Take some pictures
Before you even start, make sure you have good quality, colour images available as high res for print.
Andrew Kay is creative director of Brighton magazine Latest7, and for him this is a basic. “If you haven’t got pictures, you shouldn’t have sent the press release,” he says. “Especially for the arts, without an image you’re not going to capture anyone’s imagination.
Don't get carried away with Photoshop – editors want clear images free of text, filters or logos. “It's a good idea to invest in some decent shots done by a proper photographer,” says Kelly Buckley, arts correspondent on Essex daily the Echo. “A good photo is more likely to get used and bring attention to your editorial.”
Craft your headline and intro
“Try and sum up the sexiest bits of a press release in the headline and first line,” recommends Tracy Jones, Head of Press at the National Gallery. “Caption the document with that sexy line and then also use it as the subject line of the email you send the press release out in,” she says.
“It's all about getting people to open it and read on.”
Get the content right
Not too long, not too short, useful quotes, the right information – getting your press release copy right can seem like an overwhelming challenge. But the basics are simple.
“Number one and most important of all – have a story,” says Tracy. “There is nothing worse than fluff and spin. Keep it absolutely no longer than one page. It must be grammatically perfect – nothing looks worse that incorrect punctuation or sloppy spelling, it blows your credibility out of the water. Aim for at least two quotes, ideally from different people, it makes it more 'cut and paste-able' for a journalist.”
“It can be tempting to use lots of flowery words and descriptions to explain yourself,” says Kelly. “Remember a reporter's job is to take information and tell the public about it in layman's terms. If the reporter's on deadline and hasn't got time to decipher your arty cryptic jargon, they just won't use it. Keep to the point using plain, simple English.”
For Andrew, getting all the information in is key. “Divide it up,” he advises. “Say what the event is, then tell them about the company, then separately give every single piece of practical information including images. I need to know what it is, when, where, how much tickets are and where to book.” And don’t forget your contact details so that the journalist can get in touch.
Your headline's snappy, your images are ready in a DropBox folder and you've checked your grammar. But you can still shoot yourself in the foot by sending your arts release to the political reporter, or leaving it too late.
“Send it as far in advance as possible and follow up with a phonecall,” recommends Kelly. Andrew agrees. “It’s so frustrating getting a press release, thinking, ‘This looks great, I’d love to interview them,’ then realising, ‘Damn, it’s in three days time and my deadline was last week’,” he says.“Find out what the deadline for magazines and newspapers are.”
Tracy uses a media search tool to maintain contacts, but you don't need anything that high-tec. “Just look at your media to see who is writing stories like yours, or call them up and ask who is the right person to send it to,” she says. Simple.
In Focus: Press release checklist
Make sure you've included all the right information before you hit send.
What is it? Make sure the name of your play or exhibition is in there.
Who's doing it? Be sure to include your band name, theatre company or artist.
Where is it? Don't forget the venue, with full address including street name.
When is it? Include the dates of all performances, including matinees and specific opening times.
How much does it cost? Make sure you've put ticket prices, along with any concessions on there – and include a box office number or link for booking.
Contact details. After all that effort, make sure the journalist can get in touch with you if they want to arrange an interview or check any details.
Images. Absolutely key. Do not send blurry, black and white, un-useably tiny images. They're every arts journalist's bête noire, and they will probably hit delete.
Need more help? Check out our handy press release template.
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Image by MJM, on a Creative Commons license.