Monday, October 24, 2005

How to pitch, part 4

This brings us to press kits. Should you bother? I think so. I’ve gotten plenty of press kits that have been helpful.

But they don’t have to be this spectacular thing that you’ve spent a fortune on. I used to get press kits all the time from movie studios who spent a ridiculous amount of money on them. High gloss packaging, with interviews and plot synopsis inside, the complete cast and crew (just in case I needed to know who the Best Boy was in the film) and a CD ROM filled with photos. And they would next day FedEx the bloody things. Think about that – how much money did they spend in mailing these things out to so much media... in Canada alone?

Do I need all of this for Dumb and Dumberer? No.

But you can do something very basic that won’t take much time, but will help your cause.

I’ve been using artists as a catch-all for painters, musicians, actors, writers, dancers, etc in these articles. But if you’re going to do a press kit, this is where things differ a bit. Depending on what field you come from, there will be different things in it.

The Basics
• Sturdy folder for containing all the info
• Basic biographical information about yourself, band, theatrical troupe, etc. And by basic I mean you name, where you’re from, education, interests, quirky things about you (more on that later), etc.
• A brief history of the project

Some people include prepared questions and answers. Can’t hurt, although I imagine it must take time. Others include press clippings, if they have any. Again, doesn't hurt.

What should be on the CD ROM? Depends. It should include photos of you. Odds are, the newspaper is going to want to take their own, but if they’re good enough and enough variety, then the paper might opt to use them. You can include actual photos in the kit, but digital ones on a CD ROM are really all you need.

Oh, and make sure everything on the cd is both Mac and Windows compatable. It might be a Windows world, with 95% of computer being Windows-based, but not in Medialand. There, about 50% of computers are Macs. So keep that in mind.

I will emphasize this point now - get someone who knows what they’re doing to take the photos. I’m not saying you have to spend $1,000 to take pics. But find a friend who you think is a good photographer, find a location to do it (outside in natural light is always best) and shoot several different poses in different locations. And think about how you want to look in the pics. Artsy, presentable, rock star scruffy, whatever.

Photography is a whole new series if I wanted to start into it. So trust me, just find someone who knows what they’re doing. Photos are very important. People read stories with photos. They tend to skip them if they don’t have pretty pictures. So put some thought into it, even though they may never be used.

Oh, and all pics on a CD should be at least 1 meg. Papers can shrink them later if they want, but 1 meg is covering your bets if they want to blow it up large on the page.

If you’re a musician, include songs from the album you have coming out. I appreciate that you’ve spent a fortune making this record and you don’t want to give away free ones. I don’t need it. Burn the songs onto a cd and include a photocopy of the liner notes. Song lyrics are good if you sing in a way that makes it difficult for me to understand what you’re singing. And you know who you are…

Why the songs? Because if I’m interviewing you, I want to know what your music is like so I can talk to you intelligently about it.

Painters – pics of yourself and of your artwork.

Dancers – pics of you dancing, which always look nice.

Theatre people – include head shots, but please give us more. Dress up in costume or do something. Make it interesting.

Writers – here’s the difficult one. Do you include a copy of your book? It might be expensive, but I think you should. I hate interviewing authors if I haven’t read their book. I feel like an idiot. And I feel rude. This person has spent months of their life writing this book; I’d like to be able to talk intelligently about it.

If you’re on a budget, feel out the reporter first and make sure they’re interested in doing a story on you before giving them the book. But do allow more lead time. If your event is Nov. 30, try and get them the book as far in advance as possible so they can read it and then interview you about it.

This doesn’t include all media, of course. I’ve had TV and movie people send me copies of their show first. On videotape, which is weird. I would have thought DVD would be easier these days, but whatever.

So this is basic stuff. Information about yourself or your group, some photos and a sample of your work if possible. If you want to, you don’t even have to send this out; you can put most of it up on a website and let reporters know its there. But for God’s sake, if you’re doing a website, do it right. Don’t let it be one of these slow loading, half-assed sites that look like they were slapped together by a six-year-old one night that you never update. There are enough of them online as it is. Put some work into it.

This brings me to another point – do entertainment reporters expect free stuff? If you ever came to The Express office and saw my desk, there would usually be piles of books, CDs, etc. And you would probably think I was a bastard for having all that stuff there and that I hadn’t done stories on most of it.

In fairness, most were from mainland companies and the artists had no connection to Newfoundland, nor were they coming here. The Express’s motto is “Local People, Local Stories.” If you’re not local, or your idea of a coast-to-coast tour is Vancouver to Halifax, we weren’t wasting space on you.

I never expected free stuff unless it helped me do my job. Books and music, yes. I don’t expect free artwork from painters, for example (although I loved those little promotional postcards that some galleries sent out. I kept as many of them as I could). The dicey one was always theatre shows. Odds are your show would open after my story ran and closed before the next Express came out. It was rare I could review one in time.

It was rare I was given tickets to shows and I tried hard not to ask. If I was offered, I generally said yes (if I could make it opening night, not always possible). I always felt bad taking tickets for a show at the LSPU Hall. It’s such a small venue I felt like by taking a ticket, I was stealing someone’s lunch money.

If you can afford to give up a couple of tickets to a show (two is best – odds are these is a wife/girlfriend/husband/boyfriend at home grumbling that we’re always working late and never take them anywhere.) that's great. I really appreciate them. Also remember that many journalists aren't making a lot of money, so they honestly can't afford to pay to attend every cultural event in St. John's as much as we would like to.

Use your best judgment but I will say this: I never did a story just because I was offered free stuff as a bribe and I never said no to a story because they didn’t offer me anything.

Next up, the actual pitch.


Edward Hollett said...

Great series of posts on media relations.

Lots of things are pretty basic but it is always amazing how often the basics get lost and the end result - accurate and fair coverage - gets lost as a result.

Sure b'y said...

Love the series. Maybe you should "pitch it" to a magazine since there seems to be so much interest.
(Thanks for the link to my blog. Preciate it.)