Following her advice to artists on approaching the press, professional art writer Becky Hunter focuses on the fundamentals of PR copy.
In An Artist’s Guide to the Press, I dealt with the nuts and bolts of PR strategy, involving good timing, careful research, personalized communication, and a punchy press release. However, once your press release is, safely and punctually, in the right journalist’s inbox, what will make it memorable? And, as an independent artist competing with the well-oiled press machines of commercial and public galleries, how will you project a professional image, while remaining true to your unique story?
This article is my answer to those questions, based upon experience receiving and writing hundreds of press releases, and talking to writers and magazine editors. To get the most out of it, I suggest downloading a press release or two from an established gallery website, for example Tate Modern, BALTIC, or Sadie Coles HQ, or from an arts PR firm like JB Pelham. These will serve as a “model” for best practice as you work through my advice; they are also invaluable as you get to grips with layout issues, such as working out how much space (or how many words) each section of the release should use.
So, first things first, at the top of your document indicate that it is a press release simply by typing “For Immediate Release” accompanied by today’s date. In the case of time sensitive material, such as top-secret competition results, instead type “Embargoed Until [future date]”. As a header, include your logo or name as it appears on your website, which will provide visual continuity for writers who receive your information regularly.
In terms of text, the release’s first two lines are the most important – if they’re vague, dull, or full of jargon, the journalist may not read further. You might like to highlight them in bold, or separate them from the rest of the piece. Take a while to think about the overall concept or feel of your project – brainstorm it on a big sheet of paper if you’d like – then whittle it down to a maximum of two informative sentences. For example, these are my most recent opening lines:
Philadelphia, PA – Vox Populi hosts a special summer party on First Friday with music, video and performance events by Jim Jeffers & Lydia Grey, Micah Danges and Jessica Gath.
Building upon the success of last summer’s event, SOUND/STAGES II is an exciting First Friday one-nighter channeling themes of collaboration and participation in music, video and performance.
The first, bold sentence communicates the location, event type, approximate date, media, and artist names, using “special summer party” to set the tone. Placed underneath a hi-res image, the second line puts the party in context, outlines key themes, and reaffirms the type of art to be expected, leading onto more detailed descriptions of each planned performance.
The main body of your press release should expand upon the intro, providing specifics on anything you’ve mentioned thus far, and weaving a narrative around the most interesting aspects of the project. Basically, you’re coming up with a “story” that a busy journalist can quickly lift into their article. For the Vox Populi release , my story circled around participation, collaboration, and fun. You might choose to highlight a technique that you’ve invented, focus on a theme or curatorial premise as I did, or go into some depth on how your firsthand experience of nuclear physics, motherhood, or a residency in China has influenced your current work.
It’s also a good idea to include a quote from a project participant, previously published review, or key theoretical text, as time-challenged art writers like to have quotations to hand if there’s not time or scope to arrange an interview.
It’s worth keeping in mind that most emerging writers (and many established ones!) are overworked and underpaid, fitting in exhibition reviewing and feature writing after their day job, or alongside full time study. The easier you can make it for them to grasp and enjoy the key points of your project, the more likely it is that you’ll get reviewed. In light of this, be sure to include a section headed “Key Information” or “Notes for Editors” either at the very top or bottom of the page, where it is easy to spot. List here, in clear bullet form, important dates, opening times, event address and nearest subway/tube/bus station, your contact information, plus useful web-links where appropriate.
After final careful spelling, grammar, date and time checks, your press release is ready to send as a PDF together with one or two images under 1MB each. With a bit of luck and persistence, you’ll get a fantastic response!
Becky Hunter (MA History of Art, University of York, AHRC) writes regularly for Art Papers and is available to write catalogue essays, press releases and creative marketing copy, or to edit artist statements. Fine out more about her at: www.beckyhuffhunter.net or Twitter @musehunter