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The Art Of The Press Release

January 29, 2009

I'm often asked by performers, producers and directors for advice about how to put together and send out a press release -- what information to include, how long the document should run, whether it should be delivered via email and/or in hard copy format etc.

I'm always very happy to answer these questions, as to my mind, too many arts organizations end up creating press releases that are, frankly, less than optimal. The majority of these documents, which I imagine take a great deal of time and effort to produce and distribute, simply end up filling the recycling bin in my office.

So I thought I would put together a quick list of do's and dont's as a starting point for anyone looking for press release advice. Feel free to argue against any of the following and weigh in with additional pointers that I might have missed:

1. Keep it short: Press releases should never be more than two pages long as writers and editors simply don't have the time to trawl through reams of prose. One page is even better. Think of the trees.

2. Put the most important information at the top of the page in bold and/or capitals. This includes the title of the event, the main artistic personnel, the venue, the start and end date, media contact information and a URL for a relevant website.

3. Put a summary of all the key calendar data -- the what, who, when and where (including cross streets for the venue address and a telephone number) plus ticket information -- in a small box or list at the end of the document.

4. Devote a short paragraph to describing the event. Briefly state what it's about and why it's happening. Think of this part as the elevator pitch.

5. Devote an even shorter paragraph to listing the main personnel involved. Avoid going into peoples' biographies in any detail unless knowing one or two key facts about their sparkling careers is, in your opinion, a major selling point for the event.

6. Keep the tone formal and try to avoid editorializing too much. Write like a reporter covering a news story. Simply state the facts. Avoid superlatives at all costs.

7. Use a simple font, e.g. Times or Arial at 12 pt and use bold and/or capitals for headlines and key information throughout the document.

8. Have at least two people check the text for typos and inaccurate information.

9. Send the document via email -- both as plain text within the body of a message and as an attachment in word or pdf format. This avoids the costly business of stuffing envelopes and buying stamps, prevents recycling bin cloggage at the receiving end and, once again, saves valuable environmental resources.

10. State the name of the event and the main producer/artist in the subject line of the email e.g. "Magic Theatre Presents World Premiere of Territories by Betty Shamieh".

11. Send out press releases well in advance of the event. There's nothing wrong with telling members of the media about what's going on several months or even a year ahead, especially since magazines have such long deadlines. Then follow up once more (or twice more if you initially sent out the release more than two months in advance) with a resend of the release closer to the date. Don't send out information about the same event more than three times.

12. Keep your email contact list up to date to increase the likelihood of your missives reaching their destinations and hitting their targets.

13. Avoid pestering journalists over the phone with questions about "did you receive the release I sent you?" Chances are they did.

2 Comments:

  • Great post. In the past year I published an article about press releases.

    I would highly emphasize #8. How many times does a release say Friday, October 8 where October 8 is a Saturday?

    And, every month several people do #13 to me, literally saying, or leaving the message, "Hi, I'm Joe. Did you get the press release I sent you?" Well, Joe, I just got 200 press releases and there are 300+ theatre companies in the Bay Area, and I'm sorry but I can't remember which one you're with off the top of my head. If you do #13, leave details and don't expect a call back unless I didn't receive it.

    Happily, most press releases I get are perfectly fine.

    By Blogger Karen McKevitt, At January 31, 2009 at 10:46 AM  

  • I think this post from my colleague Kris Vire of Time Out Chicago boils down to "For god's sake, don't bury the lede!"

    http://tinyurl.com/cljt6t

    Good list of do's and don'ts. My pet peeve is PR that doesn't make a clear distinction between the reservation/info number for the show and the number for press people to call with questions. If reservations are online-only, we need to know that. However, companies should also know that a lot of publications (the Chicago Reader, for one) really dislike publishing events without a contact number, because past experience shows that some people will just call the paper with questions about that event. And given that most papers, particularly in the alt-press, are operating with slashed-to-the-marrow editorial staff, that really won't endear you to the paper. So do try to come up with some way -- a voicemail box, something -- where people who still prefer to conduct business via phone can reach you.

    Also, as you point out, it's super-important to make clear the name of the PRODUCING organization if it's different than the venue. There are so many rentals in Chicago at theaters that also produce their own work that we want to keep the confusion to a minimum.

    By Blogger Kerry, At February 6, 2009 at 10:55 AM  

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