Thursday, October 20, 2005

How to pitch, part 2

So you’re getting ready to launch your book/play/CD/art show. It’s a week away. What should you do?

Panic because it’s already very, very late in the game. You should have started weeks ago. Stick up some posters, send in a few PSAs and hope for the best. Unless you're lucky and something fell through, most reporters will already be busy with other stories.

You should contact a reporter no less than two weeks before your event, but no more than four weeks. That’s your window for contacting media. More than a month and they might forget. Less than two weeks and they're probably busy. So there is your window.

How do I contact? Well, we’re getting ahead of ourselves. Before we get that far you have to decide who you’re going to contact. “Everybody” is a bit of a simple answer.

You have to weight the merits of the different forms of media. If you're reading this from outside Newfoundland, a bit of basic research will show you what media is available for you to contact. Here’s a breakdown of what’s available in St. John’s.

The Express
The Telegram
The Independent
The Current
The Herald
The Muse
The Downhomer

(This is not every station in town, but those who do occasionally talk to artists)
Oz Fm
The Coast

Here and Now (basically Carl Wells or The Beat)
NTV News (something with Toni Marie)
Out of the Fog

Everyone wants television because naturally you assume everyone is watching and you’re going to hit the broadest audience. TV has other advantages. If you’re a musician, for example, you can play a song so people can hear your music. If you’re in theatre, you can act out a scene.

There are disadvantages, however. You get a limited amount of time. Might only be 30 seconds. If you get five minutes, you’re lucky. And remember, because it’s popular a lot of artists are trying to get time there. So it’s quite competitive.

Also, how many people are watching? For the last few years, for example, CBC has been getting hammered by NTV in the ratings. So it’s great that Katie with The Beat is interviewing you, but how many are watching? It’s fantastic that Krysta on Out of the Fog is doing something on you, but it’s a cable show, so no one with a satellite is going to see you.

Other than CBC and VOCM, radio is a difficult format to get time on, especially if you’re not a musician. Most are busy playing music and not promoting local arts events. So good luck if you’re not a musician. Seriously. Other than CBC when was the last time you heard a painter, dancer or author on a radio station?

That leaves print. Which, of course, there are more pros and cons.

Another caveat here…if you think I’m going to say anything bad about my former paper, The Express, guess again. The paper has its strengths and it has its weaknesses. No one is more aware of them than me. But I will not criticize it. I spent four years there and the staff are my friends. If you have a problem, tough.

So what are a paper’s strengths? You can get a lot more space to articulate what you’re project is about. I find people are more relaxed when being interviewed and there isn’t a camera videotaping everything, so you don’t have to worry about how you’re going to look on TV. Also, most print reporters are pretty good. If you’re nervous or stuttering, you don’t have to worry about every um and ah getting put in print.

If you're nervous or shy, print is the best way to go when promoting your event.

A newspaper stays around longer. If people weren’t watching for those five minutes on NTV because they were channel surfing while waiting for Entertainment Tonight to come on, too bad, there was your shot. Although, I will say, if you’re on Out of the Fog people will see you ad nauseum because of how often the show repeats during the course of a week.

However, you can often find paper’s lingering around coffee shops, malls, etc for days after they come out. So people might pick up on it later.

Each paper in town also had its pros and cons. For example, The Express’s circulation is 40,000, it has a dedicated arts section and is distributed free to houses around town. Odds are, people are going to pick it up. But not every household gets one. The Independent is scrappy and controversal, but is still struggling with circulation problems. The Herald also has a solid arts section, but from what I hear, it also has circulation problems. The Current certainly gets attention with its creative covers, but it only comes out once a month. The Muse gets the university crowd, but few people off campus read it. The Downhomer has a big circulation, but most of it is out of province.

The Telegram, because it is the major daily, is the most popular. But unless things have changed since I left, they don't have a full-time arts reporter. So finding someone to talk to can be hard. Try Peter Jackson, who is the Lifestyles editor. He's your best bet.

So do your research into your media. Which ones offer the best advantage to your product? Are their particular reporters whose style appeals to you and you think would do a good job?

Dwell on this and then lay out which ones you’re going to pitch to. And remember, “all of them” isn’t as good an answer as you might think. More on that next time.

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