Presently, most theatre companies have the following tools in their PR tool box:
- Press Releases – Geared towards local press, radio and online media. Typically these focus more on the show itself or occasionally the production team, stacked with quotes like “Winner of 5 Tony® Awards” or “The award-winning production team that bought you…”. They usually get a run in the local media, but that’s about it.
- PR Photos – Some professional, some not.
- Events – Occasional appearances at a local festival or guerilla marketing activity like flash mobs, etc.
- Social Media – Updates on the two most popular platforms, Twitter and Facebook. Occasional viral activity.
These are probably all the tools most companies have the capacity to undertake, given the limited resources and money available, so rather than introduce too many other PR platforms, let’s look at making the above run more efficiently and effectively.
Press Releases: The purpose of a press release is to promote your show or service in a positive light. To do that, it needs to be interesting, engaging and original. Above all… It needs to actually get published. Thousands of press releases are sent each day, but only a fraction of them are acted upon. If your press release does get published, it will potentially take two forms:
- Without being edited: Your press release reads so well and it’s targeted so precisely to the readership of the intended publication that it goes to print with little or no editing required. This is rare, because you will really need to create a custom piece that’s unique to that publication. Editors want unique content, so if you are offering the same article to every media outlet, then the journalist or editor will most likely not run your so-called 'unique' stories again. This process takes extra leg work, but it will give you a really good chance of getting the article published the way you want (without a journalist’s 'spin') and effectively give you editorial control. To do the first point above well, you need to get to know your journalist and the publication implicitly. I suggest asking the journalist what sort of releases they’d prefer, a longer copy version with exclusive quotes (keeping in mind that exclusive content is VERY important these days) or the shorter copy version, where they can expand on the raw information themselves and conduct further research. Most will gravitate to the short copy version, because they don’t have a lot of time to read an essay and they will naturally assume they can write better than you (the push and pull between Journalist and PR practitioner is a silent war that has been running since the beginning of time). I suggest when posing this question to them for the first time, that you send them two press releases. One short and one long and ask them to compare. If you really can write, then they will most likely be grateful for the fact that you’ve saved them some effort! Journalists are always running to a deadline, so anything you can do to make their lives easier will be well received!
- Broader article development: Your press release needs to be compelling enough to encourage the journalist to want to dig further and conduct an interview. It’s a shorter piece, a generic teaser that offers more information (interviews with cast and production team, etc.) on request. These are by far the most common and easiest to manage press releases because one generic press release can be used across multiple publications. These kinds of press releases are particularly effective because most journalists want to add their own spin on the story and conduct an interview themselves. The downside of this is that you handover control. That can have disastrous results if the person being interviewed says something that’s offensive or not in line with your company values. You can 'nanny' your talent and coach them on what to say, but most people are usually on their best behavior when with a journalist, so you are usually pretty safe. Just make sure the talent pushes the key points that you are using to sell the show. What you want to avoid is trying to hold 'veto' power over a journalist. If you force the journalist to run their questions, or the finished piece past you after the interview, be prepared for that journalist to refuse, or potentially risk never working with you again. That’s a bridge you do not want to burn!
Here’s a frightening, yet encouraging statistic for the PR Practitioner – 90% of everything you see in the media is a direct result of a press release. Journalists rely on PR people to feed them information. As much as some of them may act like they can’t give you the time of day, they actually need you for their survival.
Here are few tips to help fine-tune your Press Kit:
- Make it newsworthy: The fact that you are putting on a show is great, but if you dig a little deeper, you can find a more interesting angle to take. For example, one of the cast members in a show I was working on some PR for just landed a role in the Sydney Theatre Company. As such, we focused the whole feature specifically on his transition from amateur to professional acting. Sure, I mentioned the show he was doing with the company I was working for several times, but the real story was about this actor getting his “big break”, which was a more interesting angle. Perhaps there’s someone in your show with an interesting back story? Perhaps the show is celebrating some sort of anniversary? Is there a celebrity patron you can weave into the article for comment? CLOC used John-Michael Howson really effectively when they produced Shout! He wrote the show and was a patron of the company, so they promoted his endorsement with great success. Different angles will work better for each publication, so put yourself in the Editor’s shoes and really think about what angle you’d be looking to take.
- Quotes – Journalists love being able to use quotes from the production team and the actors. It saves time interviewing and many of them are time poor, so make it easy for them.
- Spelling and Grammar – Sounds simple, but it’s something many people (even the very experienced ones) get wrong. It makes you look like a fool when they pick you up on it (if they extend you that courtesy). Even worse is when you have to go back to them with corrections for your own press release because you misspelled your own cast member’s name.
- Be objective: If you claim you show is “the greatest show ever” it damn well better be, or you’ll be the one who looks like an idiot. Don’t make outrageous claims like that. I remember one particular producer suggesting that his show was “the greatest Australian show ever written”. It wasn’t, and as such, many of that person’s audience were left with a sour taste in their mouths afterwards. A little humility goes a long way.
- Get some professional photos – If you are still superimposing backgrounds and using posed shots that look like they are out of a bad Dimmey’s catalogue, please re-think. They will most likely not make it to print and only serve to add a layer of tackiness to your show.
- Give them access – Journalists will want to interview your cast and production team. Know their availability and offer them a variety of times and dates that they can get access to the talent. The easier you make it to access your people, the better the chances of getting coverage.
Lastly… Follow up everything you do. You don’t want to be a pest, but you do need to make sure what you’ve sent has been read and acted upon. We get loads of press releases here at Theatre People, but only half of them are followed up. Lot’s of PR people “send and forget”… to their detriment.