How to write a great press release
Musicians can generate their own publicity without spending a penny, by sending out their own press releases. Here are some of the things you need to know
Even in an age of websites and social media, the old-fashioned press release is still an important part of any musical project. It contains everything a magazine or website editor needs to know, laying the groundwork for media coverage, reviews, relationships, future opportunities and even funding. Ultimately, it stands as a representation of why you are doing what you do, and you should be able to express that. Musicians sometimes reach out to press agents for help and are surprised at how expensive it is – it’s a time-consuming business. And yet, you can do a lot of this legwork yourself, once you know the formula and think the right way. To help you start, here are my thoughts on the subject, and a template, which you are free to adapt.
I’ve had experience on both sides of the send button. As Editor of The Strad I fielded thousands of press releases. I know what it’s like to feel overworked and bombarded, and how a well-timed, clear and effective press release is a gift, while one that is pompous and waffly goes straight in the bin. In my freelance work, I’ve written them for 21C Media, Royal Academy of Music and Baltic Sea Youth Philharmonic among others. Each organisation has its own style, and my advice is a synthesis of all of this information.
Get the tone right
A press release should sound neutral and objective. You need to persuade people of the merits of your project through information and sound argument – not bludgeon them about how good you think it is. Any claims must be evidenced – if you have them, use press quotes that demonstrate previous successes.
Who is reading your press release and what do they need?
The most important thing is to think of the person who’s reading your press release. What sorts of stories do they publish? What information do they need? Imagine them at their desk opening your email and think how they will feel when they get it. This should affect your content and tone, and even the time you send it out (Friday afternoons are a no-no, for example). Try to do this for every single person you send it to (and you should know the name of each one). Ideally, you wouldn’t send the identical press release to everyone on your list, and you would prioritise the information according to what you know about them and their publication.
Some classical music websites are desperate for content and few have the resources to research and write news stories, so they often cut and paste press releases into stories. I won’t go into how I feel about this – what it spells for music journalism, critical thinking and the future of humanity – but from a musician’s point of view, it’s great news. It means that if you have something to say you can pretty much control your own narrative, without having to pay, as long as you write a good press release and engage the editor well in your covering letter.
If you’re writing to a specialist outlet, whether digital or print, make sure that you’ve framed your story towards their readers – pull out what is specifically relevant for them and make it the focus of the press release. Are they into contemporary music, pianos, string music, Europe, Baroque? Tailor your email to show that you know who they are and that you have something to interest their readers.
When it comes to print media, the reality is that broadsheets have virtually no space for classical music any more, so if you’re writing to them, think carefully about what angle might make them spend some of it on your project – it’s going to have to be special. Classical music magazines are more likely to want a story, but make sure you’ve seen a copy first and can suggest particular spots where your story would go, or offer interviews for specific sections. Don’t forget that print magazines still work on fairly long lead times, so get in there as early as possible.
Get your covering email right
Your covering email is probably more important than your press release – it’s the door to an editor reading your press release in the first place, so you have to grip them. Tailor each covering email directly to the recipient and their readers. This is time consuming, so if you are struggling, you could focus on a few outlets that are most likely to take your story and edit both your covering email and press release to their needs. You might send something more generic to other people – but don’t expect success. (And beware: if you’re going to go down the copying and pasting route across multiple emails, make triple sure that you have the recipient’s name right in each one!)
Offer solutions – would you write a blog for their website? Would you contribute to a specific section of their magazine? Do you have amazing pictures they might appreciate? Do you have any previous examples of your writing that you can send them to give them confidence in you? Include any video clips that allow them to sample your project (as long as they’re good).
But don’t be pushy. No one owes you anything.
As long as it’s legible, the font doesn’t matter so much
Having said that, only use Comic Sans if you're writing an opera about clowns, set in the 1980s
Don’t go smaller than 10pt
If you’re part of an organisation with its own identity and style guide, stick to it
Try not to use different fonts or too many different font sizes in the same document – keep it simple
Do bold, but very carefully – to pick out new sections, or emphasise names or important quotes within the text
Try not to let a press release get longer than two pages. Be prepared that the reader’s eye will go to the top third first, so your first section has to work the hardest – they may not get any further. Certainly don’t let your logo dominate that section. Avoid long, dense paragraphs, although that’s hard with complicated projects that need extensive explanations, and I know many press people disagree with this. Put less important detail further down the page. It’s okay if lengthy events listings and complex contact details at the end push the length over two pages.
Editors always need pictures, so you’ll be doing them a favour by providing them. If it’s a print publication, they’ll need high-resolution ones, but they won’t want you to clog up their emails, so zip them or send them through a website such as WeTransfer. If it’s for a website, pictures can be lower resolution and you can even embed one in the main body, but only towards the end, when you’ve already got their attention.
If you’re providing pictures, make sure that they’re copyright free and the editor won’t get in trouble for publishing them – don’t assume that because they’re on the internet they’re free to use. Include the photographers’ credits and any useful caption information.
Think like an editor – understand their needs and the interests of their readers
Make their life as easy as possible – provide all the information and resources they need in simple form
Spell out the most interesting story angles
No one owes you anything so don’t make assumptions that they do
Pack the most important information into the top third of the press release
Do your research
Offer rights-free pictures but don’t clog up emails
Write well and be prepared to see your text published in its entirety
Quadruple check text for typos
Be nice, and think long-term – if an editor doesn't have space this time, they might next
Here are some links to press releases written by various arts press relations companies. I haven’t written any of them and I don’t necessarily think their styles are perfect, but it’s useful to see some examples.
Have I missed anything? Let me know!
And here’s my template – feel free to adapt it to your own needs, but if you share it, please credit me!