Signposts For The Altered Media Landscape

This year saw a further decline in arts coverage from coast to coast. Metropolitan New York opened up seats on Broadway press nights when two-time New York Drama Critics Circle President Michael Sommers and four-time Drama Desk President Peter Filichia took buyouts from Newark’s Star-Ledger. Buyouts at the Los Angeles Times left the film studios’ hometown paper picking up reviews from the Chicago Tribune.

It’s happening all over. After departures of more than a half-dozen critics left arts desks in South Florida nearly deserted, the Miami Herald, Fort Lauderdale Sun-Sentinel and Palm Beach Post entered into an unprecedented content sharing agreement including arts coverage.

The only good news for arts publicists is that electronic press lists are easier to update than rolodex cards. This is uncharted territory yet old strategies and creative, new thinking point the way to publicizing arts clients.

Celebrity Sells: One of the oldest weapons in the arsenal takes on even more importance as the nation’s appetite for celebrities can move news beyond the arts pages. Even when your event has little news value, riding on the past work and name recognition of a celebrity can put you in the spotlight.

Word of Mouse: This year, an independent producer presented a return engagement of a hit musical that had closed barely eight months earlier at the same venue after we had generated substantial media coverage. With tickets to sell and scant media opportunities, we went directly to the public with a strong digital strategy which included identifying Facebook users interested in the show’s subject matter and genre and presented them with a target pitch and ticket offers. Similar outreach can be made to community organizations providing them with customized e-mail blasts for their memberships. Traditional media outreach should include video and sound bites cleared for media posting whenever possible.

Hyper-Local Hype: Never overlook booking interviews on local network affiliates but dig deeper into electronic media. Some independent adult living communities, catering to a strong audience demographic for live performances, offer closed-circuit television and radio shows. Sponsorships with local cable providers can deliver multiple airings of arts interviews throughout any given month.

Serve Side Dishes: The meat and potatoes story may no longer find anyone at the arts desk able to cover it. Dig through biographies of those involved for local angles and check the calendar for holidays or seasonal evergreen stories that can add extra news value to events. Such strategies will land clients in the local, business, society, food and sports sections of the dailies.

More for the Media’s Money: The concept of pitching a client to the media as part of a trend story in which others are also offering similar activities is common and worth tweaking slightly to create your own combo pack to increase news value. The upcoming dance program may share a score with a scheduled concert and feature costumes designed by next month’s opera company’s creative team. When the media says there is too much going on to budget space for a story on your one event, be ready to pitch how a single writer can fill one news hole with three events.

Expand the Shelf Life: Movie studios pioneered generating pre-opening buzz yet many arts clients have institutional brands that need continuing coverage to support future projects. It is important to have a frank discussion with clients about their perception of a successful campaign. For visual artists whose top priority is to have their work seen and create a dialogue with patrons, consider establishing a Web page with a publishing platform for blogging and creating artist-guided tours of their studios or exhibitions on YouTube.

Stoke The Fires Of Raving Fans: Whether faced with generating revenue for capital campaigns or box office sales, arts clients must regularly communicate with all stakeholders to keep them engaged and invested. Suggest the client create e-blasts and e-zines with your help on message crafting while continuing to pursue the traditional channels of feature stories, profiles and reviews.

Photo Opps With Benefits: Another tried-and-true tactic of photo opportunities in the community can gain extra mileage by choosing groups with social networks and communication channels of their own to help spread your message. In addition to furnishing them with a client appearance, make sure they have materials for their digital and print communications.

If You Can’t Steal It, Buy It: Real estate publicists are old hands at writing copy for special advertising sections. Cash strapped media are now more willing to create partnerships in the community. By having a client join a neighborhood marketing council, we were able to secure five features we created and wrote in a weekly newspaper serving the target audience. As newsrooms continue to shrink, there is more and more added value and co-promotional opportunities to be found.

Originally published in O’Dwyer’s PR Report

By Savannah Whaley
Senior Vice President at Pierson Grant Public Relations