3.1 Approaching Press
Having your project featured in the press, on popular websites/blogs or the radio is a great way of bringing it to the attention of a large number of people. Getting it to the point of being featured, however, can be difficult, as your project will be in competition with 100s of others. Getting journalists to take note can be an art in itself.
The most straight-forward way of distributing information about your project to the media is by sending out a press release. A press release does not have to be long (two A4 pages at the most) but it needs to be well written and well structured, and cover the essentials. After a clear headline, the first paragraph should list the who, what, where, when and why (e.g. “Award-winning ensemble Sounds of the Earth is touring to three UK venues in November this year.”). If there is a reason for the tour – for example, an ensemble’s album has just been released – this should be mentioned, too.
The second paragraph should give information about why your project is different / special / newsworthy. What is the story of your project? How would you tell a relative or friend with no connections to the music industry about the project? The story can be about a particular work (e.g. “The extraordinary sounds of mating newts were the starting point for the composition, which features recordings made in some of Britain’s deepest forests”), the programme as a whole, or about the performers. Think about why you are passionate about the project and why other people might want to come and see/hear what it’s all about.
Tour dates and venues (with website addresses) can be listed as bullet points within a press release. Include a press quote if possible and very short (no more than 150 word) biographies for the ensemble and other key people. Giving website links (to ensemble/composer sites or the project-specific microsite) is a quick and easy way to enable the reader to find further information if wanted. Contact details for media enquiries are a must. Do give a specific name, e-mail and mobile number, so that any journalist, who wants to reach you, can do so with ease. Lastly, remember to include the logos of your funders at the bottom.
A note about format – it might be tempting to create your press release as a well-designed Word or pdf document, to be sent out as an e-mail attachment. However, as arts desks will be receiving dozens of press releases every day, the information about your project needs to be as immediately readable as possible. Most journalists won’t bother opening an attachment, so your press release is best sent as basic text, without any special design features, within an e-mail. It’s fine to add a couple of (low resolution) pictures as attachments, in case somebody would like to get a better feel for the project.
Your press release is now ready to be sent out, but who should you send it to? Over time you need to build up a database of contact names and e-mail address for journalists. If this is your first time approaching press you will need to put in a substantial amount of research. Use the internet, and phone media organisations directly as well as friends/colleagues in your network to find out as much as you can.
Eventually, your list of media contacts should include people from national (and key local) papers, specialist magazines, printed and online listing publications:
• National papers – Sending a press release to the arts desks (Guardian, Independent, Times, etc.) is always good, but if you want to ensure your project gets picked up you will need to target individual journalists
• Local papers – proportionally, local papers have often a higher readership than national ones, so it’s well worth contacting them in the areas where your event is taking place
• Online magazines – there are more and more of these (Londonist, Sinfoni, ArtsDesk, Don’t Panic), with some having very substantial readerships
• Bloggers – some bloggers have a large national following, others have tremendous impact locally• Trade organisations – national organisations and funding bodies (Sound and Music, PRS for Music Foundation) often send out listings newsletters and, if your project is associated with or funded by them, are usually happy to include your event
• Freelance writers – many journalists, despite writing regularly for a national, will not be employed by the paper, so extra research is needed to be able to contact them
Timing of the press release depends on who you want to target, what you want them to do (list, preview, review) and what their deadlines are. An online listing magazine might be able to publish details of your event almost instantly, but if you are aiming to have your project featured in a printed magazine or to have your ensemble interviewed on a radio programme, then you will have to contact the respective organisations several weeks in advance. Again research is key – if in doubt give the organisation a call to find out about its deadlines.
If you are working on a larger-scale and well-funded project and feel that there is a strong media potential you could consider working with a PR specialist. While it is expensive to hire in PR support (with one day costing from £200 upwards), PR specialists have their own network of contacts amongst journalists, so you are essentially buying into their contact list and their longstanding relationships with journalists. PR specialists will also be able to advise you on how to tell your ‘story’, how to highlight different angles of your project and which media outlets are most likely to pick up on it.