Press Release Tips

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{Header image courtesy Pixabay and used under a Creative Commons Public Domain license.}

Note: this article was previously published in the December 2005 issue of KC Stage Magazine as a Stage Savvy column (link no longer active). I’m posting as a part of Throwback Thursday, as while some of this has changed in the 12 years since I wrote it, some of this is still relevant.

So, you’ve been assigned to do publicity for your arts organization. Or, you’ve been doing publicity for a few years, but don’t seem to see any improvement in responses — either by the media or the audience. Here are some basic tips to writing press releases.

Make sure you have all the vital information. Let’s state the obvious up front — no one’s going to come to your show if your press release doesn’t have the basics of the production name, the author, where the show is taking place, when (dates AND show times), and how much of their pocket money it’s going to take. You’d think this wouldn’t need to be stated, but you’d be surprised how many press releases get sent out lacking one, more, or in a few rare cases almost all of these vital bits of information.

Your website is vital to any kind of publicity campaign. While sending just the website isn’t necessarily going to help (after all, why make the media go that extra step to find the vital information asked for above), it does need to be included if the media (or audience) want more information about your organization. Also, the website should have an online version of the press release in an easy-to-copy format. After all, a media outlet may be more likely to snag your press release if all they have to do is copy and paste.

A screencap of KC Starlight’s press area of their website.

Speaking of the internet, most press releases are preferred when sent via email versus mail or fax (again, easy to cut and paste on behalf of the media). However, in today’s world of spam and viruses, it should never be an attachment (if you have pictures, mention it in the body of the press release and send them to the website), and the subject line should have the words “Press Release” first, and separated out — either with a dash or bracketing.

Be sure to have a hook for the production. As stated in a previous “Stage Savvy” column, the simple fact that a theatre is doing a show is, in and of itself, not news — any more than a bank offering a low interest rate or a restaurant presenting a new item on the menu. Find a reason that the publication would print your organization’s press release over the myriad of others to choose from. Is there someone in the cast new to the world of theatre? Or for that matter, someone who’s been around so long he or she is almost a legend? Why did your organization choose that specific play? Did it have a special meaning to someone? Does it touch a sensitive issue? Does the director, or one of the tech people, have any special connection to the show? Remember what gets you to see a production, and ask others at your art organization what gets them. Whatever hook it is, it needs to be in the first paragraph of the press release, and preferably in the subject line / title as well.

You can also create a different hook for different publications — say one of your actors is from Lawrence, Kansas, but your company is in downtown Kansas City — create a special press release for the Lawrence Journal-World highlighting that actor and making the ‘hometown connection’.

Image courtesy Pixabay and used under a Creative Commons Public Domain license.

Write the press release like a news story — there’s nothing more detrimental than making the media redo the release from scratch. The basic “Who:”, “What:”, “Where:”, “When:” lineup is better for a ‘second round’ press release — something sent a little closer to the opening of the show as a reminder only — or as a ‘calendar-only’ entry, for the places wanting just a simple entry for a list of events. However, make sure to keep it short — after all, something two pages long isn’t going to catch much interest in a pile of other press releases only four paragraphs.

Make sure you have plenty of lead time for your press releases. The Pitch requires three weeks. Kansas City Star‘s calendar requires two weeks. KC Stage requires the calendar information to be in the tenth of the month prior to publication. The more lead time, the better — but you don’t want to go so far into the future as to get it lost (or, better yet, send out the basic calendar listing way in advance, and something more detailed a little closer to the opening date).

Finally, to tie it back to the beginning, while the editors realize you think your show is the best thing since Cats (or Wicked, for that matter), keep the opinions to a minimum. If you have reviews from past shows (relating to the current show in director, cast, or style), feel free to utilize them — but don’t go so overboard with the praise and enthusiasm that it sounds more like an advertisement and less like an article. Keep things in perspective, remember what it’s probably like on the other end, and above all — remember what all you respond to in order to get you to see a show.