As a change from topics that are hitting the headlines, this week we are going to focus on an area that somewhat ironically gets far too little publicity.
Many readers will be involved either directly or indirectly in the promotion and production of theatrical work. For the most part, they will spend their time (and money) in attempting to create the perfect artistic work, sacrificing food, sleep (heat too now) and much else to do so.
Whether it is heading for the Edinburgh Fringe, the local church hall or the West End and a Spielberg movie adaptation, the hope is that your baby will have the public both cooing and queueing.
Sometimes, there seems to be an assumption amongst creative types that the world will flock to their show, somehow learning about it by osmosis or word-of-mouth, even if nobody has actually had an opportunity to see it. Instead, the hard grind is not over when you insert the final full stop into the script and construct the dream team to bring it to the stage.
One problem is that the budget may well have run out long before the actors accept an illusory profit share, with your credit card balance(s) looking precarious. Even at that point, there is one further investment that might just be worth every penny. That is recruiting a good, committed PR professional.
If you are lucky enough to work with a theatre that has an in-house person (or even team) that is ideal. They will have a broad list of contacts and other connections and often great powers of influence. The problem is that many of those in the industry try a DIY job. This is frequently a mistake.
The chances of persuading someone from the national press to interview your leading light are minuscule at the best of times. If the approach comes from a member of an obscure production team rather than a well-known PR specialist, minuscule is likely to become zero with the e-mail consigned to spam or the bin unread. The same goes for tempting in reviewers to gush about the show.
At this point, it is worth presenting the picture through the eyes of a London Editor responsible for commissioning reviews. Please accept that the views here are personal and others may have slightly different methodologies.
There is a long list of experienced and professional independent PR specialists working in the field. If they send out releases, I will read them and, wherever possible, attempt to find reviewers. Even in these cases, there can be clashes leaving high-quality shows neglected. The same applies to theatres with in-house teams who also get top priority.
Lesser-known PR companies working with smaller theatres will get their fair share of opportunities, though they will find the competition tougher. Regrettably, at the bottom of the pile come those plucky companies trying to do the work themselves.
We would never reject anyone per se but it is a fact of life that any commissioning editor will play safe both in terms of their reviewers’ time and also readers’ perceived tastes. This means that new writing will sometimes get short shrift, particularly when it is not represented by an established PR company.
If you are planning to write your own press releases and then send them to every theatre publication under the sun, here are a few tips to increase your chances of success.
- This might sound strange but keep the size of the release as small as possible. On occasions, e-mails come through with massive attachments and having blocked up my inbox for ages, literally have to be deleted unseen.
- Provide basic information in your covering e-mail. This should include the names of the show, writer, director and stars, if any or all of these are selling points, together with the venue and dates. Too often, this information is buried in an attached press release, which may not be read immediately.
- Try to find some distinguishing characteristics that might persuade an editor and reviewer that they want to see your show. It is very hard to be specific but if you are offering nothing different from the 100 other people sending e-mails that week, why should anyone want to see your show rather than theirs?
- If you can get a recognised name to say something nice, that is likely to catch the eye, as is a small but spectacular photo.
- Please do not bombard publications with reminders. They will just get deleted and could actually have a negative impact.
- Be realistic. If you’re presenting something at a fringe festival that runs for two nights, you may be better off concentrating on the show and save the press releases until you get a longer transfer.
Please accept my apologies if this might sound discouraging, but good luck and I look forward to hearing from you soon.