What It Takes To Make It in the SA Hip Hop Industry from the Experts: Part 3

If talent were a blemished face, public relations would be the wave of a makeup artist’s brush; accentuating its natural highlights and beauty, and concealing its blemishes. PR is the act of disseminating information between a person/organisation and the general public in order to attract their interest. It is a carefully curated campaign to enhance image or brand perception; the ‘show’ bit of show business.

Consumers cannot consume what they do not know exists. Even the best products don’t sell themselves, a marketing campaign has to be put in place to create awareness of a particular brand, and key to that brand is image. How you’re perceived is what drives people to buy, they want to relate to you as a person more so than as an artist.

The audience is sometimes fickle, and navigating the space of brand perception can be a daunting one. Media can be used in a way that builds or breaks your brand. Alienating your audience is sometimes as easily done as Bow Wow tweeting that he can’t relate to civil rights issues because he’s mixed-race. At the same time, endearing yourself to a wider audience is just as easily done; James Blunt’s witty one liners to the questions he’s asked on Twitter are evidence of this.

We spoke to Farah Fortune, director of African Star Communications, for more insight on the sphere of image management and public relations in the entertainment industry.

Are image and talent two sides of a coin for the successful trajectory of an artist in the hip hop industry or does one have more of an impact than the other?

Image and talent are not the same thing. There are many artists I like that don’t necessarily have talent, however their image is what sustains their careers. For instance Rihanna is not the most talented singer I’ve ever heard but her image maintains her popularity and she has some great producers. I still love her! It goes to show that image is important as talent but talent is not the dominating factor in the music industry.

How should an artist trying to break into the industry approach their public relations?

Listen to their publicist!!! As long as the publicist is reputable and has a proven track record they should be in a position to effectively guide the artist in creating a public image that is beneficial to them. Someone who has a friend that’s a celeb does not make them a publicist. Be careful who you approach and how they put you out to the public.

What exactly does a public relations company like African Star do and why is it beneficial for artists to make use of them?

African Star is a public relations company. We have three divisions; Celebrity PR, Corporate PR, and Event Management. Within our celeb department, we help artists gain the recognition they need within the music and entertainment industry through exposure to the public via media e.g. interviews, appearances, VIP parties, performances etc. Artist should make use of PR services as a PR expert is able to guide their career and create a favourable image to the public. A PR expert is also able to highlight the artist as a person not just their music, which is what creates the relatable factor to the public. Every person has a favourite musician not just because of their music but also how the artist relates to them particularly.

For lesser known artists who are trying to break into the industry, what are the benefits of a ‘bottom-up’ approach to PR which is more focused on using new media (social media, releasing music on hosting sites for free download etc.) as tools to market yourself and your brand versus a more traditional ‘top-down’ approach to PR by a team of specialists working on traditional media tools?

Bottom up PR is where everyone starts, even J Cole has an infamous tweet where he thanks his followers, years ago for reaching 500 followers! Bottom up PR allows you to start creating an image you’d like to carry through your career. You also have more freedom over what you say before an expert steps in and enhances your previous efforts. Also it allows people to download your music at no charge to get to know you before you start charging for your tracks.

How important is social media to a breakout artist’s PR and what are the dos and don’ts with regards to social media handling?

Social media is extremely important to an artist or brand. It’s a perfect, instant access point for artists to communicate with fans. There are so many do’s and don’ts for artists and brands. It really depend on the image you’re trying to portray. However, politics is always a good one to avoid.

What are some PR faux pas that you would warn artists to guard against?

Find a reputable agency or publicist!!! Don’t just go with someone who says they are a publicist. Ask to see their qualifications and proven track record. There are many scam artists out there!

Don’t over share interviews. Answer your questions fully and listen to what the journo is asking you. Never make a journo repeat their questions.

Make sure the publication benefits your brand. Don’t just take an interview because it’s an interview. Look out for your brand!

How does a PR agency decide on who they want to represent?

Every PR agency is different when it comes to the deciding factor.

At African Star Communications we are very passionate about music. We listen to the artist’s music. Meet with them. Look at what they want for and from their careers. We also have to be passionate about your brand, it has to excite us. We’ve taken on artists who weren’t quite there with their sound but their passion and enthusiasm for their career is what has made us sign them.

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