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View from the top: The PR guru (Judy Totton)

Kevin Hilton 21 August 2015
Judy Totton, PSNLive 2015

Getting the right publicity for concert tours and festival appearances is a skill, and, despite the open internet field provided by Facebook and Twitter, some directed guidance and good old common sense remain valuable assets

Who are you?
Judy Totton of Judy Totton Publicity. I’m based in London and work in the UK, though I do have media contacts overseas. I promote big events, charity shows, companies and theatre, as well as artists releasing albums or touring. Some of my current clients are Bill Wyman, who has just released his first UK solo album in 33 years, Joan Armatrading on her last big world tour, Andy Fairweather Low and his band The Low Riders, Joe Brown and Paul Brady. I’ve represented many artists from all genres over the years and been involved with big festivals including Blenheim Palace and 11 years of Castle Donington Monsters of Rock.

What do you do?
I look after the artist, handling their profile. I aim to get the best possible coverage for them and the job or project at that time. If someone is promoting a tour then the focus is to sell tickets and make sure as many people as possible know a gig is happening. It’s basic common sense, seeing where the target audience is. This means dealing with the whole gamut: newspapers, magazines, TV, radio and selected digital outlets. I write the press releases and often the biographies.

The other side of my activities is photography. I studied photography at the Royal College of Art and initially photographed small theatre companies. After I moved into music PR I put photography to one side but later found it could be useful. I photograph a lot of live gigs and other situations, as well as my own clients. It’s something I love doing.

How did you end up where you are now?
I started out in music publicity at Magnet Records. After two years there I joined CBS where I worked with a wide variety of artists from The Jacksons to ABBA, with John Cooper Clarke, The Only Ones, The Vibrators and many more in between. By the late 1970s Epic records was being split away from CBS and a lot of internal changes were happening. I wasn’t sure what to do, and it was artist agent Ian Flukes who suggested I set up my own company.

That was 1979. John Cooper Clarke and The Only Ones came with me and within a month I was approached by Status Quo. Toyah soon followed and then Haircut 100 and Orange Juice. From there I never looked back.

What’s your biggest success to date?
I hesitate to say because it depends on how you measure success. Does it mean covering all the bases on a job or is it getting the biggest client?  If it’s the latter then I’ve worked with David Bowie, the Dalai Lama and Steve Miller. I also won an industry PR Award on four occasions. But is it more successful to get someone in Time Out or The Telegraph or on Jools Holland’s TV show? Or maybe it’s just keeping somebody out of the papers.

What is the ‘issue’ that never seems to go away?
Perhaps people’s expectations. Sometimes you can work with a company that has very realistic expectations and on others an artist can be swayed by people around them saying things like “I saw so-and-so on TV – you should be too.” But that particular artist might not fit with the programming. Or maybe it’s just that one media person out to prove themselves that crosses the line. Or the editor with an agenda.

Is the sound at live events something you have to deal with in your work?
If the sound in a concert hall is too loud the gig can get a bad review. Very loud sound will reverberate through your body and can make you sick, so however talented or wonderful an artist is they will get a bad review. I’ve also had situations where I haven’t been responsible for seating my media guests and they’ve been put in poor seats where the sound coverage hasn’t been good enough, which has drawn a negative reaction.

The internet and social media have changed how the music industry works. Has it affected your job and is there still a requirement for publicists in the traditional mould?
There will always be a need for human interaction. I see my role as the cement between the bricks joining journalist and artist. Good relationships count for a lot. The medium has changed in recent years but the message is the same.

And despite social media, print, TV and radio continue to be important outlets. People still read newspapers, not just the nationals but regionals as well. National TV and radio can still have a big effect while a good piece in national print can also influence the broadcast media. I think traditional PR continues to have a viable role and fulfils an essential function.

www.judytotton.com

This is #7 of 10 ‘views from the top’ appearing in PSNLive 2015, PSNEurope‘s 10th annual analysis of the European live sound industry. This year, we quizzed incumbents of key industry roles on the ups and downs of the business. The result is a range of insights (views from the top, no less) from a diverse group of individuals, all of whose careers are inextricably linked to the fabric of live sound.

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