The first thing to remember is that journalists need stories, and by approaching them with details of your upcoming concert, you are not inconveniencing them or wasting their time. That said, you are much more likely to succeed if you find a small group of the right journalists and tailor your approach to them individually, rather than sending out a generic email to a long list of people.
Start by thinking about local media. Is there a ‘What’s on?’ section of your local newspaper? Are there any magazines or blogs about life in your area? Is there an arts or entertainment programme on your local radio station? List any journalists and bloggers that have covered local events and entertainment, as well as taking note of the frequency of any printed publications you’re targeting. With daily papers, you can often secure coverage the week before the concert, whereas you’ll need to get in touch earlier with weekly or monthly publications.
Sadly, ‘orchestra plays concert’ isn’t a particularly interesting news story, so once you’ve got a list of relevant journalists and bloggers, you’ll need to think about what makes your concert special or unique. Are you giving the premiere of a new work that you’ve commissioned? Is it your conductor’s 100th performance with the ensemble? Does your concert feature a promising young soloist or pupils from a local school?
The things that make a concert interesting to a journalist are the same things that will interest potential audience members, so if you really want to boost your box office receipts, try planning a story into your concerts from the start. You could find an interesting venue to perform in, team up with a local dance or theatre group, or even just theme the programme – member group Plymouth Symphony Orchestra recently performed a concert of Spanish music, and duly secured coverage in the Plymouth Herald.
Use our template to create a concise and compelling press release. Focus on the things that make the concert unique, putting the important information at the beginning of the text to secure the journalists’ attention. Before sending the press release out, you may want to ring the journalists in order to explain your story and check whether it will be of interest to them. Again, timing is key here with print publications: if the journalist works for a weekly or monthly publication, never call them on their press day; if they work for a daily publication, it’s better to call them in the morning, as their press deadline will probably be in the afternoon.
Bear in mind that journalists are busy people, so when you call you should aim to communicate your story clearly and concisely, being confident that what you’re telling them is interesting without being pompous about your right to coverage. Be clear about what sort of feature you have in mind – e.g. preview, feature, diary entry – and always offer two free tickets. Journalists like stories with a human interest angle, so if possible, offer an interview with your conductor, someone from your group or a regular audience member.
You’ll also increase your chances of securing coverage if you have high-resolution, colour photography to go with your story. Avoid attaching large files to your email, as you don’t want to clog up the inboxes on the other end, and instead just indicate that high quality photography is available on request.
As the name suggests, media relations is all about building relationships with journalists, and the process doesn’t end when they’ve agreed to write about your concert. Make sure you respond promptly to any requests they might have (e.g. for photography or further information) and, if they come along to your concert, look after them as well as you look after your star soloist. Make your contacts personal and regular after the concert, although don’t become a nuisance by ringing them up every day or every week.
It’s important to remember that media relations are one part of a larger toolkit your group should be using to grow its audience. You can spend a long time securing a slot in your local paper, but your success will be limited if the readers go online and find that your website is dated, or that you haven’t got a Facebook page. If you have good branding, a strong digital presence and engaging printed materials, your media relations work will be that much more effective in building the audience numbers your group deserves.