Tag Archives: Arts

The Things an EdFringe PR Cannot Do and Other Observations by an Absent Critic

27 Aug
Image by Anne, shared under a Creative Commons Licence

Image by Anne, shared under a Creative Commons Licence

The Edinburgh Festival Fringe finished yesterday, on Bank Holiday Monday, which meant, as Edinburgh regulars like John Fleming know, that all the shops in the city were open, but all the banks were closed. Welcome to Edinburgh, we do things differently in August.

This year, I also decided to do things differently by taking a year out from the Fringe after five consecutive years of reviewing at the festival. I popped a quick “I won’t be at the Fringe, sorry” notice on my Contact Me page, and cleared my diary for the entire month of August for the first time since 2009. It felt good.

Despite the much-needed break, my absence gave me a mild case of the fear of missing out, and so, I often sauntered through Bristo Square, Fringe Central, North Bridge et al, to see what was going on. On one of these trips, I met my friend Beryl for coffee. There are two things that you need to know about my dear Beryl: Beryl is not their real name but they are A Very Good Theatre PR.

“The thing is, ” began Beryl, after inhaling her colourful cardboard cup of frothy, overpriced coffee, “that a lot of the national critics have stayed away from the Fringe this year, which some clients are finding very hard to accept.”

“I have this one client; they have a great show, they’ve had consistently good reviews, but they want the national press in, and I can’t contact journalists who aren’t at the Fringe and have no intention of coming to the Fringe.”

The lack of well-established broadsheet publications at this year’s festival has not gone unnoticed, and some of the biggest names in theatre criticism, such as Ian Shuttleworth and Mark Shenton have chosen to stay at home.

“But, they just won’t listen.” Continued Beryl. “I’ve sent them emails carefully explaining why the National press aren’t coming to review them. If they hadn’t had any reviews then I would understands, but they’ve had over 10 reviewers so far, and that’s still not good enough. In fact, they’ve started demanding that I do things that I just can’t do, it’s not my job and it’s not how PR works.”

“What kind of things?” I asked, cradling my own freakishly expensive cup of joe, “I’m impressed that you’ve managed to get 10 separate publications to review their show, that’s incredible! There are people at this festival that dream of getting just one review!”

Beryl gazed miserably into her spent cup of corporate pick-me-up and explained: “Most of our contact has been via email, but the other day the producer phoned me, he’d just finished reading The Scotsman‘s review of the show and he didn’t like that they’d given it 3 stars.”

“You need to phone The Scotsman,” he said, “and get them to change it to 4 stars.”

“That isn’t how it works!” I cried.

“I know,” sighed Beryl, “I tried to explain How It Works, but he was having none of it. He also didn’t like it when he ‘discovered’ that the reviewer was – shock horror – a freelance journalist – not a staff writer and that they were – gasp – only 24.”

“I explained that the writer, despite the mortal sin of being younger than 25, was, in fact, a well-respected critic and an award-winning reviewer who writes for several national publications, but he still wasn’t happy.”

“And they haven’t paid me.”

I slammed my coffee down. “So, in a festival of 3,193 shows, performed in 299 venues, in a year when critics seem to be abandoning the Fringe, you and you alone, have managed to convince 10 critics to review this one show, and they haven’t paid you?”

Beryl nodded. “They paid a deposit but they were meant to pay the first instalment on the 1st of August, which they haven’t. I’ve been emailing the producer about it, and he’s ignored me.”

A few days later, I sent Beryl a text message to ask if the producer had coughed up the money.

“Nope.” She replied, “But I did get a phone call saying the lighting designer hadn’t been paid and the producer had given them my number…go figure.”

Beryl, like I said earlier, is A Very Good Theatre PR. But even Very Good Theatre PRs can’t control reviewers because reviewers have free will whether we like it or not.

You can control the show, you can control advertising and you can control yourself, but you cannot control the reviews.

There will always be things that your PR cannot do, so don’t demand the impossible and pay your staff, for God’s sake, because bad press travels fast before, during and after the Fringe.

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The 10 Commandments of the Successful Critic

15 Jun
Candle by clemetchene used under a Creative Commons License

Candle by clemetchene used under a Creative Commons License

1. I am the Editor, thy employer. Thou shalt turn up to the performance/show/film/gig that thou art reviewing on time, wherein thou shalt be able to arrive calm, content and able to review the piece in question.

2. Thou shalt research the work that thou art reviewing, be it the previous work of the performers/actors/director/writer, so that thou shalt know what thou is talking about, and won’t give the impression that thou art talking out of thy ass.

3. Thou shalt act as a respectable member of thy’s publication team when reviewing. This includes not overdoing it with the free alcohol and then embarrassing oneself because of said alcohol.

4. Thou shalt file copy on time and within the word limit.

5. Thou shalt not steal work from another writer, be they living or dead and pass it off as thine own. Plagiarism will be discovered, and thou will only set thyself back by ripping off the intellectual property of others.

6. Thou shalt be respectful to venue staff, including FOH staff, PR people and press officers.

7. Thou shalt write about more than the performance; thou shalt consider the cultural, political, social and historical context of a piece. Criticism must move beyond the tired “It looked nice, it was acted well” narrative.

8. Thou shalt write with brevity and clarity; why write a 20 word filler sentence when a simple 10 words will do?

9. Thou shalt proofread thy’s own work before sending it to thou’s editor.

10. Thou shalt be prepared to listen to constructive criticism of thine work, and thou shalt take this criticism to heart.

Six Tips for the Young Arts Journalist

30 Sep

Image courtesy of NS Newsflash, under a Creative Commons Licence

So, you want to be an arts journalist. You want to write about the arts, interview influential people and perhaps even travel the world in search of all things culture-related. So, before you go out into the world, and start trying to make a name for yourself as a promising new writer, here are a few things that you need to know. I know that some of them sound very obvious to most of us, but believe me, some people need to be told these things.

Leave Your Ego At The Door

Even if you’ve studied journalism in some form already, had work experience at a paper, or even, managed the holy grail and got some money for your writing, your ego can and will be your downfall. Writing is obviously a very useful talent to have in the industry, but listening and having respect for others is too.

This means that when your editor asks you for something, you do it.

This means that if you attend a show, gig or screening, you are a representative of your publication, you need to be on your best behaviour.

This also means that you should be polite to people you deal with, such as press officers PRs, editors and other writers. Being rude will give you a bad reputation, and also make people less likely to want to work with you.

Be Persistent

In journalism, persistence is key. Editors are very, very busy people; our inboxes fill up quickly with emails, and so if you’ve emailed someone looking for work, or pitching a piece, don’t be afraid to send them a follow-up email. The same goes for PRs and press officers; if you’re waiting on a response to a ticket request, get back in touch and ask for confirmation.

It once took me 17 emails and a phone call to arrange and confirm an email with a director, so if you don’t receive a response to your initial email, keep trying.

Listen to Feedback

Some editors will give you feedback on your work, others will not. If you are lucky enough to receive feedback on your copy, then listen to it. As an editor, having a writer that refuses to listen to feedback about their work, and who continues to make the same errors over and over again, is extremely frustrating.

Editors don’t have the time to keep correcting the same errors in a writer’s copy time and time again; they want writers that will listen to feedback.

Be Reliable

Like persistence, reliability is another skill that any young journalist should have. This means turning to shows/gigs/events/interviews on time, and then submitting copy by the deadline.

Turning up to something that you are meant to cover late, or indeed, failing to turn up at all destroys any trust your editor may have in you. Similarly, attending an event and then not submitting copy will blacklist you from that publication, and perhaps others.

Editors like to talk to one another, and if you behave poorly for one editor, others will hear about it, trust me.

Pay Attention to the Word Count

Word counts exist for a reason, and for print publications, they exist in order to make sure that the piece will fit into its allocated space without messing up the entire page its set to be printed on.

Although online journalism is obviously different to print, word counts are just as important for online publications as well. This means that you stick to the word count, so if an editor as for a 300 word review, the review needs to be 300 words, not 200, and most certainly not 600.

Speaking from an editor’s perspective, receiving an email that begins with the words “I know it’s over the word count but…” is infuriating. Learn how to self-edit, it’s a skill that will never leave you once you’ve mastered it. So don’t be lazy, stick to the word count.

Never, Ever Plagiarise 

Plagiarism is another word for ripping off or copying other people’s work. Plagiarism, while not illegal, is highly immoral and a very serious problem in journalism. Being caught plagiarising can and will end your career as a journalist, as no editor or publication will work with any journalist who is caught passing off other people’s work as their own.

It’s a despicable and unforgivable thing to do, and there is never any excuse for it. Do yourself a favour, and never let yourself and your publication down by doing it – ignorance is not an excuse.

Again, I realise I may be preaching to the converted here, but spreading the word about these problems will help tackle the common issues that young journalists and their editors will face.

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