Artist’s Guide To Writing Press Releases That Get Results
Want Your Art in Magazines? Think Like an Editor.
by Thea Fiore-Bloom, PhD
First the Bad News
Editors DELETE 90% of press releases they receive without even looking at the contents.
They wade through an inbox of spammy sales emails every day.
If the subject line doesn’t convince them right off that what’s inside is not a sales pitch, they “86” it.
Which is Actually Good News
But that’s good news for you. Because most press releases won’t be opened, never mind read, you’ve got a great chance of getting some media coverage if you can eek out a suitable subject line and a half-way
decent one-page mini-story starring your wondrous art.
Most press releases are either peddling a new product, are too long, painfully confusing, or have zip to do with the receiver.
Unlike the herd, you’re not peddling a new wonder widget. You’re offering a unique story about your unique work.
If you follow the guidance of the PR experts I’ve interviewed here, it will be easy for you to stand out from the pack, even if you’re not a great writer.
What makes for a press release that will have a reporter or editor contacting you for a story?
A good release is a sales-pitch free, announcement that is custom tailored to its recipient and written in
plain English. It’s an intriguing appetizer, that answers the following questions: who, what, where, why and when.
Believe it or not, editors eagerly await well-crafted press releases.
“Editors and journalists start their day with dozens of blank pages that must be filled by the end of that day,” said journalist and author Steven Lewis (taleist.com.au.) who wrote How To Write A Perfect Press Release.
“They can’t fill all those pages by pounding the pavement themselves; they need a good percentage of their stories to come to them. A dirty secret in media: some newspaper articles are little more, or nothing more, than rewrites of press releases. But this does not mean journalists are going to be grateful for any old rubbish you send to their in boxes,” said Lewis.
The secret to crafting an effective release?
Put the needs of the newspaper and its readers first.
The more you gear your (ultimately self-serving) document, to the needs of the editor and audience of a publication, the better your chances of having it read and getting the media coverage you deserve.
“The brutal reality of trying to get media is— you have got to work to find an angle on your story that other people will care about,” Lewis said.
Benefits of Writing A Press Release
But once you have found this angle and created a press release, you will have learned a great lesson in how to market yourself in a concise, authentic way that puts your audience first.
If you want to land new customers, add newsletter subscribers, improve your SEO, or augment traffic to your site by linking a newspaper story about you to your social media feeds; sending out a press release is worth the work.
If you never get a write-up you still win because press release writing is the perfect practice tool to turn your every day website copy from meh to marvelous.
Press Begets More Press
Getting a story in print also lends you and your art credibility and allows you to add a “press page” to your website.
Press substantiates the prices you put on your art.
A press page also acts as an incentive for other journalists to write you up in their periodicals as well.
( I have a post scheduled on how to create a press page for May, subscribe to ensure you don’t miss it.)
You may already have an idea of what your news is or you may need some help in defining your news. Experts recommend the following steps before putting pen to paper on your next release:
Make Sure You Have News
“The number one mistake press release writers make is sending out a release that does not contain any actual news, or news hooks,” said journalist, teacher and copywriter M. Sharon Baker (msharonbaker.com).
Press releases that get noticed contain one of the following eight compelling news hooks. Wrap an aspect of your art life around a hook and you’ve got news.
The 8 Powerful News Hooks Journalist Use Every Day
Summarized By M. Sharon Baker
1. Timeliness: New news is always better than old news, so don’t pitch or send a release about an event two weeks ago.
2. Proximity: Don’t pitch your news to Seattle if your company is located in Atlanta and has no Seattle ties.
3. Prominence: What famous people, politicians, and experts say and do is news.
4. Impact: The more people your story affects, the better chances for coverage.
5. Novelty: The weird, bizarre and odd stories are always an easy sell. “Man Bites Dog” is a story,“Dog Bites Man” is not.
6. Usefulness: People love practical tips, and lists that are of service.
7. Conflict: We love to hear about turmoil, fighting and the little guy defeating the big guy.
8. Human Interest: People are interesting, and their sad or uplifting stories tug at our emotions.
Three examples of news stories and hooks artists might use:
You develop a new body of textile work that is made by weaving discarded cell phones andwire together. Emphasize the novelty news hook in your release.
You teach a Watts Towers-inspired collage class to school kids in an area of Los Angeles called Inglewood. You notice there is a citywide anniversary celebration of the Watts Towers coming up next month.
You write a press release about your Inglewood-based class using the timeliness hook and send it to the Inglewood News as well as to the arts editor of the Los Angeles Times.
Congratulations! You just sold an oil painting to the National Cowgirl Museum and Hall of Fame in Fort Worth. Don’t send your release about your achievement to the New York Times; sadly, their arts editor doesn’t care.You increase your chance of getting the story into print by leaning on the proximity news hook and targeting the Fort Worth Weekly or another area paper you decide is the best fit.
Ask Yourself Who Will Care About My News? Or No One Will.
Magazine editors are not a kind mum; their job is not to promote you unconditionally. But they aren’t some deity to fear either (fellow writers check out this Media Bistro article on what editors really want.)
Think of a journalist or editor as a peer with whom you’re bartering.
“Journalists are up for a good trade: a good story for them to write in return for a promotional opportunity for you,” said Lewis who recommends you ask yourself three questions before you compose your release:
1. Why is this story a great story for the publication I am considering sending it to?
2.Why would this publication write about it now?
3. What experiences or skill do I have that makes me a good narrator for this particular story I am pitching?
Big Tip: Don’t “Spray and Pray”
Asking yourself these questions will prohibit you from participating in the popular but useless “spray and pray” method of press release distribution.
Instead of paying an online “distribution service” hundreds if not thousands of dollars to splat your release out to (most likely) inappropriate news outlets; experts suggest emailing or snail mailing your release out to selected, interested parties. (Check out Josh Sternberg’s great article on the new press release distribution racket in Entrepreneur Magazine.)
Think of your release as a Valentine rather than a leaflet.
Always scan the paper you’re considering sending your release to and familiarize yourself with the kind of stories they favor and the sections your story would fare best in.
If you’ve read this far in this post , you now know more than many of the less than stellar media consultants plying their trade out there anyhow.
Sit down with a cup of tea and a few magazines on a Sunday morning and leaf through them.
Use your powers of observation and intuition to get a feel for who the reader of this periodical in your hands, really is.
Notice how the reader you picture in your head morphs into someone new as you pass from magazine to magazine, or even from the op-ed section to the funnies.
If you’re a writer, use this result-getting technique when deciding on whom to pitch magazine article to as well. It works wonders.
I snagged it from Linda Formichelli and Diana Burrel’s book: From Pitch to Published: How to Sell Your Article Ideas to Magazines.
Notice the articles or sections that draw you in. Ask yourself why? Who is writing about artists in this paper or magazine?
Research Who To Send Your Release To While You Browse
Take down names of the journalists you think might want to hear about your news so you can send a release directly to them later. Also jot down the name of the editor for a section of a periodical that looks promising.
Tip: Send your press release to the correct editor of a specific section of a magazine or newspaper and you skyrocket your chance of success.
Tip for Low Self Esteem Days:
To stay confident and perceptive as you flip through potential periodicals, pretend you’re looking to place a story for an artist you know and like who makes art like yours. Someone you think deserves to be in this magazine because…..they are not you. 🙂
When you find the perfect periodical for your “colleague” target that publication for your press release. This works for articles too.
Once you have picked your hook and answered Lewis’s 3 questions above, fill in the straight forward template that Baker created for her copywriting and public relations students below.
Step 3 Transfer Your News to This One Page Template. Easy-Peasy
“Arguably the most important line of the press release is your Headline. Putting sweat into the quality of this line will be time and energy well spent,” Baker said.
“Here is where you tell us why we should care about your news- in one sentence.”
If you’re targeting an appropriate newspaper your Headline need not be monumental, as in “Cure for Alzheimer’s Discovered.”
It just has to be clear and relevant to the person receiving the email.
A good headline for the story for The Fort Worth Weekly might be as unpretentious as: “Local Fort Worth Painter Sells Portrait of Texas Rodeo Queen to National Cowgirl Museum”.
Your Headline also serves double duty as the subject line of the email your press release is sent in. Don’t put “press release” as the subject line of your email. Journalists will assume it’s one of the countless irrelevant spammy sales pitches they receive daily and fast track you to the trash.
Dateline and The Lead
The Dateline is the city where you live or the location of your upcoming show. The actual dates for your art show or other news should be in the lead itself.
“The Lead is the news in one sentence. If I don’t read anything else, tell me everything I need to know here, and try to make me read the rest,” Baker said.
Don’t hesitate to use humor in your lead.
Made up example: “Once upon a time women roped steer in Wyoming— just last Wednesday in fact. And Carmen Alvarez will be painting cowgirls in action, on site at the upcoming Lander Rodeo this July.”
“The job of the Body is to answer the following questions: Who is doing something, what exactly are they up to, why should the reader care and where will this event be taking place?” Baker said. Here’s the place for one or two non-generic, intriguing quotes. Put your first quote in by the third sentence, at the latest.
“Instead of a trite clichéd quote like: ‘We’re really excited about these new classes,’ or the even less interesting: ‘We’re happy to announce these new classes,’ tell me exactly why you are so happy instead, by shooting for something like:
‘We’re putting on these new art classes because we have been inundated from calls from parents saying they have always wanted to enroll their kids in local art classes but there has been nothing offered in our schools,’” Baker said.
Detailed or colorful quotes are often reprinted verbatim in their article on you. (See G2 Gallery press release at end of article for examples of great quotes that will sell your story.)
“Don’t be offended if your entire release is printed verbatim, it means you have taken all the elements of a good story and delivered it perfectly with nothing to add,” Lewis said. “You did your job and got your page into print.”
When that happens, I suggest you start moonlighting as a PR person and make some extra cash to blow at Blick.
Why One Page?
“A journalist is going to give you two seconds to read your headline,” Lewis said. “If they are intrigued by your headline they will open your email and give you five seconds to read your first paragraph, and so on through the body of your press release.”
“In total, they are not going to give you more than a minute to make a decision whether they are interested in you or not. No one is going beyond your first page, so you can see the absurdity of 3-5 page press releases,” Lewis said.
Stories Good. Life Story Bad.
“That means no life stories. Don’t say: ‘I was born in a shack on a hillside in 1952 and as a little boy I found a piece of trash in the street and I wondered what kind of thing I could make with this trash.’ Do say: ‘I make beautiful things out of trash and next week is Trash Awareness Week. Here’s a link to some of things I make. Contact me on this number,’” Lewis said.
Ultimately consumer magazine editors are searching for stories that speak to their readers, not speak about their writers. To turn heads go with a mini-story about your work readers of that mag would relate to.
Reporters have to work at the speed of light. If a reporter calls and gets no answer they usually move on to another source.
Only put a phone number of someone (hopefully you) who will actually answer the phone when it rings after you send out a release. Same with email.
Put Social Media links here. If you’re on Twitter, embed a tweet that compliments the story. That’s one way to make your story more appealing to your recipient.
The About section is your elevator speech. Place a link to your home page here. Include specific links (NO ATTACHMENTS! You might get deleted right off) to photos, podcasts, videos or other marketing extras that apply directly to your story if you have any. Don’t forget your full name, business name and your location, if those details don’t already appear the text.
You are done!
If the thought of writing a release by yourself has you dazed, team up and trade services with another artist or writer friend who is more marketing-minded than you. The New Rules of Marketing and PR by David Meerman Scott is another helpful resource.
You can always hire a professional copywriter to create your release. Expect to pay between $250-$500.
If you dislike writing and have a budget of more than $2,000 consider hiring a good,small PR agency to not only write the release but to pitch it to right people at the right media outlets on your behalf.
Be wise and interview any prospect before you invest big money and ask to see sample releases and results they have written for other clients.
But now that you know what editors and journalists want, write and send at least one release out on your own.
You may shock yourself.
Example of an Real Press Release from G2 Gallery that got major media attention. Notice how the writer, PR person Diane Shader-Smith tells media outlets how this show is different and why they should cover it. You can frame your story in the same way, no matter how small a story feels to you, it still can have big value to the right periodical out there, good luck!
For Immediate Release
The G2 Gallery Presents The Great Unknown, A Repositioning of Outer Space as the New Environmental Frontier
Partnered with The Planetary Society, The Exhibit Will Feature 3-D Images of Mars Landscape and Astrophotography
On View June 9–Aug. 9, 2015 | Reception June 20, 6:30–9:00 PM
Venice, CA— On June 9, 2015, The G2 Gallery will premiere The Great Unknown, a photography exhibit reimagining outer space as an environmental area that requires the same protection and conservation as our forests and oceans. G2 will partner with The Planetary Society and its CEO, Bill Nye, donating all its proceeds from art sales to the organization.
The Great Unknown will be the first exhibition of its kind to equate outer space with endangered environments on Earth. To date, no environmental protections for extraterrestrial areas have been passed, but increasing technological advances in space exploration suggest that this new frontier would benefit from such protections.
“Space is one area that’s fairly undamaged by humans, and to keep it that way, we need to protect it, says G2 Director Jolene Hanson. “One way to inspire conservation is with stunning photography, just as Ansel Adams did with Yosemite and Joel Sartore has done with endangered species.”
The show will include three distinct collections: Mars Seen, which will feature massive, 8-foot 3-D images of the landscape of Mars from xRez Studio; Martin Cohen, featuring astrophotography from the eponymous artist, and Without a Telescope, a series of photographs of stars and nightscapes taken without the aid of a telescope by Beverly Houwing, Matthew Kuhns and Chris Miele.
The opening reception for The Great Unknown will be held on June 20 from 6:30 to 9:00 p.m. Admission is $10 at the door and includes wine, hors d’oeuvres and complimentary valet in front of the gallery. All proceeds from admissions will be donated to The Planetary Society. RSVP to rsvp@theg2gallery .com.
Location: The G2 Gallery (www.theg2gallery.com)
1503 Abbot Kinney Blvd, Venice, CA 90291-3742
Diane Shader Smith 310.386.6803 firstname.lastname@example.org
About The G2 Gallery
310.452.2842 bennett@theg2gallery .com
Tel. 310.452.2842, E-mail email@example.com
The Great Unknown
The G2 Gallery is an award-winning nature and wildlife photography gallery that facilitates change by bringing attention to environmental issues through the persuasive power of photographic art. G2 shares this passion with both celebrated and emerging environmental photographers, who use the camera as a tool to inspire conservation.
*This article by Thea Fiore-Bloom is a super-charged version of the one she wrote for Professional Artist Magazine ;The World’s Foremost Business Magazine for Artists, in the Spring 2017.
What’s been your experience writing or sending a press release? Please leave your thoughts below in the comments!