You may well want to feature local press outlets, both printed and online, as tactics in your choir marketing campaigns. This article is aimed at providing you with tips to make your choir press releases more effective. This way it will hopefully lead to more publicity for your choir. But before we consider the 'how' let's take a look at 'why' and 'what'.
Why should you bother with choir press releases?
These days that is a very good question.
We are talking mainly about local press outlets here. For all but the largest and most famous choirs, it is unlikely that national press is a reasonable target for your publicity. That is unless it is publicity of the unwanted kind - they do tend to focus on the negative and sensational. I am sure that is not the sort of publicity you are looking for! Having said that, national press journalists do find stories to follow up in local press publications, so there is a slim chance your good news story might be picked up, albeit unlikely.
A shrinking audience?
Local printed press is not the most buoyant sector. Even the online news outlets seem to struggle to gain audiences for more than local weather and traffic reports. This does vary a lot across the UK however. The readership and coverage statistics on the Local Media Works website shows that in London local newspapers only reach 36% of the population and the websites only 20% whereas in Scotland reach is up at 70-80%.
As someone living in the South East, I believe that local press does not have a huge influence here. Even if you assume every weekly newspaper is read by at least 2 people a quick glance at circulation figures of local papers would suggest that they are read by less than 10% of the population in towns such as Bracknell, Basingstoke and Reading.
A survey that we carried out of the audiences for my choir also showed that their concert attendance was not really influenced by the local press.
As publicity officer for a choir, I do know that choir members tend to place a far greater importance on press coverage than the evidence suggests would actually benefit the choir. It is a validation of all their personal hard work they put into the choir. So, you may say that having choir press releases is a good motivational exercise - and why not?
Don't rely totally on local press
Even if you live in Scotland and want to have coverage that will make the choir feel better about itself, don't rely on local press as the only channel. Choir press releases are unlikely to fill your concert audiences on their own.
Have you got something worthwhile to say?
I do often have to bite my tongue a bit when, yet another choir member says, "why aren't we in the local paper this week?" I have to calmly point out that the press needs to print something that readers will read! You have to have something "newsworthy" to say.
When setting out to write choir press releases answer these four questions honestly:
- " Have we got anything really new to say?
- " Have we got anything extremely unusual or unexpected to report?
- " Is what we have to say of interest to anyone else?
- " Will anyone care?
If your answer is "no" to all four, especially the last one, - don't bother!
I am as guilty as the next man of sending out the latest "choir raises money for charity" choir press releases which are hardly new or unexpected. But at least the donors might be interested in seeing that their ticket purchase did some good. Much better is to be creative and have your choir do things a little bit out of the ordinary, for example, online publications still seem to love videos of "flash mob" type events.
What is a Press Release?
When I refer to choir press releases I am talking about the way you communicate news items to potentially interested journalists and publications.
The core of this is still the written word, but images and even video for online publications have a vital part to play. The communication mechanism I find still to be the most successful is email. Journalists do use social media, and in particular, Twitter, to find or research stories so I would recommend you use those channels to promote your choir press releases as well. However, the prime vehicle should still be email. If you have the great fortune to be at an event where a real live journalist is present in the flesh then leap at the chance of giving him or her your story, but otherwise use email.
Make the journalists' lives easier
As a result of the financial cutbacks in local news outlets and the constant requirement for 24-hour news online, journalists are under great pressures to do far more with less. So, the more you can do to make their work easier the more likely they are to look favourably on your choir press releases. A few simple tips:
- Put your press release content into the email body, not as an attached document. The more 'clicks' a journalist has to make to discover what you have given the less likely he or she is going to bother.
- If you do have any attached documents, such as back-up information try and provide them as, for example, Microsoft Word documents not pdfs (it makes it easier to cut and paste bits from them).
- Your email subject line should make it clear that this is a press release and what it is about.
How to write choir press releases
If I have had contact with the journalist previously or have researched that they have written about a similar topic, I will include some personal words up front in the email. The human touch comes across much better than just a robotic despatch of press release content.
Then I structure the rest of my email as follows:
- "For Immediate Release" or "Embargoed until…" The vast majority of your choir press releases are going to be for immediate use. Corporations sometimes embargo releases until a particular date, for example with a new product launch. This enables the journalist to prepare copy in time to release as soon as they can. Either way, It is best practice to make it clear with a statement up front.
- Contact details. Provide a named person to contact about the release, with email and telephone number. Journalists may want to ask further questions.
- Title. Make this short and simple, but clear as to what the story is about. Don't try to be clever - it is to help the journalist decide whether to read on. If the story is printed a sub-editor will create the actual headline used in the journal so don't waste time trying to craft a "red-top" style punning headline.
- Sub-title - you can add further facts to a short headline, again this is purely to help the journalist understand what your release is about.
- Press Release copy. Your content should be concise and clear. 300-500 words, structured in 3-4 paragraphs plus a couple of quotes from named individuals is plenty. Sentences should be short and punchy - less than 25 words. If you have further information you wish to include, such as more details about your choir, place that in the "notes to editors" section after the main content.
- The first sentence. Grab the readers interest in the first sentence. This should be 15-20 words and summarise the whole story, including the '5 Ws' - who, what, where, why, when. A normal convention is to start the first sentence with date and location e.g. "February 27th, 2018, London:". Try and follow the ideas that journalists are taught - you should understand the whole story from the first sentence and the rest of the first paragraph should just add further context. Subsequent paragraphs can add explanation, but not change the story.
- Quotes. The quotes from relevant individuals should add opinion, not information. Make them "real" not jargon. Read them aloud and see if they sound like natural speech. Try and stick with the simple "(name) said…" rather than "suggested", "recommended", "confirmed" as these sorts of words have emotional undertones that you may not want to imply.
- End of main copy. Standard practice is to mark the end of your main copy with three hash symbols "###", or "Ends" in bold
- Notes for Editors. This is where you place further information and description that might be useful background material for the journalist or editor.
If you have photographs that can illustrate your story, then supply them.
In the release provide a caption for the photo which should identify what the photo is of and name relevant people in it ("L to R…"). If the journal does not have room for a full story they may just include your photo - so make it stand-alone with the caption.
Make sure you provide photos at a quality level (300 dpi) and size (say 15x10 cm) that is suitable for printing but do not clog up a journalist's inbox with huge files. These days it should be OK to attach a file up to 2 MB in size to an email, but if you need to send a much bigger file use a service such as 'Dropbox' (it is free) where you hold the photo and place a link to it in your press release.
Where do I send choir press releases?
You need to do some research.
Select the newspapers and journals that you would like to target with your choir press releases and either from a copy of the paper or from their website identify the journalists and editors. They will usually publish an email address for contact.
Look through copies to discover which journalists tend to cover which topics and choose the most relevant for your subject matter. You can also then add a personal touch to your press release email by saying something along the lines of "I read with interest your coverage of… and so thought you might be interested in this story about our choir". Everyone likes to have their work recognised - flattery will often help!
I maintain a table of journals and journalistic contacts up to date so that I don't have to go through the research for every new press release. In that table, I also note telephone numbers (for important news releases you may like to follow up the email with a call) and Twitter account name so that I can also Tweet to them.
It will help if you can build up some sort of relationship with a few of the journalists over time. Not only will that personal touch help to get your releases read but if they have a "quiet week for news" you might even get a call asking for items.
Don't take being ignored personally
A final note.
You probably will not get every one of your choir press releases published, and you certainly will not get them published everywhere that you send them. Don't take that personally.
As I have said earlier, local news journalists are under great pressure and they receive hundreds, if not thousands, of press releases. Increase the chances of yours being read by making the subject line of your email compelling and clear and by making sure you can answer "Yes" to the four questions I described above, especially "Will anyone care?".