Riding a Rock Pony Through a Billboard

Ever since I was in college, I’ve been reading Billboard. Those daily email updates written by Jonathan Cohen made me feel connected to a business that was only a bus ride away in Manhattan, but felt a million miles away in terms of where I was in life. They had a section called, “This Day In Music,” where they shared little bits of history, like “Today is the day in 1976 when Bruce Springsteen jumped the fence at Graceland to meet Elvis.” I would enter these and famous rock stars’ birthdays into my Palm. I’m still walking around with them to this day.

My band recently put out an EP called “Rock Pony.” I thought it was an awful name for a record. But the rest of the guys thought otherwise. When I saw the album cover Jesse designed for it — a gloriously hot centaur lady wielding a guitar — forget being sold on it, I was in love.

In an interview with The Phoenix, they asked how the album cover came to be, which created an opportunity to tell a wild and entertaining story. They also asked if the rock pony was single.

That’s when it clicked.

Five months and a campaign later, we were in Billboard.

Here is the article, followed by the whole interview, uncut:

1. What were the lessons you learned from this experiment with the Rock Pony dating profile?

We learned as long as you can make someone laugh, they don’t mind being marketed to. We learned how much effort it takes to get a unique social media stunt off the ground, and the time it takes every day to keep it living and breathing. We also learned the correct word for a female centaur is “centauress” (one of the Rock Pony’s suitors informed us of this) and that they enjoy horseshoe Lucky Charms with their oats.

2. Were there downsides to the strategy?

We ran this with the risk our work might be taken down at any time. After putting all that effort into creating it, we had to accept it could be gone tomorrow. We said on the profile that it was being maintained by the band, and hoped if site administrators noticed, they’d appreciate the unique use of their platform and the entertainment we were offering their members. If they’re listening, we’d like to thank them for allowing us to try something new.

3. Is this something you’d encourage any artist to do, or do you think it was a one-time opportunity?

We’ve had a colorful history with social media stunts, starting with our Slush Puppie Flashmob in 2009. Any band can attempt an online dating project, but you need to have the right ingredients. To start, there must be a compelling figure from your album artwork to build it around. Iron Maiden might have pulled it off with Eddie, or Blind Melon with the bumblebee girl. (But we got there first!) For the profile, you need someone who can write, which most bands should have. For the responses, you need someone who can get into the mind of the character and respond to incoming messages as them, with the right kind of humor that endears people to your band. Understand that not everyone reads your whole profile and reaches the disclaimer. Your response messages need to be ridiculous enough to make it obvious the profile isn’t real, completely original so they know a human being is behind the controls and funny enough that they’ll share the laugh. A few *whinnies,” *gallops away* and *whips back mane*s always helped the Rock Pony.

4. Additional background

Our fans loved the artwork and everyone was curious about this mysterious Rock Pony figure. The Phoenix, an alt. weekly in Boston, asked us for the story behind the cover, which got us thinking, “Who is the Rock Pony? What does she like? How did we meet her? Are those things real?” They also jokingly asked if the Rock Pony was single. That’s what got us thinking this pony had a lot more to offer, and inspired us to put her on the market.

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Getting Kinky

Every so often, Boston musician Brendan Boogie puts together a night of music dedicated to a classic band. A few months ago, we talked about doing one that covered the British Invasion. If this was going to happen, The Lights Out were calling The Kinks. With The Beatles, The Rolling Stones and The Who also on the bill, the show sold out. The crowd ran from college students to people who were around during the Invasion. A lot of them came just for the rare opportunity to hear some Kinks. From conversations before and after the show, it was clear they were on the same page about what makes The Kinks special.

The Other Side of the Lens

Some people believe PR is all about landing interview opportunities. Even if it was, the hard part begins after the opportunity is secured. An interview is a coordinated exchange of information. The interviewer knows what they want to get out of it, and so does the interviewee. They’re not always the same things. Part of my job involves preparing my clients for media interviews I’ve secured for them, and helping them shape the final piece into the thing they want.

This gets increasingly difficult depending on format. From easiest to most challenging, they are:

  1. Email interviews
  2. Telephone interviews
  3. In-person taped audio interviews
  4. In-person taped video interviews
  5. Live audio interviews
  6. Live video interviews

Boldfacers, a website “dedicated to uncovering up-and-comers” asked me to visit their studio for an on-camera, taped interview about my business and my band, which would be followed by an email interview. It was an opportunity to get the word out about two things that are important to me, and a challenge to make sure both were represented equally and accurately.

PR people spend all of our time behind the scenes, preparing our clients and pushing them into the spotlight. This experience reminded me that despite all the training and talking points, interviewing is hard. It always goes faster than you think, and in that time, you need to represent yourself well and not say anything that could make you wince later.

It gave me a new level of respect for my clients who are talented at it, and a lot more empathy for them when they aren’t perfect.

Ambassador Baby

Ben from Sidehatch Entertainment asked if I would do an interview about PR, licensing and SEO for his “Indie Ambassador: TrueDIY” video series. They cut it into two parts, and the second interview wound up on CD Baby’s blog, “The DIY Musician.”

Zombies on Primetime

My band gave its first feature-length interview to The Boston Globe, pegged to the release of our second full-length album. The writer, Jonathan Perry, spent more than an hour on the phone with my singer and me, asking about the theme of the record, and how it ties in with life in our band. Jonathan was well-prepared for the interview. He was familiar with our music and what we’ve accomplished so far. He made us feel like he understood what we were going for, and you could tell it was important to him to get the story right.

Jonathan also asked about our New Year’s Resolutions. Which naturally led to a discussion about zombies.

Willing Exploitation

Sooz, the curator of Exploit Boston!, a music discovery event guide, asked me 15 questions in a “getting to know you” interview. Even though Sooz’s website focuses on live entertainment, her questions went beyond that, and past the usual fact-collecting in most profile pieces. She asked serious questions about what you value, and funny questions that opened the door to being ridiculous.

 

  1.  What makes the Boston music community great?

In a lot of other cities, bands on the same bill don’t always respect each other. Sometimes you’re up there playing your heart out and someone from the last band decapitates the vibe by wheeling a bass cabinet between the stage and the audience. Boston bands don’t do this, and we stick around till the bitter end.

 

  1. What’s an interview question you wish someone would ask you? Answer it for us.

Q: “Adam, I have two lobster rolls in the next room. Could you taste them and tell me the difference between the Maine lobster and the Nova Scotia lobster?”

A: “I will do my best.”

 

  1. Who inspires you?

My dad inspires me to be the best man I can be. My mom inspires me not to take crap from anyone, but be caring at the same time. My old bosses inspired me to run a tight ship. My clients inspire me to do good work for them. My bandmates inspire me to write and play as well as they can. The people I’m close with inspire me to make them proud to know me.

 

  1. What invention are you waiting for?

I’ve kept a running list of inventions on my Palm for the last 11 years. Some of them include:

  • The “Smashocaster”: a brand of cheap guitars designed to be played once and destroyed
  • The Lights Out Stout: the blackest, darkest, most potent stout on the planet
  • A laptop bag with a built-in freezer compartment for your lunch
  • Bumper stickers that read, “Eagle Scouts do it with honor”
  • A spellchecker that checks for AP Style
  • The “Snoozeless Alarm Clock” that administers increasing amounts of electric shock each time you hit the snooze button
  • A deer-shaped mailbox (life-size) that people in rural areas can use to prevent people from speeding by their homes

 

  1. Which words or phrases do you most overuse?

“Could we bring up the guitars in this section?”

 

  1. What is your favorite Boston spot to get drinks with friends? What is your favorite cocktail?

Deep Ellum is my favorite spot for drinks. But when I’m not surrounded with their endless and ever-changing options, I’ll have an Allston Cocktail. It’s a High Life with a lime and Tabasco Sauce, and greater than the sum of its parts.

 

  1. Who would play you in a movie about your life?

RoboCop.

 

  1. How did you end up in Boston?

I came here to play with dolls. And that’s the truth. A PR agency I’d heard great things about was hiring, and the only opening was on its German baby doll business. I was a guy from Jersey: not an obvious fit for a Boston account team pitching dolls. But I really wanted to work at this agency. So the night before I drove up for my interview, I went to the toy store and bought a “Photo Student Ken.” I redesigned the packaging to make it an Adam Ritchie PR action figure. I changed all the attributes to things like, “Friendly voice for pitching media! Equipped with miniature press kits! Comes ready to work, right out of the box!” and included quotes like, “A seamless combination of guys and dolls – The Boston Globe.” I designed my resume into the back, and waited for the right moment in the job interview to spring it on them. When they asked, “As a guy, how do you feel about the possibility of working on a baby doll account?” I told them, “I feel very comfortable playing with dolls,” reached into my bag and put the doll on the table. There was a stunned silence. My interviewers said, “We’ll be right back,” took the doll and left the room. Later I found out they’d taken it to the head of the agency. She looked at it and said, “Hire that kid.”

 

  1. Who is one of your favorite musicians?

Alex Lifeson from Rush. He always plays something unexpected, and it always works.

 

  1. If you could go on tour with any band, who would it be?

I’d be Jeff Beck’s guitar tech’s assistant’s assistant. I’m just a mortal and could never share a stage with him or work on his guitars, but I could watch from the wings and learn a ton every night. And I bet he doesn’t skimp on road accommodations.

 

  1. What’s the song for your life’s soundtrack this year?

“Ready To Start” by Arcade Fire.

 

  1. What was the song for your life’s soundtrack 10 years ago?

“Vegas Two Times” by Stereophonics.

 

  1. How do you define the word “success”?

If you’ve had a level of it, it’s okay to acknowledge it, but people who consider themselves “successful” are usually jerks. Success can be fleeting, and you can always do better. If you’re content with your level of success, you’re not working hard enough.

 

  1. You’re stuck on a desert island with someone from the Boston music community. Who would it be and why?

I was in the Nevada desert this summer with my drummer, Jesse James. From experience, here’s how our time on a desert island would shake out:

  • Day 1: Adam finds a prime location for survival, builds a sturdy shelter and protects it from the elements
  • Day 2: Adam and Jesse exhaust their supply of alcohol, but still have plenty of food and water
  • Day 3: Jesse designs and builds a neon pirate ship out of driftwood, copper wire and seagull feathers, and they sail off the island blasting “Heart of the Sunrise”
  • Day 4: They pass an island filled with hula dancers, who see their shining lights and row out to meet them
  • Day 5: They depart Hula Island for Cowgirl Island, because the food there was too fattening and salty

 

  1. What is your super power?

I can spot a White Castle from 10 miles away.