Behind the Scenes with... Deirdre Crookes, one of the PR masterminds behind Electric Picnic
Deirdre is a director of LHP, one of the leading publicity agencies in the music and entertainment industry
Behind the Scenes: We meet key Irish and Ireland-based talent working behind the scenes in the TV, film, radio, theatre, and music industries. This week we're chatting to PR guru Deirdre Crookes (42) from Howth, as she gears up for one of the biggest events on her calendar - the legendary Stradbally music festival, Electric Picnic...
How did you get into music and entertainment PR?
“I had zero training. I went to university in Manchester and did European Studies and Modern Languages and I ended up teaching English in Budapest for three years. I was home on holidays and had heard Lindsey [Holmes, founder of LHP] was looking for someone to work with her so I just called her up and she said, ‘Why don’t you come in Monday?’. We just hit it off straight away. I totally winged it. She asked me did I know who Paul Brady was and I didn’t! But she offered me the job so I went back to Hungary and packed up all my bags and left. So I just sort of landed in PR nineteen years ago. I hadn’t a clue what I was doing. I didn’t even really know how to use a computer! But we did PR for the Homelands music festival so I was thrown in at the deep end and it was grand. Initially we used to do a lot of music PR but it has grown over the years to festivals and and live TV and lots of other events.
“I’ve grown up with the company. Lindsey and I are... I finish her sentences now. I spend more time with her than she does with her husband. It’s kind of like a family thing now. We know everything going on in each other’s lives and even though we sit beside each other all day we still end up having a drink after work together or hang out over the weekend. It’s kind of like Stockholm Syndrome! We’re stuck together so much that when somebody else comes along and says, ‘Would you like to go for a drink?’ we’re like, ‘No!’. We have two office dogs. Lindsey’s dog comes to work and my dog comes to work. It’s not bad. I’m not going to complain!”
What does your job involve?
"Most of the time I’m in the office behind my desk. PR really is mostly an office job. Obviously I get to go out and be on TV sets for live recordings and pre-recorded TV and that’s all very exciting, and I get to work on festivals where you’re working behind the scenes. At EP we’ll work 16 hours a day. While other people are thinking, ‘What am I going to wear?’ I’m thinking ‘How can I keep warm? How can I keep dry?’ All the practical things. A lot of people say, ‘Oh but you get to see all the acts’ but we get to see very few of the acts. One of our roles at EP is to escort photographers into the Main Stage area for the first three songs and to escort them back out again so that’s about as much music as I would see. Although when I do knock off I go to the Salty Dog. That’s my favourite part of the festival so I catch whoever is on stage there after the main arena closes and the rest of the festival keeps going until 4am.
"From the time we announce EP in March to the festival itself it’s busy and then from the middle of July to the actual festival it’s incredibly busy. You’re writing press releases, planning long lead articles and letting journalists know about all the brand new and interesting things they might want to write about as well as the established things like Mindfield. Every year we always have really exciting people doing talks. There’s always something new to talk about.
"For the last ten years or more we’ve worked on all the really big TV shows - The Voice of Ireland, You’re a Star, Dancing With the Stars, Ireland’s Got Talent - so for the first three or four months of the year I don’t go on holiday. I can possibly take a day but I can never take a weekend off. All those shows happen over the weekends and a lot of them have live aspects too so I can’t go on holiday for those first four months. Plus I have to box off August and the first week of September every year for Electric Picnic.
"But I don’t consider it a drawback. I absolutely love working on TV shows and EP. It kind of becomes part of what you do and who you are. I have never gone to EP as a punter so I don’t know what it would be like. You can’t really miss what you’ve never experienced! But I do love it because I’ve been doing my job for so long now that I know most of the press down there and I really enjoy their company. It’s great to actually meet up with people you usually speak to over the phone or via email all year and just hang out in a field for the weekend and have the craic. It’s nice to have that personal connection with them. At the same time they’re filing copy and you’re giving them information and making sure everything runs smoothly."
What are the challenges?
We have a diverse range of clients at LHP, some big clients and some smaller clients and with something sexy like EP people look to write about it. But sometimes smaller acts might not seem as sexy but they’re just as worthy. For me sometimes I have to think outside the box in terms of getting them the best coverage. We have a small festival happening in September in Achill called Batlle on the Lake. It’s a new music festival and I’ve been and it’s really really great. For people in Achill and the surrounding counties it’s something that they love. There are 55,000 people going to Electric Picnic but there are other festivals that people would love too and the challenge is to find a way to get that across and find their unique selling point.
Which skills do you think serve you best in this job and what advice would you give to anyone interested?
"If you’re in PR you have to be able to communicate, and to be able to communicate your point. A news editor or journalis gets millions and millions of emails and if you’re just waffling your press release is just going to be deleted. So you have to be able to get your message across and pique their interest. That’s half the battle. It’s not just about sending emails, it’s also when you’re speaking to someone as well and chatting and pitching that you again get the point across as quickly and as clearly as possible so they don’t just hang up the phone! Maybe it’s just not interesting to them, so you have to find out what is newsworthy within something. You have to know your audience and know that what you might pitch the Irish Independent is different to what you might pitch another publication. And you need to be aware of deadlines. Sometimes magazines go to print three weeks in advance. Attention to detail and deadlines are very important."
What kind of person would NOT suit this job?
"Somebody who does not pick up the phone. There is nothing better than having a personal relationship with somebody and being able to talk to somebody. Sometimes I think a lot of younger people are really into social media and they communicate via social media but I would still be of the mindset that picking up the phone is the best way to communicate – to talk to people. You’re never going to be able to build a relationship with anybody unless you actually talk to them. If anyone is studying PR in college or doing an internship, I would say work on your telephone skills. Also, you need to have a thick skin. If somebody says no then maybe it’s just not for them. But sometimes you can go away and identify a different part of the paper or another paper which would be more suitable and you can approach them instead. You need to think outside the box. And don’t be offended – it’s not because they don’t like you!"
What are some of the misconceptions about your job?
"There are obviously some really, really great perks. I got to go to Tulsa, Oklahoma with press to see U2 this year and something like that is amazing, but most of the time I’m in an office on my computer and sending emails so it’s not as glamorous as it sounds.”
How has the industry changed since you started out, if at all?
"I’m going to sound ancient here but when I started out we used to get photographs printed and courier them to the various newspapers, actual glossy black and white or colour photographs. When we were doing The Cranberries we had those photos couriered in to the newspapers. Now, obviously, we just send them down the line in an instant. We use dropbox which is an amazing resource for us to share photos and releases and information. Social media has changed things too, and online – you can send a press release and minutes later it’s online."