What to Consider
Publicity is an essential tool in your campaign. Readers typically view news stories as a credible source of information because they are disseminated by an unbiased third party. In this same regard, you have no control over what is covered, so the information you send out must be flawless.
You must separate advertising the performance from promoting the news story. This may seem subtle, but it is a crucial point. If the editor thinks you are only trying to sell tickets through your news story, you will greatly offend their integrity and lose any hope for coverage of the event.
The main difference between advertising and publicity is that because advertising is purchased media, the buyer has control over the placement, timing, and content of the ad. Because publicity is earned (free) media, the organization does not have control over timing or placement of the news coverage. By giving the reporter accurate and straightforward information, the organization can influence the content of the news story.
- Create a communication plan (schedule of publicity efforts is a vital element of the entire marketing plan)
- Set the goals (how will you publicize, how many people will you reach)
- Set a budget (be realistic and watch for hidden costs)
- Decide on your organization’s representative (point person)
You will need a list of media contacts in your area. If you don’t already have one, you’ll need to develop one. It should include:
- Community newsletters
- Church bulletins
- Community listings
- Colleges and community colleges listings
Call the organization and ask to whom you should direct your information, what is the best day to send the release, and how much lead to provide the person. This will help you formalize when to send them the information.
The press kit should include:
- A nice folder that has logo and contact number
- Organization fact sheet
- Director’s bios
- Current press release
- Past news articles about your organization
- A pullout of facts, highlights, or notable quotes about the organization
- A business card of the person in charge of publicity
Impress the Press
Evaluate the “news value” of your story. How will this story help the news editor fulfill their mission, which is to offer fresh, relevant, exciting, and entertaining news to their public? (Remember: The intent of publicity isn’t to sell tickets to your event!) When evaluating which story to tell, remember what you think is interesting may not be the most important story to tell. How does this affect your community? Why should they care? Human interest stories will win the space in the paper.
Include a human interest or visually stunning photo. A photo is worth a thousand words. So many times the image is displayed and the story is left out. It is better to have a great picture with a caption than a story buried in the middle of the paper with no picture. When you are promoting a visual art form, images are everything.
Writing the Release
The most important elements are:
- Keep it short
- Answer the five W’s – who, what, where, when, and why
- Tell where to buy tickets
The three parts to a press release:
- The headline is the lead and the body of the story. It must be bold and catch the eye of the editor.
- The first paragraph is called the lead. It summarizes all the facts of the story, answers the five W’s, and is short and concise.
- The body of the press release is where you will add substance to your five W’s. A quote is always a nice touch. The supporting points should be put in descending order of importance. When the editor/reporter runs out of space (or time), they often stop reading your release. Do not put crucial information in the last paragraph.
At the end, close with your performance dates, time, and ticket information. Add your sponsors’ information as promised by your development team. Double and triple check all the facts!! Editors hate to be wrong. Even if it is your error on the release, you tarnish their credibility and the reputation of the news organization when they publish wrong information.
The presentation of the release and photograph is just as important as the content. Some simple rules:
- One-sided, double-spaced, plain, easy-to-read font, no typos or misspelled words
- Use your 8.5″ x 11″ letterhead or special “Press Release” stationery that displays your organization’s logo
- Use paper clips, not staples
- Timing is everything (plan the delivery of your press releases to ensure the most coverage)
- Keep a copy for your files
- Address it to the appropriate editor
- Once in a while, you can send little gifts with the releases to draw extra attention to them. For instance, Ballet Austin sent out specially wrapped ginger cookies with our announcement of which community celebrities were playing the role of “Mother Ginger” in their upcoming performances of the Nutcracker.
- Never “doubleplant” (give the same story to two different people at the same place)
After sending the release, call and introduce yourself. Verify they received the information and welcome any questions they may have in the future. You should always follow-up with a phone call, e-mail, or both. Never assume they received it.
see Template for Press Release (PDF) and Sample Press Releases (PDF)
There can be several events preceding the performance date that would be great human interest stories on the news. The media alert is much different from a press release. It is very brief, and you will want to promote the visual opportunity and why this is important in the community. Often news programs close and open each segment with a local, visually appealing image, and that is the spot you are trying to win. Send the media alert to your contacts and be sure to follow up with several phone calls. Make sure the station also has your press release for the story lead-in.
see Template (PDF) and Sample Media Alert (PDF)
Television morning shows and interviews on the radio enable you to reach a broad audience. These interviews usually book three weeks in advance, so check your calendar and schedule accordingly. You may be setting up the interview for yourself or for a celebrity (i.e, the artist). You should plan on accompanying this person to the interview. Either way, try to be a little early.
see When Being Interviewed
Things to bring with you:
- Video footage tape or a CD of the music (make sure that it is cued)
- A press release or a bulleted sheet of interesting facts to talk about
- An easy-to-read list of the dates, times, venue, and how to purchase tickets
From the Ballet Austin Tool-kit