Inside the Industry with Kristine Ashton-Magnuson
The life of an Entertainment Publicist is one of the most sought after careers for many writers who are making their way through Communications degrees at colleges across the country, or for those who are spending many nights a week reviewing the local tour in their town. They are the ones sending out up-to-date news for their artist/music festival, approving media credentials and the fabulous people who you are interacting with at the event day of. We recently caught up with Kristine Ashton-Magnuson of Ashton-Magnuson Media for an in-depth interview about her multi-decade career as an Entertainment Publicist, the daily life of a Publicist, DO’s and DON’TS and memorable moments.
Come with us inside the industry for a detailed look into Kristine Ashton-Magnuson’s multi-decade career in Publicity!
How did you get your start as a Publicist?
When I was studying Communications at the University Of San Diego in the early ‘90s, I thought I wanted to pursue a career in music journalism and photography. Working at RIP Magazine (a national rock/metal mag) was one of my goals. However, when I was writing for a metal fanzine called Metal Prophet during college, I came to LA to interview a hard rock band called Babylon A.D. at their PR firm, Levine/Schneider. After that office visit, meeting with band’s publicist Tresa Redburn, and seeing how music publicity worked first-hand, I decided that was the field for me. (Tresa and I are actually still friends today.)
I applied for an internship and started at Levine/Schneider on July 6, 1992. I put in lots of long hours and worked my way up to receptionist, assistant, and then Tour Publicist. In 1995, Levine/Schneider split and I continued working with Mitch Schneider at MSO—where I gradually made my way up to Senior Vice President—and remained until 2009.
You have established yourself as a household name within the music industry, what would you attribute to the successful career that you have built?
I’m flattered that you’d refer to me that way. I’ve never actually thought of myself as a “household name,” but have worked hard to build relationships in the industry over the years.
I’ve found that success in music publicity requires lots of hard work, long hours, dedication, organization and passion for your work. It’s the type of work that you do because you enjoy it.
I’ve also found that keeping a level head and having a calm demeanor is important in PR. There are situations that can be very stressful (a client crisis, awards show, red carpet, “missing” clients, guest list mix-ups, etc.), but if you remain calm, it helps put others–including your clients and the media–at ease.
I think that it’s very important to surround yourself with clients who have a positive outlook and are easy to work with. This is important for your own well-being as well as your career. Clients who are appreciative of your work and consider you part of their team inspire you to work harder. I feel very lucky when I’m able work with great companies that support a “team effort” such as Danny Wimmer Presents, SGE Entertainment, AEG Live, ASK4 Entertainment, 4Fini, Revolver, Alternative Press, and Dreamcatcher Events.
Over the years, I’ve also diversified and have transitioned mainly into rock festival, cruise and event PR. That could always change, but I really enjoy handling publicity for these types of music events. I’ve also handled book PR (when there was a music tie-in). In addition to publicity, my work also includes red carpet and talent management for events such as the Revolver Golden Gods Awards and the Alternative Press Music Awards. In those situations, I work closely with the event publicists and producers.
I enjoy working with other publicists (and try not to see them as “competition”). Building those publicist relationships over the years makes my work as a festival publicist much easier.
In addition, working on the various rock festivals, cruises and award shows allows me to work with many of my former band clients, so it’s great to have those relationships from previous years.
I also feel it’s important to develop positive relationships with journalists and photographers. I respond to all media outlets (big or small), even when the answer is “no.” And while I don’t always have time to respond to every fan email, I try to direct people to the right resource to have their questions answered.
Take me through a day in the life of a Publicist.
The only rule really, is that every day is unpredictable! If you think it’s going to be a quiet day, you may end up having to write a last minute press release, or there will be some other kind of crisis.
Lots of the day is spent on email. I usually respond to a few hundred emails every day. (I realize that’s not a lot compared to the number of emails some journalists receive daily.) Part of the day is often spent writing press releases and pitch emails. I’m always updating my email lists with information about new publications or new contact info for journalists.
Festival or event days are very different. My festivals are usually on a weekend and I might be onsite from 9am until 1am. Onsite, my team and I are in charge of monitoring photographers in the photo pits, staffing the media tent and assisting with band interviews throughout the day, escorting news crews around the festival grounds, coordinating interviews for festival producers, dealing with any press list issues and anything else that might come up.
And of course I also have to keep up with other client work while I’m handling onsite PR at a festival, cruise or event.
Several years ago, you left your position at MSO to start your company, Ashton-Magnuson Media. Could you explain what it was like going out on your own?
After 17 years working with Mitch Schneider, Marcee Rondan and the great team at MSO, I left amicably to form a independent music PR firm–Ashton-Magnuson Media–in 2009. It was a scary and exciting change, but I couldn’t be happier with how things have developed.
The first year was a bit challenging with finances and getting my client base established, but I’ve been open to taking on new things and ended up gaining experience in areas that were somewhat new to me (red carpet and talent escort management, book PR, event publicity, etc.).
I think I still work as many hours as I did at MSO, but I really value the flexibility, ability to work from home and spend time with my husband Mike who works with me (and our cats) every day.
Just like many labels go through deciding who they want to work with, what is the process for you when it comes to selecting the Artist or Events that you work with?
It’s really a case by case basis. Most of my recent clients involve a core group of festival and event producers that I’ve developed strong relationships with. Working with people I trust and collaborate well with is very important to me.
I also look at the prospective client’s publicity goals to see if I feel I could deliver what they’re looking for.
I always try to focus on festivals, events or bands that fit my personal interest and areas of expertise. For example, if someone approaches me about handling PR for an electronic music festival or hip hop artist, I’d be honest and let them know that I wouldn’t be the best fit for that particular project. I then try to refer them to a publicist that I think might be right.
The past few years, my work has been concentrated on rock festivals, cruises, package tours, and events. However, I’m of course still open to working with bands if the timing is right and it’s a good fit for me.
Many jobs have their Pros and Cons, what are some that you have experienced as a Publicist?
One of the pros of being a music publicist is working in a field that I enjoy. I really enjoy festival, music cruise, and music event PR and talent relations, which give me the chance to work with many different bands, comedians and other celebrities. I like the opportunity to travel and see new places, logistical coordination, as well as working with other publicists, journalists, artist managers and the artists themselves.
I would say the main con to working in indie PR is the number of hours required. As a publicist, you must be willing to make yourself available to your clients at almost any time of day, every day of the week. As a business owner, I have the flexibility to generally make my own schedule, but it’s very difficult to take a true vacation day since there is usually something going on with at least one client at all times.
Traditionally, music publicity is not known as a high paying position, but although the pay usually starts quite low for someone in an entry-level position, there are opportunities to make a decent income after you’ve gained experience.
When it comes to working large scale music festivals including Rock on the Range, Monster Energy Carolina Rebellion and Rockstar Energy UPROAR Festival, how much work goes into what you do leading up to the day-of-event duties?
Handling publicity for a major festival or music cruise begins many months in advance. The initial festival press release often comes 5-6 months before the event. As soon as that happens, I’ll begin connecting with band/artist publicists to be sure they have the most recent information on the event so they can help spread the news to their press contacts and via social media. Part of my job is putting together a PR contact list for each festival. I use that to communicate with the publicists and share the information with media so they can arrange onsite or advance interviews with bands.
As soon as a festival is announced, I’ll also pitch media for multiple stories leading up to each festival. There can be as many as six press releases leading up to a festival, depending on how much news there is to announce each month. Throughout the PR campaign, I deal with media requests on a daily basis and try to have an approved press list 3-4 weeks before a festival. I share the media list with the band publicists and help facilitate any special photo policies that a band may have. For most festivals, I’m also in charge of putting together a schedule of when each band will visit the Media Tent and putting together a list of onsite contacts for each band.
Much of the work is logistical, so it’s not necessarily difficult, but takes organization and a good amount of time.
Would there be a memorable festival experience you would be willing to share?
It’s impossible to single out just one festival or one moment. Here are some positive—and otherwise memorable—festival experiences. Unfortunately it’s rare that I have time to watch the bands perform, but I try to catch a few songs whenever possible.
A few memorable experiences that come to mind:
Dropkick Murphys at Fenway Park (2011): While it wasn’t a huge festival, seeing Dropkick Murphys play Fenway Park in Boston was an incredible once-in-a-lifetime experience. It was amazing to be able to see one of my favorite bands–and my clients at the time–play on the field at Fenway and have the opportunity to tour part of the legendary ballpark with my husband Mike who is a lifelong Red Sox fan.
Rob Zombie’s Great American Nightmare (2013): This was exciting to be a part of and was my first experience handling PR for a haunted house. The fully immersive haunted house experience featured three attractions based on Zombie’s own horror films and a closing night performance by Rob Zombie. On one of the 15 nights, Great American Nightmare even broke the attendance record for a stand-alone haunted house event in the United States, and press coverage for the event included a New York Times “Home” section cover story and KTLA Morning News live remote.
LOUDER THAN LIFE (2014): It was great to be a part of this festival from the planning stages and to see how well it all came together with over 36,000 in attendance for the first year of the festival celebrating Louisville’s culture and cuisine, with rock music, bourbon, whiskey, craft beer and “gourmet man food” curated by Danny Wimmer.
All Points West (2009): I’ll never forget the deep mud and stormy weather at the last All Points West festival at Liberty State Park in Jersey City in 2009. It was a beautiful location with a view of the Statue Of Liberty and Manhattan skyline, but with all the bad weather that year, APW will always be remembered as “Mudfest” to me. We had to wear rubber boots to get through the deep mud, hide under tents during downpours, our golf cart sunk so far into the mud that we had to abandon it, and we nearly had to evacuate the site one day due to torrential storms.
KNOTFEST (2014): I had the opportunity to work directly with newly elected Baseball Hall of Famer and photographer Randy Johnson who was covering the festival for Rolling Stone. That was a really unique and fun experience.
Motorboat (2014): During Jim Breuer’s comedy/rock performance outside on the ship’s deck during a powerful thunderstorm, lightening struck at the perfect moment (as if planned) while Jim was doing an impression of AC/DC’s Brian Johnson yelling “fire!”
Monster Energy Welcome To Rockville (2014): Watching Avenged Sevenfold’s headlining performance—and the crowd’s reaction–from side stage was pretty incredible…although seeing their spectacular pyro and light show from the crowd (in another city) was even better in many ways.
ShipRocked (2015): Lajon Witherspoon from Sevendust joined Living Colour onstage to sing “Cult Of Personality” with Corey Glover. It was a special moment, since it was their first time performing together and something they’d been aiming to do for a few years.
Last question regarding festivals, I wouldn’t doubt that you have received plenty of odd requests from press wanting to cover it for their outlet. What are the common DO’s and DON’TS that you regularly come across?
This is a great question since sometimes people seem to forget simple things.
DO: Include the name of the festival you’re asking about! You wouldn’t believe the number of emails I get that say, “I’d like to cover the festival.”
DO: Indicate what publication you’re with and give a bit of information about the publication (how often published, print circulation or number of unique visitors monthly, etc.). This saves time with emails/calls back and forth.
DO: Let me know what coverage you’re planning (example: festival preview and live review). Keep in mind that festival producers are looking for advance coverage to spread the word about the festival, so if that’s not something you’re open to, I may not be able to get festival press credentials approved for you.
DON’T: I appreciate you giving me background about your publication and your life, but please try to keep emails to a few paragraphs when possible. I can respond much quicker when requests aren’t lengthy.
DON’T: Don’t apply for media credentials if you’re not with a publication. Unfortunately that’s not something I can help with. If you’re trying to confirm an assignment and want more information, that’s totally fine, but I’m not able to approve freelancers for media passes.
DON’T: Don’t expect more than 2 tickets and 1 photo pass per publication. It’s rare that this is possible since there are so many media outlets covering each festival. We have to be fair to everyone and bands will not normally approve more than 1 photo pass per publication either.
For all of the aspiring writers wanting to get their foot in the door, what would be the best advice that you could offer them?
If you’re supporting yourself, don’t quit your day job right away! Freelance music journalism usually does not pay a lot since there are so many writers out there.
Make sure you have the basics of spelling, punctuation and grammar down first.
Either create your own website or find an online or print music publication that’s looking for writers so you can start writing stories.
Ask publicists and other writers for leads on writing positions. Many times, I’ve connected writers and photographers with editors at various publications. If a person seems dedicated and genuinely interested in writing about and/or photographing bands and music festivals, generally a few referrals will get them started.
Start building relationships with publicists by sending them links to stories that you write about their clients.
Thanks so much for the interview and I hope that some of the information I’ve provided is helpful to others.
Interview by: Robert Fayette
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