Ah, PR types, press releases, media officers, press offices, I love you all dearly, and I need you in my professional life. But there are certain things I simply cannot abide in arts PR, and they must end, frankly, as they annoy me, and they give PRs a bad name – and there are a lot of good PRs out there that I enjoy very good working relationships with – and I don’t want to lump them into the same category as the bad ones.
So, to be blunt, if you work in arts PR, or if you want to work in the industry, here are some tips from one cynical, hardened arts journalist to you. Pay attention, and we’ll get on just fine.
1. Email the Right Publication
Granted, this may sound like obvious advice, but in reality, emailing the editor of Auto Trader magazine about a new performance of Othello isn’t going to get you coverage. Granted, that is an extreme example, but it’s important to remember that creating a suitable and relevant list of publications to contact is a good idea. This will involve some work and research on your part, but it will be worth it, so make sure you know what publication to contact for arts coverage, and whether they are relevant to you. For example, if you are trying to drum up media coverage for a final year show at a local arts college, email publications that deal with visual art coverage, never assume that the term ‘arts’ – which usually stands for film, TV, theatre and radio – includes visual art as well. Research, and find out who is best to contact or you will waste your time.
2. Email the Right Person
While time and effort will go into identifying suitable publications to contact, the same amount of time must go into contacting the relevant section editor. While some PRs think it best to contact the Editor-in-Chief, this can be pointless, as the Editor-in-Chief will be busy sorting out the whole paper/magazine/website and not have the time to pass on your email to the relevant section editor. Find out who you need to contact directly, so if you’re representing a band, find out the name, email address and/or phone number of the music editor. If you’re looking for theatre coverage, contact the theatre editor. If you can’t find an email address for these people, find out if there is an arts editor you can contact, because they will be able to point you in the right direction.
3. Get the Editor’s Name Right
Again, this sounds simple, but you’d be amazed how easy it can be to use the wrong name in email correspondence. During the Fringe I was called many names by PRs and theatre companies in email correspondence. I was referred to as Andrew on more than one occasion, I was usually called John by most people, which was logical, as John Roberts is the founder and Editor-in-Chief of TPR. A very nice sounding man started his email with ‘Hello Ben’, by which I assume he meant Ben Judge, the editor of Fest magazine, although I have never found out if Ben in turn opened an email that enthusiastically cried: ‘Dear Amy’. Another person began their email with ‘Dear Anne’, while some stuck to more formal titles, with Ms Taylor, Miss Taylor and even Mrs Taylor all getting a look in. For future reference, please call me Amy, or Ms Taylor – Mrs Taylor is my mother.
The trick is to make it personal, there’s nothing more disheartening than opening an email that begins with ‘Dear Edinburgh Fringe Reviewer’, ‘Dear Journalist’, ‘Dear Editor’ or my favourite, ‘Dear Writer.’ Find out the editor’s name, spell it right and use it in the email.
4. Remember a PR is an Invitation, Not a Demand
In all email communications, it’s nice to be nice. Introduce yourself to the journalist if you’ve never contacted them before, be conversational, be polite, but don’t forget to tell them precisely why you’ve contacted them. Inform the writer that the reason you’re contacting them is to invite them to review your show/film/album etc. If a journalist sent an unsolicited and pushy email to a PR, that said something along the lines of: ‘What does it take to get a pair of tickets to your show?’ Then, the chances are that the PR might think the journalist, is, to paraphrase, a little bit rude. I’ve had emails from PRs to that effect, that have no greeting, just a demand to ‘come and see our show’, or to insist that I ‘send a reviewer along, because we’ve not had any reviews, yet, and we’re getting a bit pissed off’. Giving your email a title like ‘REVIEWER WANTED’ will not inspire me to send someone along – tell me why you’ve contacted me, be welcoming, make me want to spend what little time I might have in the evening or at the weekend reviewing your work.
5. Answer Your Emails In a Timely Manner
I know journalists can get a little lax with their emails, but while we can only work on that, we need the support of a good PR who responds to our emails quickly. There have been times when I’ve received an invite to a show, and responded asking for tickets for a certain date, only have to follow-up 8 days later when I’ve still not had response from the PR. In one case, I had to email the PR two more times; in the first email I asked for clarification of the press tickets, and in the second email I had to say that I needed a response by a certain date, or I couldn’t confirm that I’d be able to attend. I hated issuing a deadline like that, but it worked.
6. Keep Your Promises
If you state in your PR that you can accommodate a reviewer on any given date or any given venue if the show is touring, then please, stand by that promise. Recently, I received a PR for a show that said reviewers were welcome on any of their tour dates, but when I requested press tickets for a certain date in the run, I was informed that they only wanted reviewers to attend on the opening night, as that was ‘easiest’ for them.
They did offer to see if they could get me tickets for the date and venue that I had requested: “I could try to contact the venue and see what can be done…” but they made it sound it like was such an effort for them, and you know what? I wasn’t asking for the moon on a plate, I was merely requesting what their PR had promised – that any date, and any venue was fine. Don’t make promises that you can’t keep.
7. Communicate, Communicate, Dear God, Communicate
Similarly, I’m hearing more and more stories about critics at smaller publications and websites receiving invites to review work, but when they requested tickets, they were rejected by the PR, as they really wanted reviewers from ‘bigger publications’, such as The Guardian. This is rude. It’s like sending an RSVP to a wedding only for the bride to write to you to tell you that you’re also not welcome on the big day. During the Fringe, one of my writers had a press ticket request turned down by a PR with no reason given – what made this even more irritating was the fact that TPR had reviewed the company in question at several times previously and had given them very positive reviews each time. Always check with the company/band/performer before turning down requests, as they could have good working relationships with a number of writers and editors.
Essentially, if the PR fucks up, it reflects badly on the company that they are representing; don’t be the PR that fucks up.