The music industry is one of the most lucrative industries in the business world. In this episode, Kathleen Alder, the Founder and MD of WildKat, shares how and why she started her own company and sheds some light on what PR and marketing in the music industry are all about. Kathleen is a real female powerhouse running a global PR and marketing business and a fantastic mom at the same time. With a passion for music and management, she takes us through her musical background, her crossover from classical to pop and commercial, and how she finds clients and artists.
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Music And PR With Kathleen Alder
With special guest, Kathleen Alder
Our guests are a real female powerhouse running a global PR and marketing business WildKat while being a fantastic mom at the same time. I’m slightly in awe of her. I want to be her when I grow up. Without further ado welcome to the show, the fabulous Kathleen Alder. How are you?
Thank you very much.
How did WildKat come to be?
It always starts with a bad anecdote, but I got sacked. I was working in the music industry already. I was in my young twenties, very outgoing, powerful and opinionated. I was working in a big record label, Universal, and I ended up being headhunter for a PR company who were working quite traditional. In about eight months, the guy who ran it said, “I don’t think you’re meant to be employed.” He sacked me. I ended up crying in Hyde Park and going to Marks & Spencer around the corner where I bumped into Richard Branson. I didn’t know who he was because I’m German and Richard Branson wasn’t that big at the time, 2003, in Germany. He kindly offered me a rent-free house in Holland Park. He said, “You’ve been sacked. I have these houses and I’m never here. Why don’t you live there for a while and sort yourself out?” I must have looked like a mess. I ended up having quite a kick start to my business career by meeting someone serendipitously on the street not knowing who he was.
You come from quite a musical background.
My whole family is very musical and they somewhat met each other. My dad is a twelve-time Grammy award winner who’s worked quite a lot with a different myriad of artists like Sting and people like that but also classical musicians. My mom is from a music instrument-building family. We used to build pianos before World War II and every one of my families learnt an instrument. Three of my aunts and uncles are professional musicians. There was always ever the choice, either you go into the music industry or you become a doctor. I don’t want either of that so I move to South America.
I noticed in some articles that I was reading about you that you refer to your family as the Von Trapp Family and you’re traveling all over the place.
We still do that. We all meet at Christmas and we have a program note which my mom used to collate. We all would play music and instruments for two hours. We sing carols but also do classical music as well. It’s still very much the Von Trapp family, the Hamburg equivalent.Crisis PR is more about having a sense of how the industry feels right now and what the audience wants to hear. Click To Tweet
I was also seeing in part of an article I was reading about you that one of the reasons you set up WildKat is because you had the belief that the classical music industry needed to refresh its own image.
I was on track to become a professional violinist and at the time I felt the industry was dusty. It’s always talking about declining audiences and how it’s quite an old age target audience. I know so many cool young classical musicians who are ambitious and want to change the industry. Why is no one in the industry that is young and different and a bit more on trend with more of the pop industry is doing, but also what other advertising sectors are doing? WildKat grew and started on the belief that we could create a communication agency that thinks more like pop and commercial industries but applies it to the more traditional performing arts, ballet and classical music. All my staff from day one were 16 to 25 and all loved classical music. They normally had a very different background from Grime or from completely different areas and just applied their passion to the industry.
It’s quite interesting because from my own personal experience, I started off in pop and I know that you were doing some stuff like hip hop label.
I met with Pitbull, Lil Jon and Snoop Dogg. I worked in a very different sector for a while.
It’s very interesting because when I first got into the classical crossover part of the industry, within five minutes, I so much preferred it. There’s something about it. It’s really special.
I think because the musicians still believe in their craft and that comes first. To a degree, I appreciate that as well because there is quite a lot of training that goes into classical music. Most of the time, you can’t just pick it up and do it. The people end up getting good at it. They have put in a lot of hours and a lot of commitment and probably gone having an easier career somewhere else. I feel that makes that industry special in its own way. Somewhat people are quite serious about their craft which I appreciate.
It’s classy in a lot of ways. The industry is much more commercial than one perceives from the outside. The fees are quite good. There’s quite a lot to do in that sector.
The opportunities for artists sometimes I feel can even be broader than if you’re a pop artist.
For example, one of my artists is working with Steven Spielberg at the moment on scoring and creating movies but he’s from a core classical music background. He got that opportunity quite late after being quite successful in the core industry. There’s a lot of crossover movement as well happening at the moment.
How do you find your clients and your artists? Are you looking for young and emerging? Are you looking for established? Do people come to you? Do you go out looking for them? How does it work?
After many years in the sector, we’re having a name for ourselves, people do come to us a lot. At the moment, I’m trying to expand a little bit of our portfolio and who we’ve got on that client roster. I’m meeting new people and quite consciously going out and saying, “This is what we do and who we are.” Because we want to go into the performing arts sector a bit more broadly, so into venues who also were quite a myriad of different industries of dance and pop, etc. I want to go more into politics and embassies and that type of work. I’m more actively at the moment sourcing clients and putting myself out there. Our core business comes through word of mouth. People know of us as a provider for that service. We have quite a unique position in the market for where we are, that we have that many offices but also we are quite young and fresh. People do come with us with those types of projects as well.
Is there anyone artists that you would be like, “I would absolutely love to work with him/her?”
Most of them, I ended up working with. A lot of the artists that I’ve worked with like Gustavo Dudamel or Max Richter are quite contemporary people. I like a lot of products that are a bit wacky. I end up working with people that I liked their dedication to what they’re doing and they’re not necessarily the big names. The ones like Wayne McGregor who is a choreographer. He’s clever on what he does. He’s insightful and thoughtful. I love working with someone like him.
Running a company that is expanding around the world, what is your average day look like? I know you’re also a fantastic mom.
I don’t have a typical day. Either I’m traveling or I’m at home and I find those days are very different. When I’m traveling, I can dedicate myself to work. I probably work twelve or fourteen hours a day. I go to a lot of events in the evening. I get up and do emails. A lot of my work is emails and calls. I’m pretty much the flagship of the company so I ended up going to a lot of meetings. I’m talking a lot either to existing clients, agents, orchestras or venues. When I’m at home, I’m much more dedicated to spending time with my kids. I will only work after I dropped them off at school. I will work from about 9:00 to 3:00. I have two or three hours with them. I’ll do something like rowing or jumped on the spin bike, do some yoga or go for a walk with my dog. I do another night shift. I spend another three or four hours in the evening working, especially when I’m in LA and New York. It’s slightly more tailored around my kids.
Are your kids’ musical?
They’re into sports at the moment. I grew up in a pushy household where instruments were the first thing you did and the last thing you did and you have to practice when you were three. I’m a bit looser about it with my kids. I do a lot of singing and my eldest son who is six just started choir. We all learn something from our own parents with the upbringing. I’m not too pushy with the music thing. I sometimes play. I’ve got two boys, they’re four and turning six. I play violin and they’ll jump in or get involved but I’m not trying to push it too much at the moment.
For our readers who might not know what we know about PR and marketing in the music industry, what does it mean in layman’s terms to do PR and marketing in the music industry? How can you describe that to people who wouldn’t understand or have the knowledge?There's a practice of movement at the moment to be positive and dealing with matters rather than being too closed off. Click To Tweet
Everything you read in the newspaper, everything you see on TV, the website you see, the type of photographs, I’ve got a description of them and the tagline. Anything that is the outward facing side of what the artist does. Nowadays, social media is involved somewhere with a PR marketing department. You think about the writing and how an artist should sound in written terms and how to describe them. It’s a coms job in that way. It’s also a communication and marketing job visually. You think about, how should photographs and videos look like? We call them assets. What do they need as assets? Do they need a website? Do they need social media tools? That’s more of the marketing side of it, be it as a tour poster or anything visual that you see. The communication side and PR side then go into journalism. You deal with journalists individually in those territories and you pitched to them that artists be it a city release, a tour or a story. The outcome is what the audience sees. If you’ve seen someone on Good Morning America or one of those shows, normally there’s a PR behind it. We do a lot of the background or the backend of the industry.
Do you find you have to do a lot of troubleshooting if something goes desperately wrong? How do you handle that?
We’re dealing quite a lot with the #MeToo Movement. We have a lot of artists at our books who are accused or involved in some process or another in that movement. That hit outside of the industry quite a lot. That’s a big one for us where we consult and advise a lot of the artists, the teams or the institutions behind that on how to deal with those elements. I do find PRs have got things. The people who studied it are not necessarily the best of it. It’s more the ones who have a sense of where the audiences and the public are right now. What the mood is? You can get that horribly wrong with the PR as well. You advise your artist to do something, issue statement or whatever it is.
The issue with crisis PR is more having a sense of how the industry feels right now and what the audience wants to hear. You can get that very right or very wrong as PR. Very often, when an artist is in trouble, he’ll end up switching coms people quite a lot. You will have two to three different PRs working on it over the course of the year. They’re all trying to figure out how best to place it. At the moment, I’m dealing with someone who is in that position. He’s being accused of a #MeToo moment. He’s gone through two crisis teams already over the course of the year. He’s learning and asking me for fresh approach. I often get hired as the next step. We also have tried what they have tried, etc.
Do you find that the next step works or sometimes it’s a situation where, “I’m sorry but it’s all been tried. I’m not quite sure what I’m supposed to do now.”
There are some PRs who don’t have any morals or any right or wrong. If I look at a case and I think it’s too hot for me. I don’t want to get involved if it feels too wrong. I will say from the outset, “I’m not your right person for this job. I don’t think I can deal with that very well.” I used to advise a lot of projects and artists to be quiet. Stop doing the PR, stop doing interviews. Stop going out there. What people want to see is that you’re humble, that you’re taking a step back and you’re reflecting because not everything needs to be outward facing. Sometimes that is the message, but in common times, you also need to think proactively and positively. For example, I advise this artist, “Why don’t we start some open surgery where there’s a therapist and you let people talk and victims talk rather than trying to shut them down.” I feel like there’s a practice of movement at the moment to be positive and dealing with matters rather than being too closed off. That depends on the artists and what the crisis is.
You had an amazing opportunity for you and WildKat not so long ago when Edition Capital came along and put some fabulous investments into WildKat. Since that time, how have you felt that the company has changed? I see that you’re expanding into Hong Kong, LA and New York. While all of this is going on, you and I have spoken via email, on the phone, you’re so lovely to speak to and you’re so accessible. That’s a sign of a true leader. We met at UCLA on the fabulous Don Franzen who is a professor and music and entertainment attorney. He invited both Kat and me onto his music panel that he hosts. We sat next to one another or maybe we had one person in between us. We had a great time and it was so fascinating to listen and learn from all that you had to say. I don’t know about you but I always get terrified on those panels. When you’re waiting to be the person to talk, it’s like you’ve got this whole long line of people and eventually it gets to you and it’s like, “What am I going to say?” As soon as I hear my own voice, then it becomes easier. You have this major investment. How has that helped and transformed WildKat?
They approached me. I wasn’t in the game for investment or thinking about it. I always thought of WildKat as my little thing. We had an office in London and Berlin and it was going all right. It was making me a good living and I was hiring about twenty people at that time. I felt that was my natural limit of not having too many ties and things happening at the same time. They approached me and said, “What would you do with this type of money?” They’re commercial entertainment investors. They’ve invested in shows and commercial entities all over the world that are much more in the entertainment industries or pop festivals, etc. I didn’t know initially what I would do with the investment. I would guess a natural element would be expansion, to think about where else to offer our services and how to collate them and tie them together.
They gave us close to million euros and basically said, “We’ll try you out.” We opened in LA, New York, Paris and Hong Kong. I don’t know if that’s the right way or not, but we did it all in one month. We ended up in April, pretty much setting every office up. That’s probably why I haven’t slept so well. I had to hire two senior people to get a bit more of a senior leadership team in place because we’re now almost 50 people. We’re also learning how to delegate everything away and stay on top of things and learn a bigger corporate structure. I’m used to micromanaging every tiny detail of my business from an expense cheat to everything else. It’s that element of learning what’s important to me and what I need to be involved with and what can I give away. I find recruitment is also the biggest element that takes the longest and it’s the hardest to get right. You will have someone in LA who’s not working the right way.
You’re too far away to get involved too much. It’s certainly a learning curve also in different cultures. I find LA is an accessible culture. I love it. I am totally taken by the LA lifestyle. I find it a friendly and forthcoming industry surprisingly. I didn’t expect that. In New York, for example, is quite short and tough. You have to get everything done in ten seconds and everyone’s like, “Go, go, go.” I feel quite naturally gravitating to LA and Paris. I’m still on a learning curve in Hong Kong. It’s an interesting time on learning how to deal with a bigger structure and how to deal with an expansion like that.
It’s important for other women to hear women such as yourself who are successful and doing something with their lives and that you can do all of this and be a mother at the same time.
I started a network called 2 to 5 a few years ago, which was this idea of I want to be a good mom as well. I have the luck of a very good partner and a lovely husband who is very good at looking after kids. I didn’t have children just to hire a nanny and have a great husband and be a career woman. I also wanted the children because I wanted to be a great mom and be hands-on in their life. I’m prioritizing both. I’m ambitious and I want a career. I want to be successful in what I do but I’m also learning when to push the stop button and enjoy mothering. Enjoy being around doing the school fits and all of that. I’m the one in my school where everyone’s like, “Where are you off to tonight?” I’m always on the phone and I’m like, “Oh, God.”
That leads me to another question. My show is called For Love and Music. I have to throw in a little bit of love along the way. With all that you’ve set in mind, has love ever helped you make an unexpected decision in your career?LA is an accessible culture. It’s a friendly and forthcoming industry. Click To Tweet
I’m an empathetic leader. I like to call myself. The biggest career decision I’ve made with love is I’ve hired a lot of pregnant people and a lot of mothers. We have six women at the moment who are pregnant or have just given birth. They all didn’t want to stop working for various reasons. I made it possible that they can work but don’t feel too stressed about having a newborn or being pregnant. They work from home or I mentor them a little bit. That’s been one of my big love projects on that one. I’m quite endearing. I like the idea that especially the women or men who come to me who want something else out of life, that’s a mixture of lifestyle and career that I can find them ways to do it.
Is there a particular song that has a romantic or love connotation to you?
My husband and I had our love song. It was the one from Lauryn Hill. She did a cover for Can’t Take My Eyes Off Of You. I have an emotional connection to Sara Bareilles. On her album, she did a one-track recording of a song that she recorded in one go with a band called Saint Honesty. It is a beautiful song. It makes me cry every time. I’m pretty emotional with that one.
What are your goals for the future with your company?
A lot of people have asked me that. I always say I don’t have a long-term plan for the company because I would quite be happy selling it off in two to three years’ time. It is somewhat part of the business strategy that I will find a long-term investor who will sell or buy both of our shares. I’ve always liked the idea of opening a cafe with organic food and doing a complete career change. I love gardening. I don’t necessarily see myself long-term or forever doing the same thing. I’m 36 and I’ve done WildKat for twelve years. I’m enjoying it. I would be quite happy lecturing in the long run or running something new or something completely different. Maybe being in the music industry with a different approach. I’m leaving my options open on that one. I normally look for two or three years ahead. That’s my absolute maximum.
This is my last question and it’s depressing but happy all at the same time. How would you like to be remembered?
As someone who’s particularly empathetic, who shares and cares. I tend to be very generous with everything, not just with money but my time, who I surround myself with and what I do for others. I believe in giving a lot. I don’t believe in demanding a lot. I look after my neighbors who are 84 and 86 and make them food. I believed that we need a bit more empathy and love around us and not be demanding.
Everything you said, I feel from you anyway. You’re very warm.
I think of you the same way, otherwise we wouldn’t get on that well.
Thank you so much. I appreciate you coming on to For Love of Music. It’s been an honor and a joy. I look forward to seeing you over in LA. For everyone, you can find us at www.LaLaLanded.com, on Instagram @LaLaLandedPodcast and on Facebook at La La Landed. Thank you to everyone.
- #MeToo Movement
- Edition Capital
- @LaLaLandedPodcast – Instagram
- La La Landed – Facebook
About Kathleen Alder
WildKat PR was founded by Kathleen Alder in April 2008. She was born in Hamburg and raised in a very musical household. Before starting WildKat PR, she worked with El Sistema in Venezuela, at the Mahler Chamber Orchestra in Berlin, TVT Europe and at Universal Music London. Having gained experience in the music industry and the advertising sector, Kat’s initial goal was to apply professional commercial strategies to public relations in the arts and the media.
Soon, she discovered that this dynamic and original approach seemed to be lacking, especially in the traditional music sector. Since then, WildKat PR has made its mark as one of the most innovative and creative PR companies specializing in classical music, as well as in contemporary music and cultural projects. The company has particularly distinguished itself in the creation of bespoke commercial strategies and the astute employment of new technologies and media. In 2009, WildKat PR opened the Berlin branch and in the summer of 2013, the New York office was launched.
Kathleen was awarded PR Week’s prestigious ’29 under 29′ in November 2011 and speaks regularly at conferences and debates. Kathleen is also a fellow of the Royal Society of Arts.