PR Spotlight: Jen Appel (The Catalyst Publicity Group)

Hello and welcome to the third installment of our Haulix PR Spotlight series. The last two weeks featured industry veterans with over two decades of experience between them, but this week is a bit different. Instead of highlighting someone more or less settled into an industry career we’re going to a focus on a talented individual who is causing quite a stir with a publicity company she started less than two years ago. Her journey to stability is only beginning, and we’re excited to share her progress thus far. If you have any recommendations for future publicists we should feature, please email james@haulix.com and share your story.

The age of social sharing and digital distribution has made getting your creative works to anyone willing to listen easier than ever, but that simplicity comes with a cost. As much as the ease of use helps you it also aides your numerous competitors in getting their new works out as well. This flood of content has made it harder than ever before to get noticed in the industry, and that very problem has lead many to throw in the towel altogether. Why add to a crowded marketplace when it’s already near-impossible to be heard? If you’re going to make it in this business there is only one answer: Because you have something unique to offer.

Like the rising number of musicians vying for attention these days, there has been an explosion of in the number of small publicity and management firms in recent years. To strike out on your own in the business world takes a lot of drive and confidence, especially in the music industry, and even those who find small amounts of success have a high likelihood of failure within five years time. Still, against seemingly all odds a small amount of these young entrepreneurs are finding solid ground in the industry, and today we could not be more excited to be highlighting one such talent.

Jen Appel did not always dream of being a music industry publicist, but in just over year after launching The Catalyst Publicity Group that is exactly where she has found herself. Backed by a team of hardworking dreamers with similar aspirations for careers in music, Appel has built a blossoming brand that artists big and small call home. Her drive for success is matched only by her passion for music, and it is our hope in sharing her story that another generation of young PR talent may be inspired to take their careers into their own hands.

Jen is a truly great soul who is always willing to speak with aspiring industry professionals. If you have any questions or comments for her, you can reach out via Twitter and she will get back to you within hours. While you wait, be sure to follow The Catalyst Publicity Group so you know what Jen is working on next.

H: For those unaware, please state your name, the company you work for, and your role at said organization:

JA: Jen Appel, CEO & Publicity Director, The Catalyst Publicity Group

H: Let’s start with the basics. What was the first album you connected with, and how did that record come into your life?

JA: I wouldn’t call it the first album I connected with, but Sugarcult Start Static is definitely an album that brings me back. I remember one of my friends suggested we play the album while water skiing out on the lake. I had never heard of Sugarcult before so I thought I would give it a listen. From there it stuck with me and became one of my favorite albums. There isn’t one track on the album that I don’t love, still to this day.

H: You went to school for communications, so I am lead believe you knew for awhile it was what you wanted to do in life. What attracted you to publicity as a career path in the first place?

JA: To be honest, I thought I would end up as an Interior Designer. Throughout high school I was on the Architecture/Interior Design path and quickly fell in love with drafting and building plans. When I first went to Indiana I enrolled in the Interior Design program however I wasn’t too fond of the 3D model building that would take up half of my degree so I decided to change. Halfway through my Freshman year, my advisor suggested I try Public Relations. After meeting the most incredible professor I knew PR was for me. My professor had worked at Saatchi & Saatchi for over 30 years creating some of the most well known commercials and a part of that he was their PR Director. After my Freshman year I interned at a top PR firm here in South Florida and that’s when I knew it was the right career path.

H: At what point did you connect your interest in music with your desire to work in publicity?

JA: Music has always been a passion of mine and my family. My uncle has played in several bands and is a master on the drums. I remember from a really early age trying to learn the drums and attending as many concerts as I could with my family. From there I went on to play in band and orchestra throughout middle and high school but it wasn’t until college that I really connected the two. During my Junior year at Indiana I met one of my best friends, Steph, an incredible singer/songwriter. Somehow we decided that I would “manage” her (and I use that in quotes because I really had no idea what I was doing, at all). It became something fun for me. I didn’t do much but I knew that music was something I wanted to tackle at some point. Skip to 3 years later when I lost my job at a Marketing Firm due to the horrible economy, I decided it was time try out music PR.

H: You started The Catalyst Publicity Group a little over a year ago. What lead you to start your own business?

JA: What lead me to start my own business is simple, I found that people in this industry only cared about themselves and there was a lack of passion for the actual music and musicians. I wanted to start Catalyst to show that there are people out there that care no matter what size your band is and where you are in your career.

H: Who was the first artist you worked with, and what can you tell us about your first experiences pitching new talent?

JA: The first artist I worked with was a pop-punk band out of Dayton, Life After Liftoff. When first pitching new talent it can be difficult especially if the band is smaller. I work with my team to make sure we brainstorm every angle of the artist to ensure we are getting the right pick up.

H: There are a growing number of publicity groups working in the alternative music realm. What is it about Catalyst that separates you from the competition?

JA: We are a family. Not to sound cliche but our team is really close and we make sure to help each other out whenever possible. In addition, our talent is family to us. We make sure at every turn that they are taken care of, even if it is something outside of the PR realm, they are our number one priority. My biggest key is to make sure that everyone is comfortable with their campaign(s) and that we are having fun. Music is supposed to be fun, something that takes you away from your problems, why does it have to be any different with a PR campaign.

H: What do you think is the biggest lesson you have learned in the last year of your career?

JA: Not everyone is nice. This has been a tough lesson to learn over the last year. I’ve always been the type to see the best out of people and think they are also here to help, but that is not always the case. There are some evil crazy people out there that have no problem taking advantage of you to gain full speed ahead.

H: If you could offer one piece of advice to aspiring publicists hoping to work in music, what would it be?

JA: Get to know your local/regional music scene, try to take some of the smaller bands on as freelance clients just to get a feel for what it is like. Before you reach out to any PR firms for work remember that typically there are no days off and this certainly is not a 9-5 job. This was the most difficult thing I had to learn when transitioning into music.

H: As someone who has worked with talent both signed and unsigned, do you feel record labels, big or small, are a necessity in the modern music industry?

JA: Yes and no, I believe it is dependent on the talent. It really depends on where the artist is at in their career.

H: As a publicist, what advice would you offer writers hoping to work with your clients?

JA: Please, please take the time to research my clients before an interview. It is just as frustrating for an artist as it is for a publicist when interview questions are so generic. Be creative with your questions, it’ll take your publication and career farther.
H: Do you feel album leaks are preventable? If so, how would you advise an artist to keep their music safe while still getting the word out? If you can, share an experience.

JA: I would suggest an artist pair up with a PR firm to ensure their music is safe while garnering pre-release press. This is just one way to ensure that your album won’t leak, but these things do happen.

H: When it comes to working with your clients, how do you prefer to share their music with press? What is it about this method that appeals to you the most?

JA: There is the standard press blast and pitching but I really find the best method is to actually chat with press about an artist. I try to get to know the editors I work with, figure out what kind of music they’ll like and pitch them on a case by case basis. I am all about conversing with people and if I can tell someone about a band and show my excitement it’ll take the campaign farther then a typical press release.
H: If you could change one thing about the music industry, what would it be?

JA: To be honest, I don’t think I would change anything about the industry.
H: Your roster is growing every week it seems. Do you have any plans or releases on the horizon you’d like to share with our readers?

JA: Right now we have several artists on tour so make sure to check out our blog section on the Catalyst site and see if they are coming to a town near you. September will be one of our biggest months to date. Not only are we celebrating our one year anniversary but for the first time Catalyst will be sponsoring the Driven Music Conference in Atlanta Sept 26-29. If any artists are interested in showcasing please head over to DrivenAtlanta.com.

To keep up with everything Catalyst head over to our website: TheCatalystPublicityGroup.com.

Thank you Haulix!

James Shotwell

James Shotwell is the Director of Customer Engagement at Haulix and host of the company's podcast, Inside Music. He is also a public speaker known for promoting careers in the entertainment industry, as well as an entertainment journalist with over a decade of experience. His bylines include Rolling Stone, Alternative Press, Substream Magazine, Nu Sound, and Under The Gun Review, among other popular outlets.