In a world of breaking news and overflowing media updates, journalists often have minutes, if not seconds, to find resources and stories. Alongside a significant shift in media consumption, the media landscape has changed considerably, becoming a hybrid of traditional and digital media.
Given all these changes, what’s an independent artist or cultural organization to do to build long-term, successful media relations and secure great coverage? Culture Days’ PR Guide has been developed to provide Culture Days event organizers with the promotional know-how to help them increase public awareness of and attendance at their events, raise their profile and strengthen their ongoing presence in their community beyond the Culture Days celebration. The key is to match your event concept with the appropriate audience, i.e. those who will attend, cover or participate in your Culture Days event.
Before you begin, you should start thinking about a narrative that your audience will care about. Instead of developing a message to impress media, make sure your messaging resonates with your audience. Not sure if it works? Have a long-term “customer”/friend/student read it before sending it to media.
Think outside the box. Take a step back and look at your event, organization or arts practice at a microscopic level. In other words, dissect it. Now ask yourself: what am I doing that’s notable? Once you have the answer, develop your messaging around that.
Create high quality content. If you have a blog, adopting a content creation strategy with a focus on quality and regularity is key. If you don’t have a blog, you should set up one for free (e.g. on WordPress, Blogger, Blogspot, or any of a number of free, easy-to-use online platforms) and start publishing quality content that is relevant to your organization/practice. Start telling your own story through blogging or social media.
Objectively determine your position and plan for the future. Start by assessing your current situation, and then establish your goals. Concisely state where your practice is right now, where you would like it to go and how you intend to get it there, and put it all in writing so that you can refer back to a clearly outlined plan and make sure you’re following through.
Build a media list. The Culture Days celebration makes for a great story to share, as well as an opportunity to create remarkable content and get the word out to the media. Look for local media that regularly cover content similar to your practice and gather their contact information. See the Reaching Out to Media section of this guide for a media list example. And remember to respect the media’s work – a journalist’s role is to tell a story relevant to their public, not to sell or promote your organization, event or practice.
Please note that according to Canada Anti-Spam Legislation, you must have consent to send email blasts (large e-mailings from a mailing list). Ensure that the media you are contacting have public emails (ones you can find online or in an open database) or that you have dealt with them in the past. Phone calls are a safe bet if you want to reach someone who does not have a public email and who has not given you consent to contact them electronically. For more information on Canada Anti-Spam Legislation, visit this website.
What are key messages and why do you need to develop them?
Key messages are essential for consistent, quality communications. Before you start any PR or marketing campaign, you should determine what your key messages are. They help your audiences understand and remember the main points you are trying to convey. As a rule, key messages should be concise, honest and clear. They are tools used to properly express fundamental ideas.
Audiences may include the general public, current supporters and participants, your co-workers, volunteers, media (print, radio, television and online sites), bloggers, community partners and others in your network.
The words and phrases you use to promote your Culture Days event in your press releases, on your website, through email, on your Facebook page and Twitter account, on your blog and in other promotional and marketing materials should be an adaptation of your key messages. This coordinated approach will ensure consistent messaging and avoid confusing your audiences.
Culture Days official key messages
- Culture Days features individual artists, diverse cultural groups, organizations, municipalities, and festivals old and new that come together to catalyze and inspire greater participation in arts and culture by featuring free, hands-on, interactive events that invite the public to the behind-the-scenes world of artists, creators, and historians.
- Through thousands of free events across the country, Culture Days promotes inclusivity, awareness, participation and engagement in arts and culture for all Canadians.
- Culture Days bridges the gap between Canada’s communities and citizens, highlighting the notion that culture is for everyone, regardless of age, geography, background or income
- Through its various mediums, Culture Days places a spotlight on the essential contribution that a vibrant arts and cultural life brings to the economic and social well-being and development of all communities across Canada throughout the year.
- As a leading national voice for the active and engaged cultural life of all Canadians, Culture Days provides support, tools and resources to a wide variety of artists and cultural organizations to help them unite the country through engagement in culture.
Expand your network through Culture Days
For best results and to attract more participants to your event, consider collaborating with others in your immediate vicinity (building, block, neighbourhood, etc.). Doing this will allow you to:
- Tap into each others’ networks, expanding your collective outreach to new audiences Increase the likelihood of media covering your events
- Showcase the dynamic arts and cultural event in your area
- Attract more people to your events, as the public will be interested in attending multiple events in one area
- Lessen the workload by dividing tasks
- Create and distribute the free customizable promotional materials Culture Days offers, promoting all the events in your hub
Finding others in your immediate vicinity is easy! Simply use the map on the Culture Days website to find others in your area who have registered events, and reach out to them through the contact information located in their event description.
Generating awareness before the Culture Days celebration
Starting to promote your event
Below are some basic tips to get you started:
Let your networks know about Culture Days and your event: Ask if they will participate and send them an email containing a link (URL) to your Event Page on the Culture Days website; attach a Culture Days e-flyer (available on the website in the Resources section, under Marketing Materials).
Use Social Media. Create and send a Facebook event invitation to your social network. Tweet about your event; post about it on your Facebook page.
Feature your event on your blog or personal website, if you have one. Make sure that this post highlights what makes your event stand out.
Circulate flyers to local stores, libraries, restaurants, coffee shops and even offices of related organizations. (Free customizable templates are located online as part of the Culture Days promotional materials in the Resources section of your Dashboard).
Research local online calendars and register your event in them. Use the Listings Advisory to notify local newspapers, radio and television stations about your event and request to have it included in local community events listings.
Contact your local community paper and ask if they would help promote your event through free advertising and/or editorial coverage in advance of Culture Days.
Create a media list (see the Reaching Out to Media section of this guide for an example) and send media your Culture Days Media Kit. Be sure to follow up and ask if they are interested in covering your event.
One of the most important aspects of media relations is the development of a media list. It is important to have an understanding of the media outlets in your community and who you should contact in each outlet. Please see the above note regarding Canada Anti-Spam Legislation (in the Getting Started section of this guide) when you are building your lists.
Structuring your list to include all relevant contact information for your target reporters (outlet, name, phone number, email address, covered topics) will facilitate easy and efficient distribution of media materials like story pitches, media releases and listings advisories.
Who should you contact?
- Blogs have a substantial reach. They can feature your event, craft interesting stories and share crucial information about your event with the online community
- Contact bloggers by email and provide them with a backgrounder of your event (see the Culture Days Media Kit for an example of a backgrounder) as well as a potential piece for their blog. This can be in the form of a Q&A session with the community organizer or an article on the top 5 things to see at your Culture Days event
- Since these publications are often small with few staff, sending information to the editor should be sufficient.
- Section editors – these people manage various newspaper sections such as city, lifestyle, arts and life, or travel. Most Culture Days events would be profiled in the city or arts and life section of your paper.
- Photo editors – these are the people who will send a camera to take a photo at your Culture Days event. If you’re sending a photo opportunity advisory, you’ll want to make sure photo editors are contacted.
- News directors – News directors line-up the news stories for the day. You could pitch an interview with a radio outlet suggesting that they feature Culture Days as the big news happening across the country, focusing on your event as a good example of Culture Days events happening locally.
- Morning, noon and/or evening producers – These are the people who book interviews and determine if the program will cover your event or interview your spokespeople
- Assignment editors – If you don’t know who to contact, this should be your first choice. Assignment editors help get story ideas to the appropriate person at their outlet
- Morning, noon and/or evening producers – These are the people who book interviews and determine if the program will cover your event or feature an interview with you. If you feel comfortable speaking in public and are up for on-air interviews, it’s suggested that you call TV producers and pitch a demonstration of your Culture Days event.
Media releases, Story pitches, Media advisories and Listing advisories
A media release (or press or news release) is a short (i.e. two pages) formal document that not only communicates all the information about your event (the who, what, when, where, why and how) but also more importantly communicates a newsworthy angle about your event: why it’s interesting and why media should cover it. A media release is traditionally sent out to media outlets (i.e. those on a media list) to help generate interest in an event, and is usually followed up by a phone call to those same media contacts. A media release should be sent up to two weeks before the Culture Days celebration.
- Answer who, what, where, when (date and time), and why
- Remain objective – you’re writing to inform, so make sure you keep it short and snappy The most important information needs to appear first; least important appears last
- Develop a relevant and attention-getting headline
- Include sponsor and supporter names and logos if applicable
- Include website addresses
- Always be sure to include contact information; the contact information should be for the person who is handling media relations
- Develop a boilerplate – a descriptive paragraph for your group/organization/etc. – that appears at the end of the advisory.
A story pitch can manifest itself in a number of different formats (see Media Releases above and Pitching below), but it is often communicated quite simply in the form of an email. When emailed, a story pitch is less formal than a media release; however, like a media release, it is sent out to contacts at media outlets. Again, the story pitch outlines the who, what, when, where, why and how as well as a newsworthy angle of your event, but the overall tone is more conversational and less formal than that of an official media release. A story pitch is a good tool for smaller organizations and individual artists to use to reach out to media in their communities. A story pitch can be sent up to two weeks before the Culture Days celebration.
Media advisories should be limited to one page and are usually formatted with “who”, “what”, “where” and “when” headings. Media advisories also note RSVP contact information so that media can confirm attendance, follow up with you regarding questions and know whom to contact when they arrive.
You should distribute a media advisory to your list of target journalists about one week prior to the Culture Days celebration, and then again the day before your event to serve as a reminder. If your event is taking place on the Sunday, be sure to send out this reminder on the Friday.
Listings advisories are tools used to increase public awareness and drive public participation to your event. Listings advisories are brief one-page documents that outline the location of your event, direct readers to your website, and detail what will happen at your event and who would be interested in attending.
The purpose of a listings advisory is to have your event included in event calendars and event listings in print or online publications. Many publications that have listings sections will have a form that you can fill out, and you can simply copy and paste the information from your listings advisory into this form. Listings advisories can also be included in your pitches (see above) to provide basic information in a concise manner.
Ideally, you should distribute a listings advisory four to six weeks prior to the Culture Days celebration. See the Culture Days Media Kit for a listings advisory template.
Reaching out to Media: Pitching
Here are some tips on pitching your story (i.e. your event and why it’s going to be great!) to media, whether you are following up on a media release or story pitch you sent out via email or are simply cold calling:
- Always know to whom you’re pitching and at least the “beat” (i.e. “Arts and Entertainment”) the reporter/editor is responsible for – do the research if necessary.
- Use your own conversation/pitch style, and keep it as a conversation rather than sales pitch – people are more receptive that way. Ask yourself, “Do I sound like a telemarketer?”
- Digest the information/pitch angles and put it in your own words – practice with a friend, colleague or family member and ask if they understand your pitch. Try not to read off a document – it shows.
- Keep the pitch short and concise – don’t rush to include every detail. Pick one or two elements and put them in one sentence. Pause and ask the reporter if these elements are of interest to them.
- Never start a pitch by asking “did you receive our media release” – they get hundreds. Try a “hello” and “how are you doing?” or “how is your news day going?” as a starting point, and ask, “Do you have a quick two minutes to chat?”
- For media you don’t know or have never contacted, try using the tactic of “I’ve got a story idea but wanted to touch base to see if you’re the right person for me to talk to. I don’t want to waste your time if it isn’t…” Media usually suggest that you give them an idea of what the story is, and then they’ll either say that yes, they’re the right person, or forward you to the right reporter.
- If they’re pressed for time, suggest that you email them additional info and that you can go from there.
- If they’re not interested, ask if they think this would be of interest to a different reporter
- Never take it personally if media get gruff. They’re busy just like you – let it slide and move on.
Responding to Media requests
If you’ve decided to email a story pitch or send out a media release to your list of local media contacts, it’s important to know how to handle any requests that you generate as a result. Be sure to respond immediately and evaluate the request, provide the reporter with relevant background materials, track the progress of the request and follow up when completed.
Effective Media interviews
Media interviews can be nerve-wracking and intimidating if you’re not used to doing them and if you don’t know what to expect. Below are some tips to help you or someone with whom you’re organizing an event prepare for a media interview.
Before the interview:
- Find out what the reporter’s focus is.
- Write down 2-3 main points you want to make about the subject (see the Culture Days Elevator Pitch for an example), along with facts, figures and anecdotes to support your points.
- Keep your messages short, simple and high-level.
- Prepare, prepare, prepare! Take 15 minutes before an interview to collect your thoughts and rehearse your messages.
During the interview:
- Avoid formal lingo/acronyms/jargon – speak in plain language.
- Keep your answers short. Deliver sound bites
- Remember to speak in complete thoughts. The reporter’s question may be edited out and your response should stand on its own, so it is a good idea to repeat the question in your answer. This is especially important for television interviews.
- Repeat, repeat, repeat. Get your key messages out quickly at the beginning of the interview and don’t be afraid to repeat them.
- Don’t say anything that you don’t want to read in print or online, hear on the radio or see on television.
- Be enthusiastic and keep in mind that you know more about the subject than the reporter does. Take advantage of this opportunity to tell your story!
After the interview:
- Follow up promptly with any additional information you promised to provide.
- Feel free to ask the reporter when the story will appear.