Hints 'n' Tips | Visual Arts

Working the Media

When it comes to promoting the arts in Utah, visual artists often feel the media does not give enough attention to the ever-growing artist population and the events they try to promote. Sometimes it seems performing arts organizations such as the Utah Symphony/Opera, Ballet West and even University groups monopolize the arts sections. But, keep in mind, these organizations have their own marketing departments to write their press releases and have a long-standing tradition in the community. The big galleries in town receive a fair amount of media coverage, but they have their own people to write press releases as well. Unless you’re exhibiting at one of these big galleries or you have a personal marketing manager to handle your advertising, as an individual artist trying to promote your artwork, you are on your own.

Let’s say you’re perusing the arts section in the Sunday paper to see if the arts editor reviewed your group exhibit. You come across a concert review, a feature on Ballet West’s upcoming season and you learn Richard Paul Evans is writing another novel. Still searching for a visual arts article, you turn the page and see a feature on your exhibit, but you find the writer highlights so- and-so from the exhibit and barely mentions you or the other artists in the exhibit. Maybe a local magazine spotlighted so-and-so in its last issue and so-and-so got a small news story on KSL last night as well. Why are some artists lucky enough to get all the press and you get nothing?

It is probably not a matter of luck, but more a matter of knowing how to make the local media work for you. Reporters, radio programs and television stations rarely come to you wondering what you are up to these days. More often than not, they count on you to approach them with your story. Chances are the aforementioned so-and-so knew how to work the media through their press releases by considering three things: timing, presentation and communication.

I contacted several editors about this topic and each responded with an interest in educating artists on how to best approach the papers and magazines. Most expressed hope to write more feature articles on artists and increase the visibility of the visual arts in Utah. The newspapers make an effort to run a listing for every visual arts announcement they receive. But editors are bombarded with news releases and it goes without saying they choose to feature the ones that stand out. 

Because dozens of art exhibits open in Utah every month, simply announcing that you will be in an upcoming exhibit is not enough to catch the editor’s eye. Try asking yourself, “Is my event newsworthy?” Newsworthy events consist of things the community would be interested in or things they are concerned about already. According to recent surveys, the community’s top concerns are crime, kids, schools, roads and employment. If the content of your artwork fits within those parameters you’re set, but if not, there are other pegs to hang your event on. Contact the media when planning a painting demonstration, teaching new classes, building or renovating a new studio space, etc. These “events,” give you something to build a story on. Now that you have an interesting and unusual event, it’s time to present it to the media. 

There are various sources out there that will promote your event. You have your print media: the Salt Lake Tribune, Deseret News, City Weekly, Catalyst, The Event, Salt Lake City Magazine, Utah Homes and Gardens, etc. Several radio stations are required to run PSAs for free such as KRCL, KUER, KBYU and KCPW. KRCL even has a local arts program called Artspeak that welcomes suggestions for topics anytime. Your local television stations such as KSL, KUTV, FOX 13, KUED or KBYU might even be interested in spotlighting your event. And don’t forget the cyber media: websites such as CitySearch.com, OurCommunityConnection.com and ArtistsofUtah.com can reach a mass audience by announcing your event on their web pages and sometimes via e-mail. Here are several things to remember when preparing your press release:

1. Find your hook. Try to envision what the headline would be if you were chosen for a feature article. It should be something that would intrigue the readers and encourage them to read on. If you can somehow latch on to a local trend such as exhibiting in a new, hopping area or attempting to preserve the community through your artwork, you have your hook. If not, find something unusual about yourself: Did you quit a nine to five job after ten years to pursue your art career? Did you uproot your family and move to a rural town to focus on a certain art project or new path? Is this your first solo show after a long sabbatical? Once you have a hook, make sure you include some good, solid quotes either by you, a gallery director or someone else linked to your event. Quotes add credibility and help the reporter better understand your purpose.

2. Plan ahead. Mail, e-mail or fax press releases out at least two weeks before the event. This provides enough time for the writers/reporters to reach their deadlines so they can give you adequate time to advertise before your event is over. Make sure you provide the dates of your event and your contact information at the top of the press release.

3. Know whom you are targeting. When mailing your press releases, call the newspapers, magazines, radio stations, etc. to find out exactly who to address them to (rather than to “the editor”). That way they don’t get lost in the shuffle. 

4. Send pictures. Providing an image of your artwork, or better yet, an image of you at work is one way to make your press release stand out, but make sure it’s a good image. Editors won’t run images if the quality is poor. Not only does it make their publication look bad, it makes you look bad as well. Most papers/magazines will accept photo prints, slides, images on disks, and jpegs via e-mail. If you send digital images, make sure they are 300 dpi and 5 or 6 inches wide. Quality, color images definitely make the best impression, but if you can’t sacrifice your slides and photographs, send Xerox copies and note that slides or photographs are available upon request.

Once your press release is out there, try to follow-up with the media. As long as you are polite and not overly aggressive, reporters typically appreciate a reminder call and it can draw special attention to your press release. If the reporter does feature you and you like the story, be sure to drop them a thank-you note telling them so and maybe offer to be available for future interviews and stories. Keep in touch and build a relationship with any media you can.

Well-written press releases can make all the difference when you present them professionally. The more you are written about and the more you are quoted, the more believable you appear and the more likely other reporters will contact you as a source.

If you would like assistance writing your press release, please contact Laura at the Utah Arts Council’s Visual Arts Program at (801)533-3582 or e-mail her at ldurham@utah.gov 

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