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Together with business partner Linda Carbone, Walsh launched Press Here in 2004, quickly turning it into one of the most respected PR firms for indie-minded artists. Through the years, she’s been responsible for putting The White Stripes, Bright Eyes, She & Him, Spiritualized, P!nk, Belle & Sebastian, Jenny Lewis and Grizzly Bear, among others, in front of the media, and therefore an audience. Heard of them? That’s because she’s really good at this stuff.
Public relations seems to be one of the only fields in the music industry where women are especially prominent. Why do you think that is?
It’s true, and I’ve discussed this with Linda many times. We’ve actually worked hard to stop our own office becoming 100 percent female. Is it because the stereotypical music critic is a socially awkward man who responds better to being cold called by a woman? Is it because bands are generally made up of badly behaved young men who need a den mother type to make them do their promo (i.e. Fran Drescher in This Is Spinal Tap herding the band around backstage like a kindergarten teacher)? Is it because it can be such a tricky and thankless task that men can't see the reward? All of the above?!
I'm going to make a sweeping gender generalization and say that women often have better powers of persuasion than men. I've always found that in PR you can catch more flies with honey than with vinegar. There's a lot to be said for being gently persistent. That comes more naturally to women than to men, I think. We're used to not being able to throw our weight around. Dustin Hoffman gives a great interview in the 25th anniversary DVD edition of Tootsie. He says that his first voice coach lesson as "Tootsie" was that when women want something they let the pitch of their voice rise at the end, almost as if it's a question. I have no idea if that's true, but it's an interesting idea. What I do know for sure is that keeping a healthy relationship between your clients and the media is a very specific skill and in my experience women tend to be, perhaps, more... diplomatic?
Generally speaking, have you found women and men have different concerns in how they're promoted?
All artists have different concerns about how they're promoted. The most important thing we do as publicists is make sure they're comfortable with the situations you're putting them in. I can't say we approach a campaign differently based upon gender. It's all down to the artist's personality and goals.
Has there ever been a situation where you think being a woman helped you in the workplace?
I had to really think for a minute to come up with something, but there's probably been a few times when I might've been punched—or at least ejected from some event, club or festival—for being obnoxious about the rules. Sometimes you just have to roll past the security with your gaggle of press people and do your job. I'm fairly certain that being a petite woman helps in those instances.
Has being the only woman in a room full of music dudes ever made you feel self-conscious?
Not self-conscious, no. I’m not a sensitive flower. One thing I have noticed is that there can be quite a lot of old-school backslapping and self-aggrandizing in this business, and sometimes those moments can go on for a painfully long time. Those tend to be the moments when I realize I’m in a room full of men.
Growing up as a devoted music fan, did you have other female peers who shared your passion, or did you find yourself talking about music mostly with guys?
When I was growing up in Scotland in the 80s, it was always the girls at school who were most into music, whether it was Madonna, or Prince or The Smiths. The boys were always more into football, skateboarding, video games. My girlfriends were the ones who would bunk off school to go into town and buy concert tickets. We’d knew which records were coming out every week. We’d have the band t-shirts. The biggest hip-hop head at my high school was a 14-year-old LL Cool J fan with blonde pigtails named Hazel. If we discovered a boy at school was into buying records, we were always intrigued because it was actually quite rare.
Do you think the imbalance in the industry stems from women generally not being as big of music fans as men, or is something else at play here?
I think it’s a massive misconception that boys are more into music than girls. First of all, look who’s selling the most records—ever since Elvis and The Beatles to Taylor Swift and Adele. I think the misconception comes from the fact that men tend to be more trainspotter-y about it than women. They might know the Factory Records catalog numbers and collect all the limited-edition vinyl, but they’re not necessarily more passionate about the music. They’re just being more vocally competitive about it. When women discover common musical ground, they tend to talk about how much songs or albums meant to them at particular moments in their life, while men will tell each other which early show they saw and what rare tour shirt they have. Obviously something else is at play, and I think it’s the same thing that’s at play in every industry. (Cue ominous music.)
(Photo by Lee O'Connor)
At Work with Press Here's Chloë Walsh