Hints 'n' Tips | Visual Arts

“Free” Publicity Through News Releases

If there’s no such thing as a “free” lunch, there’s no such thing as “free” publicity, either. Although you’re not paying for expensive ad space, getting your name, project, or exhibit into the editorial content of a publication takes some time and effort. However, once you learn how to do it, you can set up a system that will make it easier each time you do it.

The Basic Realities of Publishing
Just as the “circular file” was where most news releases ended up before the email era, the delete key is a reporter’s best sorting device today. Almost any reporter will tell you he/she receives far more releases or story pitches than they could possibly fit in the newspaper or magazine. Knowing what the reporter needs and what will make your release more compelling than dozens of others is your key to success. Here are the reporter’s basic needs:

Timeliness – Unlike the daily news section of the paper, where tonight’s fire is tomorrow’s headline, the arts sections are usually planned and prepared well in advance. That means you can’t expect to send a release on Wednesday and see the information in Sunday’s arts section. I asked Julie Checkoway at the Salt Lake Tribune and Dave Gagon at the Deseret News how far in advance they prefer to receive releases and both said at least two weeks. Gagon adds, “If it’s a huge event, one month [in advance].”

If you are aiming for a weekly or monthly publication, call and ask how far ahead they need information. Some magazines plan 3-6 months ahead.

Complete information in concise form – Next time you read a news article note that all the basic facts – who, what, when, where – are in the first paragraph. Reporters will love you if you organize your release the same way. In fact, you can help them even more if you put that basic information in bullets at the beginning of your release, like this:

What – XYZ Gallery presents “Tribal Cultures” – new works in mixed media by Trader Johns

When – July 1 – 31, with artist’s reception during Gallery Stroll, July 18, 6-9 p.m.

Where – XYZ Gallery, 100 Main St., Anytown, UT

Information – www.xyzgallery.com, 801-222-5555

Once you have all that information in bullets, you can add pertinent background in paragraph form. What is unique about this exhibit or the artist? Is the theme of the exhibit related to a current issue? Does the artist use media in a different way? Has the artist created the work in an unusual place or under unusual circumstances?

You are ultimately trying to hook the reader’s interest to come to your exhibit, but first you must hook the reporter. A caution – while making it interesting, stick to the facts and don’t make it flowery. Says Gagon, “Don’t praise yourself too much. You’d be surprised how often I get words like “masterpiece” in an artist’s release. Just tell me in a straight fashion what you’ve got – preferably with a photo or two of the work – and let me decide how to run it.”

Checkoway advises, “[The release] has to have a story if you want a story. I can’t just write about it if it merely exists in time and space. What’s the story?”

It’s also a good idea to know what kind of article you’re aiming for. You must be really honest with yourself as you consider: How newsworthy is this, really? Out of all the artists, exhibits, events around town, how do I stack up? If you really only expect a paragraph in the Sunday art events listings, then, write the release that way. But if honestly feel you have a compelling story, then spend the time to write and re-write your release until it communicates the interest and excitement of your story (in as few words as possible).

If it’s a longer, feature article you’re aiming for, give the reporter some bulleted story angles that he/she can expand on. You can even set these apart in your release under a subhead – “Potential Story Angles.”

Good Visuals – Both Gagon and Checkoway emphasize the importance of good quality photos of your work, sent as attachments in jpeg format. Checkoway recommends a high resolution image measuring at least 1500 pixels on at least one side. If you’re a novice with digital photography and programs like Photoshop that let you resize your image, ask someone for help. A poor photograph is not going to persuade the reporter to feature your work.

Easy-to-read text format – Have you ever received an email that uses some obscure, small, hard-to-read font or a distracting background color or pattern? Don’t try to be cute with your formatting. Just send the release in text (not html) format in the body of the email message. There was a time when reporters would not open attachments due to concerns about computer virus contamination. Gagon says an attachment in Microsoft Word is OK, but Checkoway still prefers all information (except jpeg photos) in the body of the email message.

Your News Release Toolkit
A little advance planning to set up a system for sending news releases will make the job easier.

Think of this as your toolkit:

· A computer with a word processor and Internet access
· An up-to-date list of arts reporters and/or editors
· A news release template
· Quality digital photos of your work
· All the facts about you, your work, your exhibit, event, etc.

You can build your list of arts reporters or editors by going to the publications’ web sites and browsing through the staff directory, or you can look on the pages of the publication and note the bylines and email addresses that often appear with the articles. Rather than creating a group list to broadcast your release to all publications, I recommend sending your release one by one, specifically addressed to each reporter. This takes a bit more time but it’s more personal.

Your news release template will include the following:

1. Your contact name and phone number. Be prepared to be responsive to a reporter’s calls. Carry your phone with you to take calls, or respond immediately if a reporter leaves a message. Remember that reporters have tight deadlines.

2. Title – Say what the release is about in one line.

3. Key facts – This is your “who, what, when, where” bullets mentioned earlier.

4. Body of release – A little more information and background to help the reporter understand and write about the importance and relevance of your exhibit, event, etc., to the publication’s audience.

5. Boilerplate – This is usually a paragraph or two that might be used in every release you send out. If you have a gallery, it may be background about the mission of the gallery, how long it has been in operation, hours that it’s open, etc. If your releases are coming from you, the artist, the boilerplate might be taken from your artist statement – the meaning/purpose of your work, your medium, education or training, and the galleries that represent you.

Once you’ve written a release with these components, save it on your computer, and use it as a template for your next release, changing items 2, 3, and 4 to reflect your new announcement. Give each new release its own file name so that you can find it easily on your computer.

Be sure to proof your release for misspellings and typos, which detract from your credibility. Also, read it as though you were someone who is potentially interested in, but clueless, about the local arts scene. Don’t use jargon or leave out information that you just assume someone should know. Look for the following: Did you specify the location of the event? The date and times? The cost, if any? Is your project or event appropriate for all ages (If it is, you may not need to say so, but if it is for “mature audiences,” you should say so.)? Is there anything else the public needs to know about your work, project, or event?

When you’re ready to send your release to publications, copy and paste it into the body of your email message, individually addressed to each reporter. Don’t forget to attach one or more high-resolution digital images of your work.

Releases for Broadcast Media
I don’t see much arts coverage on local television, but here are a few tips for writing and sending releases for broadcast.

First, if you don’t have a story that’s very visually interesting and unusual, don’t bother sending it. But, let’s say you do have something unusual – the SaltgrassPrintmakers’ steamroller printing in the parking lot; or a bunch of artists gathering to paint a building; or professional artists working with kids; or artists working with refugees – most of the process for writing or sending the release is the same. Here’s what I’d add:

· A list of the people involved; perhaps not individual names unless they’re well known, but the types of people, who they represent, or where they’re from

· A vivid description of the visual elements of the event – what a TV camera could capture

· Names and descriptions of those who could be interviewed on camera

Send broadcast releases to the assignment desks at TV stations. If you know a TV reporter who is particularly interested in covering the arts, send the release to that person as well.

No guarantees
Unlike an advertisement, which gives you control over the design, content, and date, a news release provides no guarantees. Even if you do everything right – the writing, photos, and distribution – your material might not make it into the newspaper or magazine. Remember you are competing for limited space in the publication and the reporter or editor must decide which of the many story ideas they receive will be most interesting to readers or viewers. However, meeting the reporters’ needs for timeliness and thorough but concise and well- written information will increase your chances of success.

Categories: Hints 'n' Tips | Visual Arts

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