MAKING NOISE 001: Bree Wilkinson, PR Extraordinaire
Welcome to the first interview for Making Noise, a segment where I interview women who work in music (mostly behind the scenes). I recently interviewed PR extraordinaire Bree Wilkinson. Bree is currently UK-based and doing PR for Yes Please, and during our interview we talk about how she started, what made her want to work in music, and her happiest moments!
Hi Bree! I just wanted to thank you for answering my questions for “Making Noise”!
Of course :) it's quite weird to be on the other side!
For people who don’t know you, can you give them a little introduction?
I'm Bree Wilkinson, I'm Australian, but based in London, and I'm a Music Publicist here at boutique PR agency Yes Please. Across our team, we handle everything from TV, Radio, Press/Online PR for musicians/bands and related events. I work on the press/online side. Outside of being a huge music lover, I'm also a former-Scout, big nature lover, reformed reader, veggie gardener, bird-lover, and enjoy pretty much all those hobbies typically associated with the elderly.
Did you always want to work in music? When did you start?
I didn't! I hadn't really even realised it was a career path at all until I kind of ended up in it. When I was growing up, there were sets of peer groups around me who took ownership of being the 'music' crowd , so I never felt part of that and let myself think I mustn't have good taste. Growing up I was listening to things like ABBA, Cat Stevens, Kate Bush and The Supremes, The Beatles and heaps of 90s rock on the heritage side, and things like Foster The People, The White Stripes, Gotye, Ben Lee, Regina Spektor, Phoenix and Vampire Weekend soundtracked my teens. I think I probably had a deeper connection and understanding to music than I realised or gave myself credit for, even now. After doing a few internships in film, including for the amazing Sydney Film Festival, I applied for an internship at a large Independent record company on a whim at 21 years old, and began from there.
How did you get into public relations specifically?
I studied a Public Relations degree at the University of Technology Sydney - I can't remember the exact moment I decided it was for me. When I'd made up my mind, I found out that my Mother had studied the same course at the same University - she was in PR for the first decade or so of her career, and still employs the skills she learnt in her career today. At the record company, I took a job on the front desk as Executive Assistant, and basically hassled them to let me help out the public relations department until they relented and let me start shadowing, and then eventually taking over, some small campaigns of my own. The role kept developing until I transitioned to a full publicist, and by the time I left that role, I was running priority campaigns as well as a small in-house imprint label, signing amazing emerging Australian acts.
Many people don’t know what Music public relations is about, could you explain what you do and what a day in the life of your job is like?
At its most basic function, you could describe music public relations as introducing/representing musicians/bands to journalists and editors, and arranging coverage such as interviews, reviews etc. - so lots of email and in-person pitching, lots of chatting with artists and their teams, writing press releases, attending shoots and in-person interviews, etc. You're essentially the middle person between your artist and the media, and are responsible for keeping the media up to date with your artist's releases and release activities. From a more holistic perspective, I see my job and the job of a music publicist as helping to connect our artists with their present and potential future audiences. By collaborating with media contacts, and seeking out coverage opportunities, we help to bolster our artist's profile in the public eye, which should (if effective) help grow their position and allow them to draw in new audiences who will connect meaningfully with their music.
Is there someone who would be a dream to do public relations for?
This is a good and impossible question to answer specifically, so I'm going to be more vague! I have been so lucky to already work on and lead publicity campaigns for some of my dream artists. I think for me, my dream is always to represent someone who I felt like was an important and timely voice. Someone who has a truly compelling perspective to add to the wider societal conversation. Someone who uses their music to inspire more empathy and understanding of different or marginalised personal, social or political topics. To be able to represent an artist like that can be a once in a lifetime, so it's what keeps me passionate, that's my unwavering dream.
How did you start working for Yes Please?
I visited London on a business trip, it was the middle of the winter and objectively miserable weather wise, but as soon as I landed, I knew it was for me. The music scene and industry in Australia is amazing, but I felt like London was the perfect place to develop my career and really throw myself into a new experience - I wanted to be the littlest fish in the biggest pond. After moving to London 6 months later with no job, I began networking and emailing every person and their dog I knew who worked in UK music. I also had a lot of lovely people reach out from shesaid.so, which is a fantastic and supportive community of female and gender minority people in the music industry. A contact from a label I'd worked with in the past fortuitously recommended me to Yes Please founder and all-round legend Ruth Emery, and the rest is history. There were a lot of serendipitous connections which made me feel like Yes Please was exactly where I needed to be. Their office was in the same complex where I'd gone for my first meeting on that aforementioned business trip, and I remember imagining / day dreaming at the time what it would be like to work in that place. There was also a brilliant crossover in the artists they worked with and campaigns I'd done in the past.
I always feel like getting internships is a huge topic that is spoken about when people want to work in music, but nowadays since we have the internet it’s very different! Do you recommend getting internships in public relations?
I do think internships are so valuable, I did a year's worth of unpaid internships combined, committing 2 days a week, before I landed my first paid role. A lot of people finish their university courses - whether specifically coming from music or other relevant degrees - and expect to walk straight into a role without having completed any internships. An equal number have already completed internships whilst they study, which is a massive advantage for them. My degree was great for learning the conceptual nature of public relations, but my internships taught me how PR is achieved practically, and especially gave me my education in the music industry. I feel people need to view internships as an important extension of their education and not just as completing free labour. From my own experience as a mentor of interns, you do tend to take a lot of time out of your normal work day to teach and guide them, so it's a commitment of your time as much as it's an investment in their future. I think another key thing I'd tell people who are about to intern is to not be picky or have an expectation of the kind of work you're doing. A bulk or your time as an intern, especially early on, will be doing things that aren't glamorous, but still contribute and are the sum of their parts. I remember one day as an intern, I spent an entire day removing plastic wrap from boxes and boxes of CDs and stuffing paper press releases inside (sorry environment!) to send out to media and industry contacts. And I was absolutely stoked to be there, because I understood what I was doing was still beneficial, and that I was there to observe how the company ran, and learn by osmosis (and asking lots of questions!). Being enthusiastic about stuff like that, and doing it well, inspires your employer to trust you with larger responsibilities which will help you grow, and could lead to a role. On the other side of that, I'd tell interns to keep aware of not being exploited. If the job you're doing becomes indispensable to the company's function, you should be getting paid. Set boundaries in your own mind of how much time you're interning, and chat to mentors and other people outside the workplace for advice if you feel like your internship is unhealthy.
If you didn’t choose to work in public relations, what would you have chosen to do in music?
I like that working in music always leads up to "moment" - whether that's an album release or a music festival or some other launch. Rather than just ambiently chipping away doing public relations for a cereal brand or something like that, I like that with music you can see the fruits of labour unfold in a tangible way, whether that's a beautiful and well received interview piece you've set up, or a big crowd turning up to a show which you can in part, link back to the success of your public relations campaign. If I was going to choose another role, it'd be something that gave me that same sense of satisfaction - so perhaps working in Sync, which in short represents artists / composers to land their music in film, TV, advertising campaigns etc. Or, music supervision, which is soundtracking TV shows, movies. I also think it's a secret collective dream of much of the music industry, and certainly one of mine, that we'd choose to be musicians ourselves. I am not a musician, and whilst I have a grasp on some of the technical elements of how music is constructed as I need to, I do like that my lack of musical ability keeps musicians seeming like magicians to me. It's not always good to deconstruct everything.
What would be your definition of good public relations?
In short - be considered, be authentic, create genuine relationships with artists, media and teams, and have a solid understanding of current social and political topics and trends. Constantly evolve your communication skills, especially your writing, and learn how to tell a good story and recognise timely, interesting angles. Leading on from that, don't be afraid to speak up or flag anything to your client - whether that be a lyric, video etc. - that could prove problematic in the public eye - it's your job to run through all possible scenarios before they become front-facing, you're being paid to be the expert in this way, just as much as you are to service music. Don't be afraid to say 'no' to working things which you feel are actively problematic or harmful. Keep your personal integrity, it will win out in the end. Being a publicist is so interconnected with the strength of your relationships with the media - without the media, we are nothing, and it pays to not forget that and treat people kindly and with respect at all times. Plus, always remember that you're essentially representing someone's art, and that's a privilege.
How would you describe the rewards of your job?
It can be so fast-paced, that a lot of times you can't always reflect on how far you've come. I do try to share things I'm proud of now that I've set up for my artists - I do feel genuinely satisfied to have created that opportunity for my client, and to have also worked and collaborated with media outlets and journalists that I respect. For me, the rewards are often fleeting moments. Like when someone mentions they discovered a new artist they love via an article or piece you set up, without knowing you did. Or standing on the side of a stage at a big festival or venue and seeing a crowd sing all the lyrics back and thinking; "wow, I have absolutely no business standing on the side of this stage, I'm from a smalltown in Australia!". Or when an artist is able to sign a great deal or get a great festival slot linked to some of the coverage you've helped them achieve. Or a handwritten note from an artist to say thank you, and realising you really were part of their musical journey, even though you can't hold a note or play more than three chords on a guitar yourself.
What do you think is one of the biggest misconceptions about being in your job?
I think the single biggest misconception is that public relations is inauthentic or 'spin-doctoring'. The way I see it, the artist tells their story through their music, that's their primary skill. It's our primary skill to take what they have to say, and re-communicate it via more traditional means - primarily the written and spoken word. A good publicist helps the artist draw out the seeds of their story, before passing the baton onto journalists. I also think a big misconception is that good PR lives or dies on the amount of results you can generate. Good PR is about so much more than that, and has so many nuances. It's about clever positioning, grassroots familiarity building, and being able to draw links between a story and the current media/social or political climate. It's about creative strategy and branding. There is so much more work that goes in behind the scenes outside of just being able to nab interviews or track posts - it's setting up the story and foundations of possibly, someone's entire career.
Is there a particular moment in your career that you are especially proud of?
I think moving to London and learning the UK market is something I'm really proud of. It was a big test for me to see if I could translate the skills I'd learnt in Australia into a new, big market. I feel I've both proved that to an extent, with copious amounts of help and guidance from the team at Yes Please of course, but I am also constantly committed to growing. It's also been a very liberating thing to now work at a freelance PR company rather than in-house at a label, as it means bringing in clients and scouting new talent to represent is now up to myself and the wider team, so our successes really feel like ours, and we can really see where and how we're able to 'move the dial'.
What advice would you give someone who wants to start working in music, specifically in public relations?
Make sure it's what you actually want to do, check your intention! Ask yourself if you truly love and are passionate about music - if it's what brings you inexplicable joy, if it truly has the power to shift your emotions. If you don't, it'll get very old very quickly. Public relations - make sure you love to chat to people, and know how to do so in a meaningful way, as you'll be doing it all day. Make sure you know how to find and tell a good story in an authentic way. Find great mentors, study other campaigns, take initiatives, remember if you don't ask you won't receive, and mostly - just be a nice person and maintain your integrity.
If you could give me a recommendation on who to interview next for “Making Noise," who would it be?
Oh gosh! I would say perhaps my friend Hildur Maral, she's the Co-Label Manager & Head of Marketing at amazing niche label Mercury KX. Or, the amazing Ellen Kirk, who works for management company Look Out Kid (Courtney Barnett, Faye Webster, Middle Kids, Beverley Glenn Copeland). Let me know if you wanna chat w/ either and I can put you in touch!
We want to say a massive thank you to Bree Wilkinson for being our inaugural interviewee for Making Noise. Bree can be found on both Twitter and Instagram. Follow her to keep up with all of the exciting campaigns she's running for Yes Please's clients - and be sure to stay tuned for who Melody will be making noise with next!