What is Public Relations and what does a PR person do? Well, they help build your relationship with the public, specifically through building your public image. They help manage media coverage like reviews or features.
REVIEWS vs FEATURES
There has been an ongoing debate about the efficacy of reviews, whether the goal of them is to provide public commentary on your art or to be used as a marketing tool. While a good review can help with grants, fundraising, and long-term marketing, it is very rare that a strong review immediately turns into a jump in ticket sales, specifically on limited-run shows.
Keep in mind there is an extreme lack of diversity within professional theatre critics, so they might not even have the cultural competency to accurately review your work.
According to the LA Times, theatre reviews have an extremely low click rate, which shows that most people are not reading them. This is also part of the ongoing conversation about the role of critics within the discourse around shows. Whereas articles that feature companies tend to have a strong chance of being read.
With a feature story, it is less time-sensitive, the journalist does not have to wait until the show opens, and they tend to be more in-depth. However, even if you get a mixed review you can still use a good pull quote which can help with long-term marketing.
Should you hire a PR person?
There is a lot to consider when deciding if you want to hire a PR agent for a show, specifically if you are trying to cut costs for a show, but it could hurt your overall marketing and ticket sales.
Current LA Theatre PR Agents:
Judith Borne, David Elzer, Ken Werther, Lucy Pollack, Lynn Tejada
DO IT YOURSELF PR
Saves money on hiring because you can technically do it yourself.
You are building your own media relationships which is a great asset for long-term communications.
You have greater control over the narrative and have more information at the ready.
WHY YOU MIGHT HIRE SOMEONE
It takes a lot of time during the project and requires a lot of attention and scheduling.
Building relationships is a long-term strategy, so it might take a while before journalists want to feature you.
It takes trial and error to build your reputation with journalists and media, which a PR person already has.
We will be moving forward as if you are choosing to do your own Public Relations, so the first question is how do you find journalists and media to cover you?
Find journalists covering stories that match what you want for your company
Read their work - do you like it? Is it relevant to the audience you want to reach?
Follow them on Twitter! Start interacting with them, like, retweet, comment, and they get used to seeing your name
Try starting the conversation months before your show comes out, and maybe even pitch something that is not your show!
Show appreciation for their work
Then pitch your story (your first outreach should not be about covering a show)
If you can’t find their email, you can try and DM them:
Use their name
Be cordial, "hope you are doing well, loved your last piece on XXX" etc.
Introduce yourself and some of your credibility
You need to pitch an interesting and newsworthy story.
Why should they cover this story?
What makes it unique?
Follow up once or twice, but if they say no thank them for taking the time to respond to you. If they ghost you or never respond, don't take it personally
KEEP TRACK OF CONTACTS
Who did you email?
What company are they with?
When did you email them?
Did they respond?
FOCUS ON LOCAL MEDIA
While being feature in the LA times is exciting, local media tends to have more loyal and specific followings. This can help boost ticket sales because you are talking to people directly around you, who are interested in their community. Many people who read the LA Times don't even live in Los Angeles, plus local media tends to be more hungry for story pitches. This goes back to “who is your audience and how do they consume news and information?”
BUILD YOUR PRESS KIT
Press Release - there are plenty of templates online, but make sure to keep it short and sweet. They need to know who, what, when, where, and why.
Graphics - Logo, Poster/Online Graphic, etc
Show Photos - it is easier to pitch a show with photos of actual people
Make sure they are labeled! (Name of Show, Company, Actor Name(s), Photo Credit) ex: (Last 5 Year, After Hours Theatre Company, Janel Parrish and Scott Porter, PC Kyle Jayson Knies)
When you make your press' life easier they will come back!
WHEN A REVIEWER IS AT YOUR SHOW
Normally reviewers will tell you or your PR agent when they are attending the show. You are going to want o make sure your Box Office and Stage Manager know, but sometimes your performers do not want the extra pressure of performing for a critic, so you do not have to tell your artists.
When they check-in they should get a press-kit:
This would normally be handed to reviewers by your PR person, but if they aren't there it should be you or the Box Office Manager
Make these ahead of time, and make extra
Folder with program and press releases
They will want pictures digitally sent to them if you didn't send them in the original PR Pitch
Reviewers avoid talking to producers, so don't approach them or try hard to engage in discussions about the show. This is them having professional boundaries, so don't take it personally. Most of the time they will let you know when your story is posted, but do not follow up with them, instead, you can periodically check their platforms or set up a Google Alert which will email you when your show is posted online somewhere.
Most critics will not follow up with you or send you their post if it is a bad review, and it is not recommended to try and defend yourself or argue with a critic unless something is factually inaccurate.
If you do have a bad review, don't share it with your team, and if someone is particularly rattled by something mentioned in a review, talk with them about it, but don't draw more attention to the situation. As mentioned earlier, reviews are rarely read and there is a lack of diversity in theatre journalism so having a bad review doesn't always affect your show poorly.