TIFF is in the air, and Torontonians are gearing up for the most important celebrity event of the year. You can’t open a newspaper or glance at your Twitter feed without being inundated with gossip and speculation around which Hollywood celebrities will be walking the red carpets. The obsession with VIP events, celebrities and all the glamour, may make you think the only way to generate publicity in the arts is to go big, glitzy and over-the-top. But one entrepreneur is proving this theory wrong.
Steve Fernandez, a musician of Toronto-based duo Freedom or Death, has garnered the attention of high profile pop critics at the Wall Street Journal and RollingStone.com with a great product – his music – and an authentic, personal approach to PR. Instead of hiring a big name publicist and creating buzz with a massive PR stunt, Fernandez used the power of storytelling to share his passion for music, and remained dedicated to producing a high quality product.
For Fernandez, embracing his musical passion required making a significant sacrifice. He traded in a successful career as national marketing manager for Sony Music to launch his own music profile with Steve ‘Sway’ Clarke. But like most entrepreneurs, they didn't have the resources to make a massive splash.
Instead of going in blind, Fernandez was armed with prior PR experience and a passion for storytelling, giving him an edge when pitching reporters directly. He seeded his music with influencers he could trust, and was able to build early credibility and awareness within an extremely influential music community. But he also understood the importance of knowing where to invest, hiring a small, specialized publicity agency with established media relationships geared towards his target demographic.
After positive feedback from an experimental test launch, the duo’s first break came two months into seeding their music from a cold e-mail pitch to Jim Fusilli, a Wall Street Journal pop music critic. Fusilli enjoyed their sound, and rated Freedom or Death a top band to see at the 2010 College Music Journal Festival. In addition to a full-piece story, the critic opened the band’s eyes to how their story could appeal to large publications at the onset.
“Maybe I got lucky, but with the advent of social media, journalists are not unlike consumers who are looking to hear directly from artists about their work and passion behind their story,” said Fernandez. “Having a background in marketing and PR, as well as experience in journalism, helped us understand how to make a journalist’s job easier, while providing the necessary information for selling our product.”
As a passionate entrepreneur, it’s sometimes best to pitch your own story. Fernandez understood the importance of being authentic and using emotion to create awareness. He believed in his product, and invested the energy required to make a connection with the top influencers in his industry. For Fernandez, that meant tackling his music as truthfully as possible, including penning a song about the string of suicides and bullying incidents in the United States.
Freedom or Death’s support for anti-bullying awareness made Fernandez’s story even more compelling and compatible to reporters and fans, and catching the attention of industry professionals. “For our music video, we attracted last year’s Juno Award-winning music director from being truthful to the lyrics we wrote,” said Fernandez. “We’ve found that by being authentic and real, we never have to hide our intentions within our art.”
Amidst the celebrity noise that routinely fills our news channels, there’s still room for new artists to breakthrough. As a small business owner, it’s important to embrace your passion and share your story to accelerate awareness. Authenticity and emotion can deliver successful results, and get your business recognized in a sea of competition.