Thursday, April 4, 2013

How to Approach Press (If You Wish to Be Successful)

"I hope you can step up and give us some publicity [for our show that opens in four days]."
I don't make a habit of talking PR shop on my songwriting blog but Ronni Reich recently shared the above "pitch" she received, and I thought I'd take this opportunity as a teachable moment. That pitch exemplifies a few common misconceptions many folks have about interfacing with press, so here are some pro tips for how to properly orient oneself:
 1. A journalist's responsibility is to her audience, not to you. It does not matter how important, interesting, or relevant something is to you (or to your client!); it matters how important, interesting, and relevant something is to her audience/the world, and most specifically to her editor. Those curatorial decisions are hers to make and that is why you are contacting her.

Make the best case for why the project/story might be of interest to her/her outlet and equip her with all of the info she needs to make that case to her editor.
2. A journalist doesn't "give you publicity." If you want to make a journalist cringe, approach her as if you're asking a sleazy favor or as if she owes you something. There is an entire code of ethics devoted to this. You are not asking for help or for a favor, and you are certainly not passive-aggressively demanding what's owed you.

Respectfully ask for (and thank her for) her consideration.
3. Timing is everything. They call it "news" for a reason: it's timely. It happens in cycles and on deadlines. Different outlets book or close content on different timelines but we're talking months/weeks ahead for arts coverage, not days. And certainly never after the fact. ("We released an album last fall, will you review it?" = That's not news. "We have a Festival next week, will you cover it? = Booked already. Not a chance.) A great project pitched too late = no story at all. Period.
Know the production schedule of the outlet you're pitching. Be early, be on time.
4. In general, follow the Golden Rule. If you want a journalist to read/watch/listen to your work, then you need to read/watch/listen to hers first. Give her the careful consideration, attention, and respect you would like to receive in return. Pay attention to her interests, preferences, style, columns. In the age of Google, Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, Pinterest, there is no excuse for being uninformed when making contact with a journalist.
Read/watch/listen to a journalist's work before making contact and pitch her (or refrain from pitching her) accordingly. All the time. Every single time.
Obviously, this isn't everything. PR is a full-time job and a field of specialty in itself. Don't have time to keep up with thousands of media contacts' personal preferences, deadlines, schedules, outlets, and recent work? That's why you hire a publicist! But these are my quick late-night offerings, for the win, for the world. 

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