Photo by Juliet Wolf
In 2019, Nick Dierl calculated that he had spent two weeks in the air. The co-founder of Orienteer— the public relations company working with the likes of Tyler, the Creator, King Krule, and Koffee—is always on the move. He doesn't let success get to his head and likes to keep his team small and close-knit, “Almost every single person in the company came from being an intern." What makes this LA/NYC based PR company different is the value placed in people, whether it be an intern or a senior agent—Nick strives to make everyone feel like an integral part of the companies success. In addition to resolute determination and campaigns that showcase today’s leading talent, it’s immediately apparent that Dierl simply has good taste. We spoke to the music lover about his path into PR, treading the line of friendship and professionalism, and the process of developing artists.
This interview took place between Nick Dierl and Ella Jayes at Tabula Rasa in Los Angeles
EJ: Can you give an overview of how you got to where you are today?
ND: Big picture, I knew I always wanted to work with musicians, fundamentally. I didn't understand how this industry worked or what any of the jobs available to people were, but I knew that I wanted to figure it out.
I went to college, and I was pursuing an Urban and Environmental Policy degree. I was not making strides towards figuring out how to work with music, but I was living in LA, going to shows often, and meeting people in the scene. As it turns out, one of the first people that I met at college—we both showed up like a day late to orientation—ended up being my entry point. We originally bonded because we were both boarding school kids. One or two years into school, he started working for a PR firm that ended up being my first job in music. He really pulled me in.
None of your classes at school were music based, but do you think school aided in or influenced your path at all?
There are moments where I think stories that I'm telling with clients of ours dovetail with things that I studied and were near and dear to my heart in school. I had the benefit of going to a very academically challenging boarding school for high school, and it afforded me a lot of perspective on schooling as a process.
A lot of the value that I got out of boarding school was the experiences that I had, and the people I was forced to interact with, being in that setting. And I think by the time I was in college, I already had that outlook of those experiences being the real value of going to college. I just went into it being like, "I'm gonna pick a major that I'm passionate about and that I think is important, and want to study," but never really had any intention to work in that. I knew I'd figure out how to do something in music when the time came.
Where are you from?
I was born in Orange County, and I lived there till I was six. Then I lived in Wisconsin until I was 14, and then went to New Hampshire for high school, and LA for college. I kind of bounced all around.
What was the first project you worked on in PR?
When I started out with the friend I mentioned, it wasn't entirely spelled out if it was a job or an internship (maybe it was), but for whatever reason, it wasn't entirely clear to me. It turned out pretty quickly to be a job that was part-time and then became full-time while I was in school. It was at a company called Force Field. My first real project that I did by myself was Cloud Nothings, who I still work with today, which is pretty cool. Early Beach Fossils too.
From Force Field, where did you then go?
So I started at Force Field in my junior year of college and was there until the summer after I graduated from college. Then I went to a company called Life or Death PR. A coworker and I left Force Field and went together, and very shortly after, Duncan [Will] was hired. I was at Life or Death from August 2011 to January 2016.
And then Orienteer?
None of us had any idea whether or not we were going to continue working in PR after everything that happened at Life or Death. What we weren't prepared for, was pretty much all of our clients ended up still wanting to work with us. From there, we started a company called Liberal Arts (that lasted from the end of January 2016 to mid-December of 2016.) We started Orienteer independently of any partners in January 2017.
What was the difference between Liberal Arts and Orienteer? Was it just the people involved?
It was just the backend of the business; we had partners in Liberal Arts that we ended up not working with long term.
How would you describe Orienteer?
On a very basic level, we're a PR company primarily working with musicians, but increasingly working with stories that we feel we can tell well outside of the scope of music. And that's more recently meant working with brands, a chef, actors, and actresses. We've been enjoying working with people outside of music, even though music is still the bread and butter of what we do.
I'm just so amazed by the roster that you guys have. Whether it's musicians or managers, or anyone in the music industry, most people I speak to recognize Orienteer as one of the best. What lens do you look through when you're taking on clients? Do people come to you or do you seek people out?
It's a little bit of both. At this point, we're fortunate enough that we haven't been actively looking to add to the roster, and we're really only taking on new clients when it feels like a perfect fit. I think a lot of us have reached a point where we just like working with people that we feel good about working with, and that tends to come through a referral of some sort.
Tell me about the team. Who is on it and what are their roles?
So I run the company with Duncan Will, who is here in LA with me, alongside Kevin Cordon, who oversees all of the regional press of the company. He's sort of like a live music specialist, anything related to shows he oversees, as well as our client reporting. Intermittently, in our LA office, is Nikki Bennett, who works at XL [Recordings] full-time, but at any given time will work on a few projects with Orienteer.
Bradley Bledsoe runs our NY office where Emily Mullen and Naavin Karimbux are national publicists as well. We have Isa Castro-Cota who spearheads all things, admin. Michael Quick, who just joined the team in 2019, is in our NY office as well.
So what does your role consist of now?
Working with clients, running PR campaigns, working on national campaigns where I'm not on it alone (the role I serve is more strategy, and mentoring the other publicist that's on it).
Mentoring almost sounds demeaning because oftentimes those people are really running those campaigns, but sort of just being an extra set of eyes, which has definitely been one of the coolest parts of the last couple years. Then, running the business, the nuts and bolts, making sure people get paid and have healthcare. Business development.
From start to finish, how does Orienteer approach a project? I know there are different amounts of time people can sign up for—what's a charted out example of your deals?
Truly every campaign is different, it's based on the client, and what they're hoping to do. Generally speaking, we try to not be in short term transactional relationships. It's not gratifying on a deeper level, and shorter working relationships don't really lend themselves to telling more meaningful stories. It almost feels like it's more about getting press hits for the sake of having something to show, versus a deeper purpose, when working with clients on a short term basis.
I think that's antithetical to how we try to work with clients generally, so for that reason we've always tried to be in longer-term relationships. And not necessarily forcing someone to work together for a year and a half at a time, but always looking to start relationships with the intention of it being a longer partnership.
With that being said, when a new artist comes in, do you go through an interview process to understand what story you want to tell? Or how to develop them as an artist? How does it work?
That normally starts as a conversation with whoever the point of contact is, whether we're hearing directly from an artist self-submitting their music, or a manager or label reaching out and having a conversation with them on the phone to understand who they are, and where they sort of fit in. What makes them excited and why have they reached out? From there, you start to get a sense of how much there is to turn around and tell the world.
If someone who had no idea what publicists do—how would you describe it to them?
Publicists are the people that communicate with writers, editors, producers, etc. on behalf of their clients. If you see an album reviewed in a magazine, a musician performing on a late-night television program or being interviewed on your favorite YouTube series, that is more than likely a result of a publicist reaching out and securing that opportunity. And that’s not often a conversation as simple as “Hey, I have this client, would you like to have them on your TV show?” and getting an immediate “Yes” in return. Typically that process looks more like the publicist reaching out, talking to the editor, booker, producer, or whoever the point of contact is and then explaining who their client is, what they do, what makes them exceptional in their field and why right now is a particularly compelling time to do something with that client. In that way, you’re telling that client’s story and articulating what makes them so compelling in order to help secure opportunities on their behalf.
Typically, how long do you work with clients?
I mean, if the circumstances are good, a long time. A lot of people that we currently work with at Orienteer are clients we have worked with since before Orienteer existed. Working like that is definitely the preference because when you work with someone for five or six years, for example, you can accomplish some incredibly cool things together. I've been working with Tyler [the Creator] for eight years at this point, and some of the things that we've done in the last year or two are the most fun that we've ever had doing press. They are things that we've been planning to do for years. That stuff is the most gratifying when you have long term goals, and you start ticking those boxes with clients.
I watched the interview Tyler, the Creator did with Kerwin Frost. A lot of the time, when people are being interviewed, they just agree with whatever the interviewer is saying. He doesn't and I appreciate that—you can tell he's listening and being intentional.
He's gotten better at everything as he's gotten older. Across all mediums, he's gotten better, but he's also just so much better at expressing, in a very articulate way, what his opinion is. And he's interested in having real discourse with people, in a way that's super exciting. I think that there were a lot of people who understood that that was always under the surface with Tyler, and I'm excited that the world is getting to see that side of him.
His sold-out show at Madison Square Garden was amazing. I actually cried.
I was really close.
It made all the sense of why he acts controversial sometimes or does really outlandish things—he's actually so fragile inside!
That definitely felt like a moment where everything came together.
Working with people worldwide, what have you learned about the industry globally?
I think for me, we're really only scratching the surface right now of a more global industry. And that's super exciting. History has been defined by a lot of voices that are not, in the wider lens of the world, very dissimilar from one another. We're just starting to scratch the surface of telling stories by people who haven’t been afforded the opportunity to tell theirs as much in the past, and people being more open to hearing stories from different parts of the world is so exciting. There are so many places: Korea, Japan, West Africa, that we're starting to hear from. But still, it feels pretty surface level. I think people are gonna be pleasantly surprised by how much there is to dig in, not just in those places, but in all the places, that we haven't really begun to see.
Being in a creative industry it's so easy to become friends with your clients or coworkers, especially when you have such similar vested interests—how do you maintain a level of professionalism?
It was a lot harder when I was younger because I didn't take things nearly as seriously or have the stakes that I do now.
And I legitimately have been friends with a lot of my clients, and I've been really fortunate to have had that experience. And so when that happens, friend rules apply. In some ways, you should hold your friends to a higher standard, than people you work with. So that's almost less problematic when you cross into full friendship. Now it's really easy to walk that line because I feel not "old", but I'm increasingly wanting to...
...have a life.
...yeah, live a washed lifestyle. I have a cat, and a house and my fianceé travels a lot for work too, so when we're both in the same city, we're not really trying to go out after the show. I try to get there early and say hi before, and leave after the show.
“What happens when a client posts something that you don’t necessarily agree with?”
We've tried to be very intentional in the last couple of years about who we work with. That's part of the consideration, but not so much, "Are they a liability? Will this person make me look bad?"
But more, "Is this person prone to saying something that maybe they don't mean? Is that a pattern of behavior? Do we want to work with someone who has this kind of pattern?” So we try to preempt a lot of that. But when something does come up, it's totally situational, it also depends on that person's reaction.
Also, since Orienteer chooses authentic artists from the get-go, it’s less likely for one of your clients to do something and then say, "Oh, that's actually not what I meant!"
Most of the people that we work with stand by what they say, regardless of whether or not people agree with them. Sometimes it's happened in ways where I agree with the client, and I'm in the minority with them.
And there are times that we don't agree, and you just have to explain, or at least make sure that that person understands, in an informed way, the perspective of people that disagree with them. And largely, let them make the decision about how they proceed from there in an informed way.
Our job isn't to tell someone what they should believe, but to at least make sure they understand the other side’s perspective. Especially if there are people who are taking a strong issue with their opinion.
What is your take on the generation of musicians, artists, and potential employees coming up right now?
I think the generation coming up right now is the savviest I've seen. Generally, there is more access to information, and it feels like as a whole, that this generation is more curious. It blows my mind that there are kids that are like 15-16 that know who manages what artists and who does their publicity. That's insane to me. There are kids who are enterprising and trying to figure that out before high school.
That being said, because of the lower barriers to entry, and particularly to the mechanics of streaming culture, being playlist culture, there is an ability to do things that fit the algorithm, and make things that are likable, in a way that wasn't ever really possible before. I hope people don't fall prey to doing that and are still making what they want. But I still think the prevailing sense that I get from the young generation is that they're more informed, and a lot of the time more driven.
What advice would you give to someone that looks up to you?
I am so grateful for where I landed in terms of doing publicity as a career, but also so much of it was either luck or chance that I fell into the place that I did, and I guess I would urge people to take the time to like learn about all the different parts of the industry, and figure out what you feel most passionate about, and pursue that. In some ways, I took the first opportunity that I got, and I really feel grateful for how that's turned out thus far, but also, I recommend being more informed than I was. What feels perfect for you?