Writ large, popular culture defines modern life in the same way that wars and monarchies used to– celebrity dreamboats unite generations; singular albums and their popularity cycles are far more telling of collective experience than any presidential administration. In a mere decade and a half, the proliferation of the internet in the American collective consciousness has irrevocably altered the way people perceive and engage with popular culture.
If any company knows the nuances of the burgeoning digital consciousness and how art fits into this squirmy, adolescent culture, it’s Infamous PR. Born in LA in 2008 out of Alastair Duncan’s broom-closet style office, Infamous PR has facilitated conversations between art, artist, and audiences since the inception of social media, and has proven itself to be one of the most adept in the field at multi-platform public relations.
Fifteen years in, Infamous has grown from representing small LA-based electronic artists to working with leaders of the musical zeitgeist across genre and category–from Rüfüs Du Sol to RZA; from Lightning in A Bottle Festival to Primavera Sound; from Pabst Blue Ribbon to Rockstar Games, Infamous has emerged as a paragon of communication firms in the digital age.
Largely, Infamous PR’s success might be attributed to the company’s deep love for music and thorough understanding of storytelling in general. FLAUNT sat down with CEO and founder Alastair Duncan, COO Maxfield Frieser, and VP of Artist Services Megan Dembkowski to talk about Infamous’ fifteenth anniversary, multi-platform storytelling, and the role of tradition in the realm of the future.
PR is, at its heart, an industry mired in the excellent telling of other people’s stories. What’s Infamous PR’s story?
Duncan: We started in LA in 2008. Originally INFAMOUS was just myself, a telephone, a laptop, and a tiny shared broom closet-style office. The goal was always to do something I loved and work in a scene and culture with artists that I genuinely cared about. That ethos still underpins the work we do today. We were lucky that in 2008-2010 there was definitely something exciting happening in America and LA at that moment, with a growing but small underground dance scene that was anchored by folks like Droog, Droid Behaviour, DJ Harvey’s Sarcastic parties, and folks like Damian Lazarus (living in LA then). A lot of really exciting generational European talent was coming out to LA to check this scene out, often for the first time. All that collided with the crossover between indie rock and dance music, the SoCal rave scene, and the subsequent explosion of EDM and festivals. It was a really unique moment, that we were fully front and center for, and we were able to build a business around that growing interest in electronic music.
You’ve talked about how you “push beyond ‘traditional publicity’. How do you all define “traditional PR,” and how do you strive to surpass that boundary?
Frieser: Previously you could potentially interchange a PR role for that of a press officer or media relations. We don’t think that rule still applies. The traditional media and press landscape has shrunk, which is, I genuinely believe, a bad thing. But the flip side is that there are now many more ways than ever to tell stories. As our client's needs evolve, so too must our services, and exploring other mediums, media, and platforms to tell client stories has always been something we’ve strived to do as an agency - so we are able to produce video, live stream, pitch DSPs, work with influencers, distribute recorded sets to radio platforms, etc. It’s rare that something everyone else has done before really excites a client, so we’re always trying to push further and be more adventurous and ambitious with how we communicate with clients.
How does INFAMOUS stay INFAMOUS? What keeps the flame alive, 15 years in?
Duncan: It’s a prescient question, given the demise of office culture and the increase in remote working. The times when we do all get together as a group feel more important and special now. Caring about what we stand for as a company and the community we serve feels vital to keeping us humble and anchored. We come from a unique place, dancefloor culture, and the values of that culture still define us, even as we have expanded our client base. We work with really incredible clients and get to enjoy amazing experiences as part of our jobs, you have to try and remember that and be grateful for it.
The recent proliferation of microtrends seems to have a lot of PR companies scrambling to stay on top of these ephemeral culture bubbles. How does Infamous PR approach trend cycles when it comes to promo?
Dembkowski: We are lucky to be working with clients that we really believe in, so I think we have been able to avoid some of the hype cycles that maybe others get pulled into. If you are chasing something that is only hot because of some microtrend then it's always going to be a bit of a scramble to keep on top of it as it will always be changing. How much are you really going to care about it and are you losing a part of yourself?
The dance floor is, to many, a sacred space. How has the dance floor been central to your development as a company as it’s grown past music PR and into corporate promotions?
Frieser: I think by remembering where we came from. The dance floor has been a home away from home for almost my entire life. These are places where equity reigns and creativity takes precedence over commerce. I continue to make some of my closest friends, have some of my most prolific realizations, and evolve my sense of self in these spiritual places around the globe.
Duncan: Maintaining our connection with that world, and keeping that outsider perspective on things, even as we’ve grown, has kept us honest and genuine. We’ve always felt like we’ve been in our own lane, even as we’ve moved into other areas. For a long time, I felt that was a problem or in some ways limiting for us, but I’ve actually come to realize that an authentic connection to a subculture can be incredibly beneficial.
Dembkowski: One thing I try to keep in mind when the day-to-day gets stressful is to just keep on dancing – as that’s why I got into this industry in the first place. It’s for the love of the music, the way it’s connected me to others when I felt like I didn’t have a place to fit in and be myself. The dance floor, big or small, in a dark warehouse or a giant sunny desert field, allows us to be part of a community that supports and lifts one another up. The dance floor will always remain a special place.
What qualities do you look for in a client— whether they be basement-sized or stadium-sized?
Dembkowski: Is the story interesting? That is probably the most important. Then, do we feel that we align with their mission and they are good people? If those two things have been checked off, then we’re always interested in having a conversation. As the agency has grown we’ve worked hard to not limit ourselves to the taste of one person, but to try and provide a platform that lets all the staff have a say in the work that they do, and bring in clients they love and care about.
In recent years, you’ve expanded into brand communications–what’s next? What space will INFAMOUS occupy 15 years from now?
Duncan: I never thought we’d be doing country music festivals and brand comms when we started, so it's always fun to imagine where we might be in 15 years. I really think growing the portfolio of services is the focus. How do we build out the live streaming and marketing around events, ensure the radio and DSP departments are super strong, and continue to expand how we work with brand clients? We want to be an agency that delivers work we can be proud of and can meet all the communication and promotional needs of our clients, whether they be artists, festivals, or brands.