You and your colleagues have worked hard to prepare an exhibit or installation that will showcase the artistic talents of many people. How do you make sure that the house is packed? A well-written press release that is sent to the right people and followed up with precision can result in tremendous publicity for your collaborative art event. This free marketing channel can bring awareness to potential attendees, and garner new supporters and other strategic partners who may not otherwise have been aware of your show or the participating artists.
There are variations of releases you can send to the media: a calendar listing, a standard media release and a feature-style media release. Submitting basic event information that a media outlet can publish in its calendar of events is a quick and easy way to attract an audience. (Click here for a sample calendar listing.) A standard media release announcing a show contains more information that a calendar listing and may bring more members of the media and art professionals to your event. A full-out, feature-style media release could see you on the cover of the “Metro” section of your daily paper. Media outlets, especially print media, have “little space for a story about artwork or artists, but there is tons of interest in feature articles,” states Diane Kline, director of marketing for the Regional Arts Commission in St. Louis. Decide which marketing tool(s) you want to use to bring media attention to your event.
Prepare to write a media release
An effective, attractive and enticing release requires preliminary work. Start by gathering ideas and information. First, take a piece of paper and write down the following words in a column: who, what, where, when and why. Next to each of the five Ws, fill in the blank with the information that the public needs to know. These are the major points of your story. Place your points in descending order from the most important to the least important.
For a feature-style media release, determine the angle, or “hook,” that makes your event unique. Perhaps everyone in the group used to have corporate positions before becoming full-time artists. A human interest slant, community connection, or tie-in to recent news can make your release more attractive to the media. You will also want to compile bios of the participating artists. Request these and any artist, curator or director quotes during the initial planning stages and you will save time later.
Write and format the release
A media release is formatted with one-inch margins, double-spacing, size 10 or 12 font and basic typeface (Times New Roman, Courier or Ariel). If letterhead is available, use it. In the upper left-hand margin, type “FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE” in all caps. Either below that or on the right-hand margin, include contact information: the name, title, phone and fax numbers, and e-mail address of whomever is sending the press release (this is likely you).
Next comes the headline, which should be a catchy, short, one-line summary, kept in an active voice and typed in all capital letters. A good headline will grab attention; a bad headline could mean that your release is headed for the trash bin without ever being read.
The lead paragraph is preceded by the location city and state, and the release date. The first 10 to 15 words of the first paragraph are a slightly more detailed summary of the story. The body of the release contains the five Ws, in descending order as listed on your sheet of paper. The body should contain factual, pertinent information, yet still be interesting to read. Using quotes is a way to provide information in a lively manner and put a face to the show’s participants or lead organizer.
Lastly, you may want to include “boilerplate” information: a brief summary about your organization and an acknowledgment of groups, individuals, businesses or foundations that provide support. You may wish to include a photo directly related to the story, along with a suggested caption. Close the release with the characters ###, a style convention that denotes the end of the release. (Compare a sample media release with a sample feature-style media release.)
Read and revise
Re-read your release. Check your release for the following:
- Grammar and spelling mistakes
- Clear, simple language
- Interesting to read
- Reads like news, not advertising
- Brevity. Limit the length of the release to one page; tops, one and a half pages. Reporters and editors are busy people; they will rarely read beyond the first few paragraphs.
- Vital details are included: event name, location, date and time or hours, ticket prices, a reservation phone number, as well as media contact information.
- The release is written in the way that you would like to see it reported
- Conformity to Associated Press (AP) style. Newspapers commonly use AP style. You can purchase a copy of The Associated Press Stylebook or study the publication that you are targeting and try to match their style.
Ask a friend or colleague to read the release. A second pair of eyes can catch typos and help you to make the release more interesting. Give a copy to anyone involved with the event who needs to give approval, but stipulate a deadline for responding with changes so that you can release the final version in a timely fashion.
Send the release
Who should be on the mailing list? That depends on what sector of the public will be interested in your event. Narrow down the media outlets — metropolitan daily newspapers, regional art magazines, alternative press and free weekly papers, college and neighborhood newspapers, television and radio stations, online art listings and online publications that review art exhibits, freelance art writers — to include those that cater to your target audience.
Always send the release with a recipient’s name and professional title, rather than addressing it to an unnamed “editor.” Be sure that you are sending it to the correct person; the more you target the right reporter or section of the newspaper, the closer you are to identifying the staff person who would be most interested in your release. Some daily newspapers have special sections for particular neighborhoods so you may need to send a release to the citywide editor and the local editor. Otherwise, only send the release to one person per media outlet. Many art councils list area media contacts on their Web site. You can also find staff information by visiting a particular media organization’s Web site or call and ask the receptionist for the name of the editor of the section that you think would most be interested in assigning your story (features editor, arts editor, etc.). Then ask to speak with that person, introduce yourself, and alert him that you will be sending a release to his organization.
Press releases can be faxed, mailed, e-mailed or hand-delivered. Submitting your media release by e-mail is fast and free, but some media outlets, prefer to receive a hard copy by mail or a fax. (Check with your media contacts to find out what form they favor.) If you send it via-email, keep the subject line short. A few other changes that you may want to make for e-mailed releases: Be sure the release is replete with keywords and phrases that will optimize search engine results. Create links in the release to send your target audience to a landing page on the group or event Web site. Capitalize only the initial letter and proper nouns in the headline rather than every letter; place contact information below the text of the release so as not to take up precious first screen space; paste the release into the body of the e-mail, but you could include a PDF attachment (name the file “MEDIA_RELEASE_[event name].pdf”) so that users can print it or post it on a bulletin board. Using mail merge as opposed to BCC allows each e-mail to be personalized; BCC is a spam tip-off and your release could be filtered automatically without ever being seen.
Send your release to daily newspapers and radio stations eight days to two weeks in advance; weekly newspapers two to three weeks in advance; monthly publications two to three months in advance; television stations 10 days to two weeks in advance. Expect zero publicity if you send it eleventh hour.
As the contact person, it is your job to call those on the distribution list. You can politely ask whether the person has any questions about the information. Be prepared with talking points to emphasize the news value of the release for the audience of that particular media outlet, even offer the chance for a photo opportunity at the event or beforehand.
It is important to establish good media relations. If a reporter covers your story, you should send a thank-you note promptly. If your event didn’t get media coverage, you could send post-event highlights and photos. Don’t be discouraged if your story doesn’t go to print. The media are limited by time and space and can’t cover everything. Follow up to see if the editor has suggestions on how to improve your submissions. Over time, submitting good news releases to the same publication will cultivate familiarity and increase your chances of getting future coverage.
Special thanks to the Regional Arts Commission and the organization’s executive director, Jill McGuire, for their contributions to this article.