Libby Parker is a freelance publicist, copywriter, editor, workshop facilitator and former teacher. She works two days a week as Media Advisor and Communications Officer for a Member of the South Australian Legislative Council, and three days from her home office in Adelaide’s CBD, where she lives with one lazy cat, one noisy bird, one handsome husband and two divine step-daughters. For fun and in her spare time, Libby runs an arts and music blog called The Upside News.
You wear a lot of hats – how do you keep your various commitments organised?
It can certainly get very difficult, especially during peak seasons, like Mad March this year when I was Publicity Coordinator at Adelaide Festival as well as maintaining all of those other hats.
To keep my head in the various jobs that I’m doing when I work from home, I structure my week to devote dedicated slabs of time to particular jobs. Much of what I write for my various clients is to be presented in completely different voices, so it’s important to be in the right headset to achieve the right perspective and expression. Therefore, I divide up my day accordingly.
When I’m working on several different festivals, projects and jobs at the same time, I exist in a delightful bubble of organised chaos! You know what they say, ‘if you want something done, ask a busy person to do it!’
What’s a typical ‘day in the life’ for you when coordinating publicity during the Adelaide Festival?
Coordinating publicity during the Adelaide Festival is exciting, hectic, hilarious and exhausting, and it’s worth every bit of energy the AF team puts into each day.
On a typical day during Adelaide Festival, first thing in the morning, I will likely go and pick up an artist to take to ABC 891 for an interview, which is always good fun. Once I’ve taken them back to their hotel or to their next destination, I might call into the office to check in with the Adelaide Festival publicist, Petra Starke, and the team, or I might head off to venues for media calls or live crosses, unless I need to be in the office to write communications or organise media.
On a typical day during Adelaide Festival, first thing in the morning,
I will likely go and pick up an artist to take to ABC 891 for an interview
Every day is different, but it’s mostly made up of artist and media liaison, media calls, transporting artists to photoshoots and interviews, checking in with how authors, journalists and the team are faring at Adelaide Writers’ Week, writing media releases, and attending shows and events with sponsors and stakeholders. They are long days, but they are fantastic days.
During Mad March, is there plenty of capacity for acts to get media coverage – or does the sheer number of acts make it harder to gain exposure?
That’s a great question. There are some wonderful opportunities because the media are focused on providing colourful, exciting updates during our festive season, but publications are also overwhelmed with press releases, and requests to review and interview artists. I saw this from three different angles over the 2017 festival period: as a Publicity Coordinator for Adelaide Festival, as the editor of my arts blog The Upside News and as an artist in a show in which I performed (The Vinyl Club).
As a publicist with Adelaide Festival, I was part of a team that rolled out a strategy in 2016, so we were able to garner attention and excitement before Mad March started, and keep it going throughout the festival. It’s a lot easier to do with an established brand, but there are so many events just within the Adelaide Festival itself, all requiring ticket sales of course, so it can be challenging getting the message out to media and the public about everything that’s happening when Adelaide is so lively with all the other things on at the same time.
I was faced with over 200 unread emails and 99% of those
would have been from artists wanting reviews,
interviews and coverage on social media
Even as a smaller blog, The Upside News were inundated with hundreds of media releases from Fringe and other artists. At one stage, I was faced with over 200 unread emails and 99% of those would have been from artists wanting reviews, interviews and coverage on social media. Luckily, I have a team of lovely writers who contribute to The Upside News and together we covered over 70 shows across Adelaide Festival, WOMADelaide and Fringe Festival. Although we had a great festival, it felt terrible not to have been able to respond to and review everyone who wrote to us. We had great support from artists, the Fringe team, WOMADelaide and Adelaide Festival, as well as big venues like Gluttony, who shared our reviews and stories, which helps us gain exposure too.
My band and I performed one show during Fringe Festival, which fell on the night of the Fringe Parade and the Guns n Roses show, so getting media coverage for that was a challenge! It was quite all right though, because the venue filled up with Guns n Roses fans after their concert and we had a really wild time!
How do you think “arts PR” differs from, say, “corporate PR”?
I am mainly involved in arts and political PR, but there are similarities in each domain. In all areas of PR, of course, it’s important to build relationships, target campaigns and write great media releases, but there are differences between sectors.
Corporate PR allows you to work on projects in a longer term capacity, while arts PR sometimes feels like it’s over as soon as it’s begun, especially if you’re publicising the limited season of a production. The PR I do with Legislative Council is gritty, and gives me something to really sink my teeth into; it’s issues I’m passionate about and things that matter to people. When I see the changes made from the PR and communications I have been involved, it’s quite frankly one of the best feelings in the world.
Arts PR can be fun, hectic and hard work; and liaising with artists sometimes requires a rather multilayered aptitude, but it’s always worth all the effort when you see patrons enjoying the shows you’re publicising. When those five star reviews roll in, you’ve earned that backstage champers!
I was looking for journalism work but media outlets
were cutting staff, and things were looking grim for the industry.
Tell us what The Upside News is all about.
I started The Upside News in 2014 when a friend of mine told me a story about her friend whose brother died from a rare blood disease. She had just held an event that raised over $20,000 to go towards research and awareness for the disease. The story really touched me and I thought people should know about it. I wrote a story and sent it as a media release, but it didn’t get as much traction as I wanted it to and this was really disappointing for me, because I really felt this story needed to be told.
At the time, I was looking for journalism work but media outlets were cutting staff, and things were looking grim for the industry. I remember thinking, ‘There has to be an upside to all this’ and yea The Upside News was born.
I made a WordPress site, published the story about the wonderful family I knew who raised $20k and the post received over 700 hits on the morning it went up. This gave me the confidence to write more and more, and grow my humble little site to the humble medium sized site it is now.
The Upside News is an active portfolio of work for me, my husband and a community of writers who want to cover arts, music and community news in South Australia and who want to build a profile. We don’t take advertising or membership, and we all volunteer our time; we write for the love of writing.
Time for a fun question: you’ve written and directed many youth productions at schools and run workshops in drama. What’s the funniest thing that’s happened either during a production or workshop?
Oh my goodness, so many things! Being a drama teacher was one of the most entertaining things I’ve ever done, and I did it for more than a decade, so that’s a lot of laughs! I’ve had the pleasure of working with some of the most remarkable young people in South Australia.
a student and I were melodramatically re-enacting
a murder scene outside the classroom
From the three year olds to the 23 year olds, there was never a dull moment. Many stories are a bit, ‘you had to be there’, but if I need to whittle it down to a few, there was the kid who lost her costume just before her stage cue. She was meant to be a lion so she came out onstage with a teddy bear wearing a wig on her head; then there was the time a student and I were melodramatically re-enacting a murder scene outside the classroom (complete with me shouting, ‘I will stab you with this spoon!’) as a principal’s tour walked past; there was the one performer who kept getting tongue tied in a monologue and in every rehearsal said, ‘herb sausages’ instead of ‘Serb hostages’ (luckily he got it right on the night), and one of my favourites: when, a colleague and I decided to re-enact the final scene of the film we were studying, Dead Poets Society, unbeknownst to the students. He came into my classroom and told me to clean out my desk and leave the premises, so my English class stood up on their desks in my defence – that was one of the best things ever.