally violating an NDA (non-disclosure agreement).
Public relations requires thoughtful writing skills. Who are your favorite authors and what are some of your must read books?
The funny thing is, I am a terrible creative writer, but a good business writer. I would never write something florally. I'm terse, to the point, direct, but that's how you write for publicity. In essence, I write press releases and articles. Some outlets have even run my press releases word for word as an article. What I'm supposed to do is write like a journalist.
I love Malcolm Gladwell on the non-fiction side, particularly 'Blink' and 'Tipping Point'. I think he covers pop culture, marketing, and things of that nature in a really interesting way. I’m a big fan of murder mysteries. When I read for pleasure, which is less and less these days, that's what it tends to be. I've been reading a lot of JD Robb, which is Nora Roberts' pen name. She writes about Eve Dallas, who's a slightly futuristic police detective in New York. Can’t forget Sally Kellerman. I also admire Jeffrey Gitomer, who writes these very small books on sales techniques.
If you could describe yourself in five adjectives, what would they be?
Ballsy, truthful, loyal, tenacious ... I don't know that I need a fifth. With me, it’s 'what you see is what you get'. I'll talk to anybody, whether you're the top guy or the bottom guy. When people reach out, I am typically the one to respond. They'll be like, "But your name is on the letterhead. Why are you responding to a little composer, who has no budget and is asking for a favor?" It’s easier to respond than to ignore it and create bad will. Good karma goes a long way.