Working with a Publicist

How to Increase Your Chances of Landing Press Coverage (and Make Your Publicist Love You)

What the best clients do to get more pitching – and more press.

We’ve been doing a lot of PR lately, from nonprofit arts projects to for-profit businesses.  And I’ve noticed that certain clients, regardless of the nature of their projects, make it easier for us to get them press coverage.  And since write-ups are the holy grail of projects these days, I thought I’d share their secrets with you.

The #1 way to maximize your chances for coverage?  Trust your press reps to do their job.  The time to hash out goals, strategy, and timeline is at the beginning of the promotional period, not on Draft 7 of the press release or in the middle of the night on email a week before launch.

The collaborative nature of new projects can work for us, but at times, against us.  A creative environment inspires us to have ideas about more than just our own role, and some of the best results come from the synergy of a group.  But the bottom line is that we all have a specific job to do, and when resources like time and money are limited, letting each member of your team run with his respective area of expertise is the wisest way to reach the finish line successfully.

Communications is all about strategy.  If you have an internal communications department, they undoubtedly have both a big picture vision for the organization as well as a plan for specific action steps and the timeline.  If you have an external PR firm, they have existing systems for promotion and are balancing the demands of your project with several others.  Either way, rest assured they have a game plan and that landing you a great placement is their top priority.  After all, your success is their success.

There are established protocols for press, and following them is the key to bettering your chances for coverage.

Respond quickly.

As in minutes, not hours, and never days.  Landing a placement can literally be a matter of being first to respond.  My clients that land placements the most are the ones who get back to me asap, with precisely what I asked for – eliminating the need for back & forth.  Every journalist, even students, are under enormous time constraints.

Give your publicist precisely what they ask you for.

Pop Quiz!  If you’re asked for a photo of the theater exterior, what do you send?

  1. A photo of the theater exterior
  2. Several photos of your last production
  3. An email asking why they need that/can you get it to them later/should we hire a photographer for a new shoot?
  4. All of the above

The answer is A.  Same if they need a copy of the script (not an excerpt) or a quote from the playwright (not the producer) or two actors for an interview (not one, not four).

Be brief & buzzy.

When a reporter asks you a question, whether by email, phone, or in person, it is not a cue to launch into your 20-minute (or even 5-minute) philosophy of the state of the arts in America.  Note that almost any quote in an article is a sentence or two, and give them something usable with minimal editing.  Reporters are under deadline and simply don’t have time to sift through 1000 words to find 20 that summarize the point.  Which brings us to…

Know what you’re there to promote.

If you’re being interviewed, stay focused on the topic of the article or segment.  This is NOT the time to slip a business card for your side project.  It confuses the content and dilutes the strength of anything else that’s been said.  When in doubt, think of movie stars on press  tours for their latest film – they have been paid to highlight what is wonderful about that project and graciously deflect questions about anything that might trump attention to it.

Do not contact the press yourself.

Ever, unless specifically asked to by your press agent.  If you have a suggestion of whom to contact or even a personal contact who should cover your project, simply introduce your publicist.  There are protocols for contacting the press and you risk making your production look amateur or undermining existing relationships by taking the press into your own hands.

Let the photographer do her job too.

It’s the publicist’s job to know which photos will work for a particular publication.  Just like artists who have an agent or manager, play the good-cop role of the talent and let your rep make demands. The most you can do is learn to take a great photo (genuine smile!  chin out and down!  eyes wide but not creepy!).  Never, ever try to direct the photographer during a shoot or assume photo approval.  In general, trust that everyone is there to make you look good.  Same goes for video.

Understand that media is a business.

A reporter is subject to an editor is subject to an editorial calendar is subject to the publication as a whole is subject to advertisers.  If there are four major Broadway shows opening in a given weekend, there may not be room for a review of a new downtown company’s first production.  If an outlet’s primary audience is lovers of luxury, they will likely pass on covering an affordable eco-line.  And especially in the age of search engines, priority will be given to topics that will draw the most – or most desirable – audience to a publication.

Keep it simple, on topic, and quick – and above all, leave the media-oriented publicity to your publicist.