Happy April, friends! The IAF is thrilled to have independent marketing and PR professional Eleanor Lang as a guest blogger for a four-part series on publicity. Yes, that nebulous skill necessary for any artist, but particularly for interstitial ones. Check back each week for the next installment. Thank you, Eleanor!
Publicity 101 : Why you want it and how to get it.
This, the first of four blog posts about publicity, is about the basic concept and the most basic of functions, getting attention for an upcoming publication, performance or product. Other topics, including the grey area of social media, will be covered later in the month.
Publicity. Everyone wants it, even if they’re vague about what it is. Here’s something it’s not: free. Never. Publicity is earned editorial media coverage. It’s also unpredictable. Advertising is purchased. You buy the space and decide the image, text and message you want. Your money, your choice. Publicity in its purest form is editorial. If you could buy it, the cost per unit of measurement would far exceed that of an ad. However, editors and writers are under no obligation to say what you want them to. Once that book has been sent or the reviewer is watching your play, there is nothing you can do to control the outcome. Relax. Seriously. You can control your own work, but not how an audience will react to it. Do your best work. Think ahead. And down the line you’ll want a plan for damage control, but not this week.
It’s said that all publicity is good publicity, but unless you’re Kim Kardashian and you just want to be famous, this isn’t true. You want to be known for your fantastic novels or your thought-provoking films, or whatever you do, not for your shoes. Unless, of course, you happen to be a shoe designer. Be clear about why you want publicity. Maybe you have an upcoming book or event, or you need to increase your name recognition or status in your field because you’re applying for a grant or submitting your work for a juried award. Maybe you want to move backlist or revitalize a lagging career. Whatever the reason, think it through; anything you do in publicity or marketing should be done for a reason.
Refine your message. In business, there’s something referred to as the elevator pitch. If you’ve ever gone in search of grants or funding, you’ve done it. This is how you explain your concept in the time it takes an elevator to get to a high floor, maybe 30-45 seconds. It’s not just that people’s attention spans are short, which they are, but you need to be that confident, that sure of your message. You want your message to be consistent, even if your work is varied. This is also important later, when you pitch and follow up. Talking to editors and journalists is like speed dating the media; you get 30 seconds to prove that you’re worth another date.
Assuming that you have an upcoming book, product or event and you’ve thought about your message, you’ll need basic materials to get the word out. The most basic unit of information is a press release. Witty prose and brilliant writing are good, but for the purposes of the release, short, preferably no more than a page, and containing clear information is more important. Both contact information and event/publication information should be in an easy to find and clearly identifiable place. No one wants to read three paragraphs to figure out the name of your book. If you haven’t hooked the editor in the first paragraph, some say the first sentence, it’s highly unlikely that they’ll continue reading. It’s speed dating all over again, but in writing.
You’ll want a pitch letter to go with that release. Again, short and to the point, but this is your opportunity to customize it, reminding the editor of where you met or pointing out the connection to an upcoming holiday or an ongoing and timely event. Think of it like a cover letter for your resume.
Depending on whether you are looking to be included in the listings for events or if you’re looking for interview or feature coverage, you may want additional materials as well. Common materials include a Q&A, quote sheet and/or past reviews and material about your particular subject or area of expertise. This is a judgment call and there is no easy rule to follow, expect that you don’t want to overburden an editor with too much paper or too many attachments, and you should be ready to send more information if asked. Once again, have a clear assessment of your publicity goals and be realistic.
If you’re wondering whether to send that concise, informative and interesting release by e-mail or the United States Postal service, well, it depends. In many, if not most cases, editorial contacts will be clear about their preferences for receiving submissions. Do what they want and be prepared to resend or send additional information via another method, if they change their minds.
Your message, event and your well-crafted release are worthless if they don’t get into the right hands, so you’ll need a contact list, and you’ll need to keep it current. You probably already have an idea of the most important publications in your field. For an event, you’ll want a locally based list of publications and the events and review editors, who might or might not be the same. If you have a particular subject, arranged marriage, for instance, you’ll need to think beyond the arts page to figure out what media people might be interested. You’ll need to do research. Here are some good steps.
-Learn your industry, if you don’t already know it. Find out which publications cover serious games, for example.
-Buy newspapers, magazines or look at online publications. Take a look at the masthead to find out who the editor or writer is for your area of interest.
-If it’s not obvious, or even if it seems to be, call to confirm. Increasingly, publications don’t want calls and if a number isn’t listed, send an e-mail inquirery. Phone or e-mail, keep it short and to the point: “I just wanted to know who covers dance events for your publication. Thanks, and you can reach me at this e-mail address.”
-Ask if your publisher or event sponsor will share contact information if you’re willing to do the work.
-If you’re feeling a little flush, consider professional media databases. Cision and Vocus are the gold standards, but they’re expensive. On the plus side, all information you could ever want is available to you online and it’s possible to generate lists by category, location or many other combinations and preferred method of contact will also be listed. You can do an electronic mailing from these lists directly from your computer. On the minus side, they’re expensive, and you may still need to call or e-mail to verify potential contacts and the areas they cover.
Different publications have different lead times, and you’ll need to be aware of that as well. Again, Cision and Vocus will list this information, but it’s common sense. A monthly magazine will have a several month lead time, so you wouldn’t contact them for a theatrical event next week, and an online publication updates frequently, so you wouldn’t want to contact them today for something that will occur three months from now. Readers, like editors, have a short attention span and many things competing for their attention and their money. You want your information in the hands of the consumer close enough to the date of the release or event to generate excitement, long enough to plan. Depending on the type of art you’re publicizing, you probably want readers to see your information a week or two in advance.
A final note for today is that bestseller lists are always a function of sales in relation to time, which is to say that if you sell 100,000 books in a year, you are unlikely to make lists. Sell 100,000 in a week and you’re a bestseller. This is why bibles and cookbooks seldom show up on general bestseller lists, and once again, it’s a reminder to know your goals.
Next week I’ll talk about the pitch, the follow-up, media training and damage control.
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