This year we’re taking a detailed look at how the visual art community in the Carolinas is marketing itself. This is based on a piece I first posted at Carolina Arts Unleashed on Jan. 12, 2012. I borrowed a technique from comedian Jeff Foxworthy who tells his audience – “You might be a redneck if….”. I used the phrase, “You might be pretty bad at marketing when…”. You can see this post at this link.
There’s a lot to read and absorb here, but I think there is something here from which anyone can learn and a lot for some folks to learn. We offer it so people can do a better job, which will make our paper better to read and hopefully leads to more visitors and customers for all.
Here’s what Wikipedia had to say about a press release:
“A press release, news release, media release, press statement or video release is a written or recorded communication directed at members of the news media for the purpose of announcing something ostensibly newsworthy. Typically, they are mailed, faxed, or e-mailed to assignment editors at newspapers, magazines, radio stations, television stations, and/or television networks.”
I’ll go along with that with a few exceptions in this case. Don’t send us a fax (we unhooked it) and we’d rather receive info by e-mail than the regular mail. We are not accepting press releases through Facebook.
Without looking further at Wikipedia, I can tell you one thing a press release is not – it’s not a paid ad or paid advertising and the word ad has nothing to do with the words press release.
Also, I’m mostly interested in improving the press releases I receive, so we’re talking about a press release about a visual art exhibit or a visual art related event taking place in the Carolinas (North or South Carolina) for our monthly newspaper Carolina Arts or one of our other blogs, Carolina Arts News or Carolina Clay Resource Directory – each has their own area of focus. But this info should be good for other media outlets, but remember – they’re all different.
Which brings up one of the basic rules about press releases – know who you are sending them to. There is no reason to send a press release to someone who is not going to be interested in using it. A good example is the numerous press releases we get about exhibits taking place in California, New York or South Dakota. Those people could have saved their efforts by just looking at our name or our paper. Have you ever seen any articles in Carolina Arts about exhibits in South Dakota?
We also receive press releases from performing arts groups on a daily basis. They just don’t get it – we’re just visual arts unless the performing arts are involved with the visual arts.
So it’s well worth spending some time figuring out who is going to be receptive to your press release. That may involve reading the publication or calling to see if they would be interested in receiving your news. And, it won’t hurt finding out how and when they would like to receive it. It may only take a few minutes to find out when the deadline is, what format they would like to receive the press release in and where you should send it. You may even find out what they are really interested in – what gets them excited and what they are not interested in receiving.
Some people who think of themselves as “publicity” people like to just collect contacts – e-mail or mailing addresses. They don’t care where they come from or where they are going. They might even brag on the number they have on file, but for all they know 50 percent of them could be worthless and never see the light of day beyond a delete button or the trash can. It’s not a contest to see how many outlets you send your release to – it’s about how many outlets use the info you send.
And no matter what kind of list you have you should try to update it at least once a year. There has been a lot of turnover in the media in the last few years.
If you’re going to lose sleep at night worrying about whether your press release was received by the right person or at all, you can always ask for confirmation. If you sent it in the form of a letter – you can give your phone number or an e-mail address as a way for the receiver to get back in touch with you. If you sent it by e-mail – make sure you have a return e-mail address – one you read on a regular basis. Don’t worry if it’s a long distance call – the media should have that covered in one way or another.
If you don’t hear back about a confirmation request – give them a call to see if they got it after a few days. It doesn’t hurt and you’ll know if they got it or not – and make more personal contacts.
Speaking for Carolina Arts – don’t send your press release as a PDF or Tiff, which means you are just sending a picture of a press release that has to be further processed in order to use it. Just send it in plain text in the body of an e-mail so it can be easily copied and pasted into the files to be used. Why e-mail instead of a letter? What media outlet wants to spend time scanning or re-typing your letter?
Keep it simple. There is no need to send text in colors, fancy fonts, or in an eye-catching layout – we just want to copy and paste. Do not use all caps to make words or names seem more important. You don’t need to put words or sections in bold.
If you are sending photos do not imbed them in PDFs or in Tiffs of your press release. Send them as attachments and make sure you identify them. I hate nothing more than spending time requesting info about images sent in a return e-mail or phone call.
You know about the who, what, where, when and why. At least I hope you do. They’re important in any good press release, but in some that I receive one or two is sometimes left out or overlooked. I’d add two more that are important, but not always possible – well written.
Including all the W’s are important but the why and well written may make the difference between having your press release just included or highlighted.
Your press release is competing with many more press release and space is always limited in some form or another. In our case, during any given month several hundred exhibits are being presented. That also means the public will have hundreds of exhibits to choose from – if they think going to an exhibit is worth their limited time. If you’re presenting your exhibit in a small community far from other urban centers you may have a captive audience, but who doesn’t need more visitors. And, I would think the number of visitors to an exhibit may have some relationship to the number of buyers or donors you will also attract.
To come up with your why, you might ask yourself a series of questions that the public might be asking themselves in deciding if they should go to your exhibit – if they see notice of it in the media.
What’s so special about this exhibit? Is it the annual exhibit by an artist who is a regular member of a gallery? Is it just the latest exhibit of new works by an artist’s owned gallery? Is it an exhibit of an artist who has not exhibited in ten years and shows a major new shift in direction by the artist? Is it an exhibit by a nationally known artist who has never been shown in your city? Or, is it an exhibit by a new group of emerging artists, which sometimes means ground floor prices? These are just a few examples of question people may ask themselves before deciding to go to an exhibit.
Remember, you or your group decided to give an artist or a group of artists an exhibition over many other artists – you must have had a reason. If your reason was that it was just their turn – coming up with the why may be very difficult. But someone made the decision – they must have had a reason for their selection. Unfortunately, I read a lot of press release which offer no reason for why I should go see this exhibit.
Now just including the who, what, where, when and why, may not be enough to get your press release published or read by the public. Putting all those elements into a well written press release may also give you an advantage to reaching the top of the heap.
My expectations for receiving well written press releases has been lowered over the past 25 years, mostly because many of the folks sending these press releases: were just assigned the task, only send out a few in a year’s time, let the artist write the bulk of it, are unpaid and untrained, think “art speak” is the way to communicate to the public, perform the task at the last minute, don’t use spell-check, don’t let another person edit what they have written, don’t read back over what they have written, or any number of reasons.
We even deal with a few venues that think if they have to explain to you who the artist is, beyond providing their name – they’re not really interested in seeing you in their gallery. They may be some of the lucky few who deal with artists that are that important and have no problem selling the work they put on exhibition. If you’re one of those lucky people you wouldn’t have ever started reading this posting.
My question to those few would be – so, you’re not interested in educating or developing new customers? You’ve got them all in the palm of your hand?
To me, every press release is an opportunity to educate and inform the possible readers about your venue, the artist, the medium they work in, the works being presented in the exhibit, and why the reader should come see your exhibit over all others. Some people take advantage of that opportunity – many don’t.
One of the trends I’ve noticed over the last five to ten years is people using a charity as their why, by announcing that 5%, or 10% of proceeds from sales from an exhibit will go to a local charity. I really don’t care for this technique – mostly because of the lack of follow-up. We never seem to hear after the exhibit is over how much money was raised for the charity. I’m all for making donations to charities, but this seems to be a why open to all kinds of problems. And, now we have some galleries who don’t present exhibits without a charity announced as their partner – whether the charity knows it or not.
The use of the visual arts in raising money for charities is a subject too large to cover in this posting. There are good examples and just as many bad ones.
Let’s go over the other W’s in the who, what, where, when and why.
The who should include: who is sending the press release, who wrote it and can answer any questions about it, who is presenting the exhibit or event (gallery, organization, institution), and who the artist is or who the artists are. Make sure all names used are spelled the same each time they are used. Make sure you have a phone number (including area code), e-mail address, and a website address included.
Even if you have sent me a press release every month for the last 12 years, you shouldn’t make short cuts assuming I will always be here. Dark forces are amassing powers to take over any day – I might not always be here. And, if you’re sending your release out in bulk – other folks who were receiving your pr last month or even last week might not hold that job today. So, my point is don’t take things for granted that the people you are sending info to know certain details.
When it comes to the what – like an exhibit. An exhibit has a beginning and ending date and perhaps a reception date. If you just send a reception date, I don’t feel it’s an exhibit at all – it’s just a party for a few hours. I can’t use that in a monthly paper. If the event is a lecture – I want to know when it begins and when it is expected to end. I’m sure readers want to know how much time they will spent if they decide to attend the lecture. Just saying it starts at 7pm isn’t enough – especially if it will end at 7:30 or go on until 11pm.
It is also important for some folks to know if the artist will be at the reception or not.
The where should include the full address of the venue including any helpful locating factors. If your gallery or art center is across from the post office – that’s an important fact. It should be pointed out if you’re located on a second floor or where you are located if your venue is in a larger building shared by other businesses or offices. Also, for some folks it would be good to know if the venue is handicap accessible. And, don’t forget to say which state you are located – both NC and SC has their share of Beauforts, Greenvilles, Columbias, and Mt. Pleasants. Our readers come from all over the county and around the world. They shouldn’t have to do any detective work to find you.
The when, again, include dates and times your exhibit is open to the public. And, you better include the hours that you are there. It doesn’t take someone more than one time to show up during published hours and find the door locked to decide not to return. If you have an emergency – post it at the door and don’t expect people to forgive multiple emergencies. So, be very careful with the dates and times you provide in a press release. I don’t like people who state that their exhibit will be up until the middle of the next month – is that always the 15th? If I’m coming from the next city over 100 miles away I want to be sure before I leave the house and are you available to take my call to ask 24/7?
The why revisited. Here’s some whys that I don’t think hold water anymore if they ever did.
Artists who say they create because they have to. What artists don’t?
Artists who are recording the world often unseen or unnoticed in our fast paced life. Maybe there’s a reason we don’t notice certain things anymore.
Venues who guarantee you won’t be disappointed if you come see the exhibit. With that kind of challenge made I’m almost always disappointed.
Press releases that include how many pets live with the artist, their species and cute names. Do we really need to know that artists are people too? That they have spouses, children and pets – oh my!
I want to know why I should go see this exhibit. I’m sure readers do too. And, I want all the information I need to do that successfully. Is that too much to ask?
If someone was showing an exhibit of early watercolor landscapes painted by Jasper Johns when he was 19, never seen in public before – would you go? Would you go see it because it was works by Johns? Would you go because you wanted to see what kind of watercolor landscapes he would paint at age 19? Would you go to confirm to yourself that all artist may start out in a place far from where they end up? Or would the phrase – never seen in public before – be the determining factor for you.
One last point about press releases is when to send them. And first on my list is don’t send them to me until you have finished and checked everything in them at least twice and then let someone else read it.
I don’t have a lot of time to waste and I doubt other media outlets do either so I start processing a press release as soon as I get it so it can be ready to be put in the paper when I start to do the layout. Nothing gets my attention more than having to revise a piece I’ve already processed because someone discovered they got a name wrong, a date wrong, a time wrong or just left something out. By the third correction, you’re pr is slipping down the line to last place. And if you need to send a correction, don’t just make the correction and send your press release over again forcing me to re-process the whole thing again instead of making a simple correction.
As far as the Carolina Arts goes I hate to say it is ever too early to send a press release – unless changes and updates will have to be made. Get it to us by deadline, but there is no reason to wait for the exact day of the deadline if you can send it early. Sending it early gets you ahead of all those who take till the last minute to send theirs.
When it comes to the blogs like Carolina Arts News – sending a press release early can be a problem as we’ll only post it once and people tend to forget things that are posted months in advance. The exception to that rule is (Call for Entry) notices. For artists, these kinds of notices can never be too early.
Don’t send your same press release to the same media outlets once a week until the day of your event. We only need it once. If you’re worried about whether we received it, follow-up on it – don’t just keep sending it.
And, when it comes to organizations or groups – make sure only one person is sending press releases. I have received them from several different people – about the same exhibit – but you wouldn’t know it by reading them. This just causes more follow-up and delays in processing.
Over the years I have warned artists who are having exhibits at commercial galleries or non-profit institutions to not take it for granted that press releases about their exhibits will be sent out or received on time – even when people say they will take care of it.
There is nothing I hate more than getting that call after an issue has been published from an artist asking me if I received a press release about their exhibit and why I didn’t publish it. And, I have to explain – we didn’t get it or it would have been there. I warn them to call or e-mail well before our deadline to make sure everything is in place for them to get the publicity they are counting on.
I don’t like taking a press release from an artist directly – I feel the venue has that right and responsibility. There are some who don’t want to be included in our paper for one reason or another. (Another blog too big to get into here.) But, I would think it is your right as an artist to request a venue to send press releases where you would like.
And finally, one solid truth about Carolina Arts. If you’re one of our supporters, which would include advertisers or people who work hard at helping spread the paper around – you do get treated better than others. You may even get a call from us asking – don’t you have an exhibit coming up? We haven’t received a press release yet. I’ve even been known to help those folks out with their press releases to make sure they have all the right info in it. In a few rare cases I have even written press releases for supporters when they were short on time to make sure something got in on time. And, don’t tell anyone this, but there have been times when supporters lost track of time and sent us a press release after the deadline and it may have made it near the top of the list to go in the paper or on a blog.
Why such special treatment? If you haven’t figured it out yet – they make the paper and all we do possible. There is no money to be made by just having people send you press releases and publishing them. We’re not Facebook, WordPress, Twitter or Blogspot – who can sell your efforts to advertisers to make millions – we need direct advertisers to make it all work.
I hope reading this helps some folks. I know it made me feel better just writing it and getting it out there – in cyber space.