I love the arts and I am fascinated by marketing. It should probably come as no surprise then that I have an interest in arts marketing.
Following on the terrific piece from Vancouver theatre creator Christine Quintana on what she learned as a box office professional (Thank You for Coming, March 27, 2014), I thought I would create my own piece along the same vein, with thoughts, observations and maybe a few tips about arts marketing as a media professional. Indulge me…
The new world order
A mention in print for some marketing departments is like discovering that the Holy Grail was in their cupboard all this time. Given the cutbacks in traditional print media perhaps it really is something marketing types really should strive for, but don’t forget new media outlets that are with you through thick and thin. It is new media that is growing and it is new media that has more space for more coverage. Don’t forget that circulation doesn’t always means readers too. I personally read one of our city’s dailies every single day (Vancouver Sun, cough). Well, okay except Sunday, unless I am too busy on Saturday and then I will not read on Saturdays. But I’ve only ever read two sports articles in the dozen years that I have been a subscriber. And before you think it is playing down the importance of print, far from it. It is simply meant as a reminder that new media can be just as important. Besides, I also write for a local newspaper and get paid real cash dollars so I’m not about to bite that hand. But don’t get us started on television. If you get on television we understand that we’re not … well, television.
Don’t be rude
Choosing to brag about the print piece you scored over a similar preview that appears in a new media outlet is just plain rude. It makes us feel like the weird rich uncle no one talks about, but everyone is happy to see when he’s buying drinks.
Speaking of television
Getting on television really is … well, the Holy Grail. Do something interesting. On a weekend. Call the television newsrooms on the weekend. You have a better chance of getting something on the weekend news than any other time. Weekend. Weekend. Did I mention the weekend? Oh, and something interesting. A story, not just a press release. Outside their news studios. With action and sound. Did I mention the weekend?
Let’s retire the word blogger
I’m not a blogger. I am a writer. I even get paid professionally to write about artsy stuff from time-to-time. I really do mean it when I say it isn’t about me. I really do mean it when I say it really is all about you. Okay, maybe it is a little about me, but MOSTLY it is about you. Wow, that is a lot of “I” statements.
Is any publicity good publicity?
Probably, unless you’re Gregor Robertson right now. Or maybe Rob Ford. But while anyone can re-publish a press release, the real payoff comes with something that takes a little work, on both sides. Besides, wouldn’t you rather promote the crap out of something that goes a little more in-depth than a press release? After all, this is OUR art.
Celebrate our stars
Yes, we have stars in Vancouver! And not the ones that come up here every so often to shoot a film here because it is cheaper. Let’s take a page from Hollywood. We should revel in their success, their talent and their ability to help fill seats. They should be household names. At least in Vancouver. And maybe New Westminster. Red carpet gala openings FTW!
We have found this to be particularly true for dance or visual art press releases (although to be fair we’ve received my fair of confusing press releases from theatre companies too). Many of these have us reaching for the aspirin as our brains hurt trying to figure out what they are trying to say. Invite someone that doesn’t have a vested interest in your show, your dog walker or mailman come to mind, and see if it makes sense to them. If they don’t understand what you’re trying to say, chances are we won’t either. The arts don’t have to be complicated or sound intellectual. In fact, I would argue that you are ignoring a large segment of your potential audience if you’re only going after the intelligentsia. Unless, of course, it is a Mensa meeting you’re trying to promote.
Stories not events
Good press releases come complete with story ideas. The best come with stories already in the press release.
DON’T USE ALL CAPITALS
Writers are notoriously lazy (okay, I’m notoriously lazy). If you use capital letters it makes it impossible to cut-and-paste into a story or as an events listing. Besides,WE HATE IT WHEN YOU YELL AT US!
Don’t be so bold
Same thing goes with bolding everything. Trust us when we say everything doesn’t look better in bold. Just like everything doesn’t look better with more exclamation points!!!!!!!
Include the details in the body of your email or as a text file, don’t just send along a PDF. PDFs are difficult if not impossible to work with (remember, we writers are lazy) and copying and pasting from a PDF is near impossible. And no, we won’t be investing in Acrobat Pro anytime soon.
Photos are nice but please wait until you’re asked
The days of limited bandwidth and dial-up connections may be gone, but we really don’t want your big ass photo clogging up our inbox. We love pretty pictures just like the next person, but wait until we ask. Please.
Pay attention to what we ask for
We feel disrespected when you don’t read our emails. Just like we feel disrespected when we get a dirty look after eating the last piece of cake. When we ask for something specific there is usually a reason. And chocolate really is overrated. Now lemon … that my friends is a cake!
Keep your appointment
We’ve all read stories from theatre companies about actors who don’t bother to show up for auditions or, even more baffling, don’t respond to offers of a role (must be nice). Same goes for interviews. Unless your great aunt Sophie is dying or you just landed a role in one of the new Star Wars movies, there really is no excuse to miss an interview. Please forgive us if when you do call or acknowledge you missed an interview if we’re not bending over backwards to reschedule. Our time is just as valuable as yours. Actually, let me rephrase that … we think our time is more valuable.
Know your stuff
We crave sound bites, even if there is no actual sound. Come prepared for an interview. We’re usually prepared with questions. You should be prepared with some answers.
Promote the crap out of it
It is a two-way street. You finally got noticed – now it is time to make sure everyone else notices you got noticed. Sure media outlets are looking for great content for their readers, but don’t ignore the fact that an interview or a preview or a photo is your opportunity to sell, sell, sell. Don’t take Ronco’s advice and “set it and forget it”. Use it. To your advantage. Get your actors, your stage hands, your lighting gal, the guy that cleans your toilets to Tweet about it, Facebook about it, tell their friends about it. And then do it all over again. And again. Don’t let your hard work (or ours) go to waste.
Theatre professionals aren’t the only ones with egos. We love to be recognized and acknowledged too. Besides, you never know when you’re going to need us or when we come looking for a story.
Don’t be narrow-minded
Promote other stuff too. Okay, maybe not when you’ve got your own show running, but why not add your voice when you’re not out trying to generate some interest in your own event? Or if you don’t want to promote a specific show, why not promote the media outlets that actually do give a crap about the arts and write about it? The more the media outlets see people taking notice of their arts coverage the better chance it will be there for you next time you want to promote your show. Write to editors, television stations, your mother and tell them you liked what you saw and why don’t they do more of it? Support your fellow artists by promoting the crap out of their stuff too and they just might do the same thing in return. Unless of course, you’re promoting a production of Mamma Mia!, then you can keep that to yourself (my apologies if you’re a fan of Mamma Mia! but that too is a whole other conversation).
Listen to Deb and Julie
Deb Pickman (if you don’t know who that is you’ve been living under a rock) holds workshops on marketing, PR and how to write a good press release. Go, take i,t or seek her out and find out when she will be offering it again. Or pay her to teach you privately. Or beg her. We don’t care how you do it, but do it because she really knows what she talks about. And if you see Julie McIsaac, ask her about one of the best press releases I have ever read. She wrote most of it. About her own play. Mind you, she is a talented writer. But still, ask her about it. It went way beyond a short description of the show and a list of who was in it. We published it almost verbatim. And yes, I shamefully admit that I took the credit.
We’re in it to win it
I have been known to comment about the amazing talent and the array of arts happenings in Vancouver. I mean it. I love it. That is why I write about it. You should be proud too. I want everyone to experience live theatre, dance, music and the visual arts. I want our city’s arts community to thrive. We can do it. Together. And if that means promoting the Vancouver Symphony Orchestra playing at half-time during the next Monster Truck Rally at BC Place, then I’ll promote the crap out of it. You should too.
Remember that article by Christine Quintana that I mentioned at the beginning of this piece? Read it.
One more thing …
It really isn’t “so long”. You can’t get rid of me that easily. I’ve just always wanted to be able to play with that particular Douglas Adams quote from one of my favourite books.