Name: Antje Hübner
Occupation: Publicist, Public Relations Manager
Recommendations: Always loved the Rimini Protokoll. They have been around for a while. But when I experienced them for the first time, I was pretty much blown away. It’s a real cathartic form of political theatre. Often described as documentary theatre. The audience is part of the performance and helps developing the story in a most intelligent way. Wish they would have a presence in the States.
Otherwise, I have been working on a book about my mother, together with journalist Harald Schiller of Geschichtenwerft. It kept me quite busy. I wanted several things: honor her, preserve part of our family history, and to make the story of the Dobrudja Germans [Dobrudscha Deutsche] in Romania more known. My mother was born in Romania in 1932 and came to Germany in the midst of WWII. This is history illuminated by a contemporary witness. However, we are not sure yet whether we would like to make the book public. It is also very personal.
If you enjoyed this interview with Antje Hübner, visit the website of her PR agency Hubtone to find out more about her background, services and client roster.
When did you start out working in music PR - and what or who were your early passions and influences? What is about music and/or sound that drew you to it?
Early influences: I have always been exposed to music. It started with my paternal grandfather, who cranked up the stereo and listened to classic symphonies (because of his hearing loss, it was always LOUD). My mother grew up in a musical household with 4 children. Each family member either played an instrument or sang. This is what my parents brought along into our own household. When they had friends over, music, dance and food were part of the German Gemütlichkeit. It was joyous. At home we always listened to music. All kinds.
My older brother introduced me to Supertramp, Santana, Genesis, Mike Oldfield. When I was 5 years old I saw a commercial for a Glenn Miller record, so I wanted the music. There was a gospel record from my parents that I listened to constantly. At some point Depeche Mode, Thompson Twins, Tears for Fears, Level 42, The Cure, the entire Brit Pop and New Wave came to me. With friends I listened to Iron Maiden and Nina Hagen. Then there were the likes of Jackson, Wonder, Baker, Vandross, Gaye, Pendergrass, Benson and Earth, Wind & Fire. And somewhere in between there was the Neue Deutsche Welle and Romanian folk songs. I could go on. (Much later, I talked to George Benson at a privately held JFA [Jazz Foundation of America] event at Ahmet Ertegün’s house in New York. He still triggered my inner super groupie. But I tried to stay cool. At last he was the headliner of a concert I drove my first long distance to with my newly obtained driver’s license. Fun fact: opening act was Kenny G at the time!). Again, these were early influences.
Early passions: Music made me dance. So I wanted to become a dancer. My passion for music showed in movement or maybe my passion for movement turned into a deeper connection with music (the chicken or egg question). Either way, I started ballet class when I was 6 years old. The dance classes changed in styles along with the music. I believe that dance makes music visible.
Music made me sing. So I wanted to become a singer. I studied dance, later opera.
My first acquaintance with PR was, when I was working in opera as the executive assistant to an artist’s manager in New York. I helped getting a client a feature in a well-known German opera magazine. At this time, I had no idea I was going to work in PR.
For most, originality is first preceded by a phase of learning and, often, emulating others. What was this like for you? How would you describe your own development as a PR agent and the transition towards your own approach? What is the relationship between copying, learning and your own creativity?
Originality lies in personality. Every publicist is different in character and therefore unique. Gender influences the approach. I was basically thrown into this by my former boss at Ableton, Dave Hill, a leader with great people skills. He gently pushed me to do it. He trusted my skills for some reason. Together with Claudia Weidner, my then PR colleague from the Berlin office, he somehow guided me. Once I got the hang of it, they let me loose. I figured it out on the go. But I always had somebody to run ideas and decisions by, when needed. They backed me. It was a very American approach, especially for a German company.
However, I never had a boss whom I was able to observe at work, sit next to and learn from side by side.
What were your main work-related challenges in the beginning and how have they changed over time?
Starting my own business was a challenge. First you need to find people who believe in you. Somebody who gives you a chance. You need to build a roster. No roster, no clients. No clients, no roster. Americans are quick to give you a chance. I admire them for this trait. But they kick you out if you do not deliver. Hire and fire. It is fair.
You need to get to know and understand the people you are working with. The editors and writers. Their tastes. It needs time. Trust. Not all are welcoming you.
How do you see the role of music PR in the creative process? What is the scope and what are the limitations of what you are capable of doing?
The creative process is done by all, who work on the actual “product”. The musicians, the producer, sound engineers, event planners. Once I get on board, there is a finished product waiting for me, whether it is a recording or an event. My creativity is limited to advice. ‘Dos and Don’ts’ for the presentation of the product.
My job is to get the word out. I cannot make writers like a product or make them write about it. I can, however, let them know it’s there. Send them materials. Give them info. Answer questions. Deliver an angle for a story. Follow up. Remind. Deliver quickly. Writers do not need to be convinced. They know their tastes. They are experienced. I can only lead the horse to the water …
How are the actual music and its presentation as part of a PR campaign related, would you say?
The presentation of the product and its creator needs to be as informative and honest as possible. A quality product certainly helps the publicist. The appearance of the product depends on the individual style, taste and overall self-definition of the client. How do they want to come across? How do they want to present themselves? How to be perceived by the audience? The product is ultimately a reflection of it.
Whom do you feel your obligation to – the artists, the journalists you're working with, your own demands in terms of quality?
All three of the above.
What are the most important conclusions you've drawn from the changes in the music-, music-PR- and music-journalism landscape? How do they affect music PR in general and your own take on writing in particular? What role do social media play for your approach?
Less outlets for more music. Music schools are still going strong. Writers have lost their jobs. Papers are folding. I mourn the loss of quality, variety, diversity in the editorial landscape. And I feel for the writers, who do not have a lobby. But I am drawn to believe it will be better again. Nothing shows more proof that we are in need of quality journalism, than the current White House administration. Even though political reporting and music journalism might be a bit of a stretch. But then, it is not. We need quality on all levels, in all departments in the media business.
Smaller budgets for the same amount of work (or more work) by journalists often show in overlooked errors. Nowadays, publicists have to function as text editors as well. Lucky, if we’re catching them before they go online. No chance for adjustments in print.
Publicists offer a filtering function and trim down the giant palette of new recordings. Just like a record store window, where you see select releases on display that might help the potential buyer to get to know new music, and inspire to listen.
The approach to advertising has changed. In the past, editorial and advertising were two different entities and it was unethical to combine the two. Nowadays publicists are asked to chime in for a site, a blog. What if one does? What if one does not? Think about it. But then, I completely understand the struggle of the media outlets to keep their heads over water.
Social media is a whole different story. It is a full time job on its own and reaches the customer directly. This should be done by specialists in addition to the PR campaign. Just like Radio Promoters have their own field of expertise.
How do you make use of technology? In terms of the feedback mechanism between technology and creativity, what do humans excel at, what do machines excel at?
I would not consider my work as creative in the classical artistic way. I do not really create something for the public’s consumption. My work is rather creative in the sense of finding ways of how to make something work. Internet and Mac allow me to travel and work. I am in Germany answering a request from the US, double-checking with a client in the UK. Technology creates convenience but also dependency. Humans should command, machines execute. Not the other way round.
Collaborations can take on many forms. What role do they play in your approach and what are your preferred ways of engaging with other creatives, writers and possibly even the artists you're working with?
What sticks out to me is the non-verbal collaboration with a writer when it comes to translations. I often have to translate texts written by authors into German. So I engage deeply with a writer by trying to express the same thoughts within a completely different language. Sometimes it is amazing how easy it is (and how related our languages are). But often it seems impossible. And the creativity lies in finding a way that comes close to the original without losing its flow and elegance. Words, expressions, sayings, idioms – language is a reflection of the environment it developed in. It is culture.
It amazes me how different writers can be. I think nothing brings it to your attention as much as a translation executed by yourself.