Mark and I once attended a panel discussion for writers on gaining attention for projects from the media. Editors, news producers, and people who were good at promoting their projects talked about how to approach the media when you want to get your project in front of the public.
Then I agreed to help a few artists with their online promotion. I knew a bit about it, but sought guidance from people who were professionals on how to go about it.
I’ve been gathering information on promoting yourself, or your arts group, on a limited budget. Today, I was speaking with representatives from a few local arts groups about what I’ve learned. Disclaimer — I’ve been good about doing these things for other people and not as regular about doing them for myself. I’m working on that. It’s a learning process, and I’m always learning. I’ve seen these things work. In this and future posts, I’ll share the lessons my teachers give me. Some of the information may be familiar, but there’s probably at least one tip that will help you better navigate the choppy waters of promotion. To start, a few basics:
1) Take advantage of your opportunities.
As I like to tell performers and artists, “People can’t want something until they know it exists.” They may have a vague idea they want something, but they can’t want to come to, say, your concert if they don’t know you, or the concert, exists.
Increasingly people go online when looking for something to do. There are online events calendars like Eventful, and here in Sacramento, Sacramento365. Many local radio and tv stations, newspapers and magazines have their own online event calendars where their listeners, viewers and readers go to find entertainment choices. These are usually free to use. If you don’t have a budget large enough for advertising, or even if you do, you should take advantage of these services.
Your local television station may have a morning show. Watch the show. See what they include that isn’t news, weather or traffic. Note how long the show is — longer shows often have guests in after the first half hour or hour is done. A two-hour show has time to fill every day, five days a week. More about this in another post.
2) Understand what you want.
For example, at our local public radio station, nonprofit groups can:
1) Apply for PSAs (Public Service Announcements, very short on-air mentions of upcoming events),
2) Post events to the Event Calendar (this one’s also available to for-profit groups/performers),
3) Pitch events to a locally-produced show to be the focus of a segment on the air (more about this in another post).
Applying for each of these is a separate process and submitted individually. If you only want to post to the calendar, you can do just that. If you want to be on the air, either with a PSA or on a show, you submit for each of these separately and it goes to a different person.
“Why can’t they just look at the Event Calendar and give us a PSA or put us on the air?” (Another version: “Why can’t they just read our PSA and put our event on the calendar and…”).
Because they don’t have time. Because it’s not that person’s job (that isn’t the only thing that person does all day — it’s one of many). That station or that paper makes this available to the community as a resource. Taking advantage of it is up to you.
3) Don’t do it at the last minute.
Stations may schedule PSAs a month in advance. Some shows line up guests 4 weeks or more ahead — and if they have a sudden cancellation they need to fill, they look at information about upcoming events they wished they could include but didn’t have time for.
4) Follow the directions.
Each event site has its own format. They don’t have meetings where they all decide one way to do it. Wherever you go, there will be directions. Follow them. To the letter. It shows respect for the opportunity, for one thing.
It really isn’t hard. Have the following information handy before you start:
* Name of the event
* Date/time of the event
* Ticket price if any
* Where you go to get tickets (website, physical box office, etc.)
* Organization hosting the event
* Name/email/phone of a contact person to call for the public to call for more information (if you just want them to go to a website, fine, what’s the link?).
* Name/email/phone of a contact person for the station, paper, etc. to contact for more info (maybe not the same as for the general public).
* A brief description of the event that tells why it’s interesting (and by brief I mean 2-3 sentences. Some sites have a limit on characters). More on that in an upcoming post.
* Anything people might need to know (is the venue ADA accessible? Is there free parking — and if so, where? ).
Go to the website (for tv and radio stations, you can search “television station” and your city to find some to get you started). Click on “Events” and look for a button for “Submit your event.” Follow directions. You can post your event to several sites in an hour if you have all of that ready to cut n’ paste on your computer, or on a sheet of paper you can look at to type it in.
5) Limit yourself.
Unless you have someone who is organized, enthusiastic, reliable and has buckets of free time, it’s not necessary to blanket the world — in fact, starting out this can be a mistake. You want to find out which online sites produce the best results for you, and this can vary. For example, if you play classical guitar, the local acid rock station might get you a few interested people as many people like more than one type of music, but if you have a public radio station, that’s probably going to be more productive.
The strategy suggested to me is to start out with the basics (here that’s Eventful, Sacramento365, CapRadio.org, and the local papers). Make sure you enter your events on their calendars reliably. See how things look in three months. Add another and see if it makes a difference. If not, you can probably drop that one and try another.
Don’t feel bad about not doing more — pay attention to what you’re doing so you know what’s working for you and what isn’t.
I’ve been given more useful information, and will share it in future posts. But in the meantime, don’t be afraid to get your feet wet. Promotion is your friend. Like any good friend, if you treat it with respect, you’ll reap the benefits.