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Interview: Nikki McNeill – behind the curtain of Global Publicity

A redhead with a dream. This was Nikki McNeill 12 years ago when she started Global Publicity, the PR agency who takes care that everything goes according to plan for the lovely EXIT Festival, the majestic Amsterdam Dance Event or for Dave Clarke. 

The combination sounds weird? Not at all! She manages the PR not just for festivals, but also for artists. And yes, Global Publicity is a SHE. The team is SHE. A one-woman-show that has been going on for some years now and has no intention of stopping.

I remember that we first got in touch with Nikki for ADE 2017 and back then, we never thought we’d have the chance to sit face-to-face for an open talk about her agency, the festival market and the music industry seen as a whole.

Two years forward and here we were in Bucharest by a very interesting a twist of fate. We met Nikki for a drink and although we had loads of questions for her, most of them never even got to be expressed, as the discussion led us into different subjects.

You can’t but be mesmerized by how humble, smart and extremely pragmatic and passionate she is about every piece of her work, and although it sounds like a cliche, she’s such an inspiration for … everyone, not just the people who are active in the music industry.

Nikki, we are going to insist and take you on a trip down memory lane. 12 years ago. Global Publicity. Do you remember how it all started and what made you do it?

Nikki: “Yeah, I kind of do actually. I was working for a DJ agency at the time, working with artists like Pete Tong, Danny Rampling, Danny Howells, Smokin Jo, Paul Woolford etc.… and I was also doing PR for some festivals while I was there.

A lot of my friends started saying that I should do it on my own, but I don’t think I had too much confidence in myself, so it took me a while. One year … or so.

I sort of took the plunge to do it, I guess, and I’ve never looked back since then. Of course, that you always fret about clients and money, but somehow it was never a problem as big as I thought it would be.

I worked with more artists when I first started, but then I went more and more towards festivals, so I guess you could say I am specialized in that mainly. It was scary at the time, but I think it was the right thing for me.

It’s a remote position so I mainly work from home, but I know it’s not for everyone, I’m working when I’m productive. I’m not an office person.”

Present time now. Would you have done anything different?

Nikki: “I would probably want to have more courage to ask for more money (laughs). I think that girls are very bad at that. It’s something like … it’s good to know your worth and it’s good to ask for an increase per year, in line with inflation and with another stuff that go up and also … learn to say no. Because you don’t want to let people down and you probably end up overloaded with work and it’s not good.

Learn more about delegating, that your time is really valuable. So if I am really good at the PR thing, then I should hire someone who is good at doing the boring admin bits. You only learn that with time and experience.

How about the team behind the agency? Your founding partner, Clare is based in Berlin, so how are things going remotely?

Nikki: “Actually, she left me last year.

First of all it was me, then I met Clare while she was working at a magazine, if I’m not wrong, and we got to know each other through her boyfriend. We were business partners for 9 years, but she always wanted to have something of her own, so it was only fair for her to do this. You can’t take that away from people. I am really proud of her and we are still great friends.

I now have a freelancer who helps me with the band stuff, she works on the music export work. I have a virtual assistant for my accounting stuff and then … me. So, I am running a one-woman show here (laughs).”

Nikki is a work-from-home kind of gal, stating that she likes to get up, grab a coffee, actually enjoy the morning and then dive into the working matters.

Not an office person by far, she’s leading a “wild life” of working when she’s productive, this meaning that she starts right after she’s up in the morning, during lunch or in the evening, mixing the tasks and clients according to urgency or priorities. “Prioritize between your clients and what’s urgent.” is her mantra.

Not a job for just anybody (as she herself says). However, it took some time to create and stay loyal to this ritual.

How does a normal day at the office look like?

Nikki: “Normally I would get up and go straight to my laptop, but over the years I have learned to get up, stretch, get a cup of coffee, chill and avoid working. No-one is going to die, it’s fine. I’m basically dealing with a lot of e-mails, google docs, festivals pictures, booking adverts for the clients, a mix of everything.”

Is there anything you like more doing? Taking care of artists, taking care of festivals?

Nikki: “I probably like the events side more because I love travelling.

I am always there, on -site when the festivals happen. The client wants to work with you directly, so it’s a bit hard to have one person, a youngster that you train, to travel so much. The client wants you, not just anyone.

So that’s why I hired people to do the admin bits, as this frees my time a bit. Because when you’re at a festival you can’t go on and say: ‘Oh, I am tired, I’m going to the hotel to rest!’. You have to suck it up, take an ibuprofen and get on with it. You can’t let people down. It’s not a job for everyone.”

“Eat well when you’re away, take care of yourself, go into yoga, get a bit more facials.” are but a few of Nikki’s tips ‘n tricks for anyone who thinks this is just another job.

Diving a bit deeper into your actual work, can you remember when you started the collaboration with ADE?

Nikki: “About 8-9 years ago.  When I worked for the record label, I think it was back in 1997, I took part at ADE as a delegate (I still remember the delegate card) and it’s funny because it was a small event back then.

So, I guess you could say I had the best of both worlds, as I experienced differently, from the perspective of a delegate and now from the perspective of a PR.

It’s such an amazing event and one that gives so much back, to the public. I am always learning from the panels they are holding. You have the chance to see speakers, idols all those stars! Such a huge privilege!

How long before the event you start the preparations?

Nikki: “About a year? Haha They announce the first dates in January, then you start building up connection with the press, you announce the focus country …. It’s a whole-year programme.

What would you say is one of the biggest challenges you face?

Nikki: “Probably dealing with the media when they don’t do something that they were supposed to do. Because then you need to go and explain everything to your client.

So, you can’t get angry with the media because things might turn around at one point, but you have an unhappy client and … you’re just in the middle of it.”

Besides nurturing ADE, Nikki’s agency is also responsible for festivals like: OFF Festival, Lowlands, Sea Star Festival, Sea Dance Festival and the huuge EXIT festival who is been running for 19 years now and has just recorded its biggest edition so far, with 200,000 music lovers coming over from more than 90 countries.

EXIT– a huge festival with a very emotional past. Can you tell us more about it?

Nikki: “Well, it started like something small, a student protest against the Milosevic regime and continued with a party of 100 days. The students that started it, are still running it. They are running social campaigns, trying to help people, raising awareness about drugs.

It’s a big event, not just a festival. I’ve been with it since 2004 and it’s very special to me. It does humble me when you know what they’ve been through to get there. What they’ve achieved … it’s amazing! It’s a festival that really means something. It’s not based on “let’s do this to make loads of money”. It’s very rare, thus it holds a very special place in my heart.”

You’ve been in the music industry for so many years, you’ve seen it develop and inevitable change. Is there something that stands out? Something that changed the rules of the game?

Nikki: “I think people expect a lot more. Young people are not so upset with branding. When I was going to festivals and I saw a brand, I always thought: “They are selling out. That’s disgusting”. They are not bothered by that. If a brand can help the festival and make it better, they aren’t against that.

I think they search for a high level of service. Things to do. To take pictures, to be entertained (and not just by the artists on stage). It has become really challenging when you set up a festival because you have to consider things that a few years ago weren’t a thing.”

The challenges never stop. Not even for a down-to-earth and also always-on-the-move Nikki McNeill, but she manages to do it as always, with grace, honesty and respect for others dedication and work.

Global Publicity is behind some of the greatest events that keep us entertained and vibrating for days and days, even after they finish, so maybe next time we’ll go to a festival, or see an artist performing, we can take a moment and think of the enormous work that is going on behind the scenes.

Passion and hard work do pay off in the end, and Nikki is a living proof of that.

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