Tag Archives: Public Relations

The 25 Worst Things About Being an Arts Journalist Today

12 May
Image by Thomas Leuthard, shared under a Creative Commons Licence

Image by Thomas Leuthard, shared under a Creative Commons Licence

1. Knowing that you could not exist without the arts, but the arts could exist without you on some level.

2. The realisation that you are only ever as good as our last piece, and that last article you wrote wasn’t so great.

3. Finding out what you will only ever be as good as another arts journalist’s last piece, and they really fucked up on that one.

4. The assumption that your words have killed dreams/careers/films/plays/bands stone dead.

5. The constant fear that your words have, in fact, ended the career of a promising director/actor/playwright/writer/musician.

6. The never-ending misunderstandings about what it is that you actually write about, because the umbrella term ‘the arts’ means different things to different people.

For example, if you were to mention that you’re an arts journalist in public, the chances are that somebody in the vicinity will demand your opinion on their latest painting or exhibition, which leads to an awkward conversation where you have to explain that you don’t actually review ‘visual art’, or whatever it is that they do, and that if they’d let you finish your bloody sentence then this awkward conversation would never have happened.

(Obviously, being polite, you will never say the last part of that sentence out loud, but you’ll be screaming it inside your head. Repeatedly. With lots of swear words.)

7. Knowing that you can’t always review the things that you want to, due to time, money and editorial pressure. This will sometimes lead to only the big films/plays/bands getting written about, which is neither right nor fair.

8. Downright cynicism. About everything. Ever.

9. Genuine hunger for the arts being replaced by genuine hunger for food, because you don’t have any money left after paying your bills, thanks to your meagre earnings.

10. The comments on our reviews/previews/articles. The horror. The horror.

11. Juggling your arts journalism work with another job. Sometimes two other jobs.

12. Exhaustion from having 2 or more jobs.

13. Frustration from having far too many jobs and not enough time to dedicate to arts journalism.

14. Knowing, that by not being able to spend enough time on your arts journalism work, that you are disappointing people, including yourself.

15. That nagging sensation that what you do isn’t actually journalism at all and is probably more like PR. An inkling that isn’t helped by this famous quote from George Orwell.

16. The realisation that you will never be able to write as well as George Orwell, and that he probably wouldn’t have liked you very much, anyway.

17. Finding out that a potential writing opportunity is unpaid, but will be great for your portfolio/exposure/experience, according to the editor, who gets paid to get people to work for free.

18. Knowing that your bank will not actually take payment in the form of exposure in lieu of actual cash, even though you assured them that said exposure could lead to paid work “…in the future”.

19. Seeing that other, inexperienced writers will take that unpaid work, thus enabling those companies that can and should pay their workers get away with not paying them.

20. Repeatedly and mysteriously dropping off press distribution lists, which means that you have to sign up to the same press distribution list every few months.

21. Missing exclusives and other important news because you are no longer on said press distribution list for some reason.

22. Being added to distribution lists that you most certainly didn’t sign up to, because someone got hold of your email address.

23. Receiving a badly written, poorly researched and completely unsuitable PR from a PR company, and knowing that the person that wrote it makes at least twice your yearly salary.

24. Your publication running out of budget.

25. Your publication running out of space, because they have to sell more ads now.

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Seven Tips for the Arts PR

28 Oct

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.

KNUT

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