It’s happening. Summer is on its way. For many of us, festivals and fairs will be the season’s biggest draws. But things don't always look so rosy for promoters.
Marketing an event is stressful. It has a way of bringing back unpleasant memories. Remember that sparsely-attended summer concert you went to last year (the one where you half expected to see a tumbleweed blow across the stage)? Yeah. You don’t want to be responsible for creating that atmosphere.
Building excitement around your festival or fair in the months leading up to it is crucial. One of the best ways of doing this is by generating press. Being featured in a newspaper article can help turn your event into a must-attend affair. But how do you get there?
There are several ways to pitch a story to journalists, but some of the most effective still use the tried-and-true press release. Read on to find out how to get the most out of your next release.
Make sure it actually is a stellar press release
There’s a lot of conflicting advice floating around about how to create a great press release, but there’s one point most experts agree on. If you want to write something that will help you get media coverage, you need to think like a journalist.
Journalists know that capturing the attention of readers means presenting a compelling narrative - the human brain is, after all, hardwired to engage with stories. Your first challenge will be figuring out how your announcement might be transformed into a story that will interest members of the general public.
If you don’t write for a living (and you decide not to seek help from someone who does), you’ll probably want to start by reviewing the storytelling basics. One of the most important elements of your story is going to be its hero. In life, a hero is someone who overcomes significant obstacles to achieve something great. The same will be true of the narrative surrounding your event.
Say you’re running a comic book fair. Your hero might be an inspiring attendee - like the kid who transcended difficult circumstances through the escape that comics books provide. At a festival, two or three of your acts might make particularly good heroes (think musicians who quit their day jobs to pursue their passions). This role could also be filled by one of the people running your event - as is the case in this recent story in Kentucky’s Daily Independent.
The point is, journalists won’t see the potential of your story if they don’t immediately recognize its basic elements (such as its hero). If this information isn’t instantly accessible, your press release may be ignored.
Once you’ve found the right angle, you have to focus on making your narrative conform to the press release format. If you adhere to basic guidelines, you probably won’t have the space to tell your story in full. Some basic tips: make journalists want to read to the end of your release by putting attention-grabbing information at the beginning. Include compelling plot points along with supporting evidence that explains why your story is relevant right now (for example, the person promoting the comic book fair would want to point to statistics that indicate explosive growth in the industry).
Does this sound like a tall order? The truth is, many releases wind up in the trash heap within seconds of being opened. Suffice to say, every word counts.
If you’re not a master storyteller, you’ll probably want to seek help from someone who is. Many professional writers are happy to develop compelling, immaculately-written press releases for a reasonable rate.
Target the right contacts, at the right time
Let’s say your stellar press release is ready. It’s intriguing and concise. It points the journalists who read it toward a narrative that will hook their readers. All pertinent information is there, and it’s assembled for maximum impact. Now what?
If you haven’t already done so, it’s time to decide where to send your release. The goal, of course, is to maximize your chances of getting coverage by targeting the right people. First off: nothing annoys journalists more than pitches that don’t match their professional areas of interest, so flooding the inboxes of every newspaper staffer in town is a bad idea.
Putting extra effort into contacting those who are most likely to cover your event usually pays off in the long run. Begin by perusing relevant sections of your local paper. Let’s say you're promoting an arts fair. You might want to check out the general news section, the arts and culture section, the entertainment section, the lifestyle section, etc.
It may also be useful to google the name of your city or town along with keywords related to the specific markets your event will serve (comic book readers, folk music fans, gourmet food enthusiasts, etc.). This is a good way to find reporters who have written articles for your target audience in the past.
When you find reporters who look like good matches for your story, locating their email addresses shouldn’t be too difficult. Very often, this information will be posted on the websites of the newspapers they work for. A journalist’s address is also usually available on her Twitter account. If these methods don’t turn up any results, check out this post from the marketing experts at Hubspot on locating hard-to-find email addresses.
The general consensus among journalists is, a press release pasted into the body of an email is better than a PDF or Word attachment. At the beginning of your email, in the blurb you use to introduce your release, be concise and direct. Start by crafting an eye-catching subject line. This is especially important if you’re looking at reporters who receive a lot of pitches - your press release won’t help you if it’s never opened.
Keep in mind: personalization can make a real difference. If you have reason to believe a particular journalist will be interested in your event, go ahead and connect the dots for him by mentioning his past work.
Lastly, timing matters. As a general rule, send out your press release 3-5 days before you want articles to appear in print. Think carefully about how you want to build interest. If it’s a ticketed event, does it make sense for your story to go out shortly before tickets become available? Should you try to generate word-of-mouth buzz before providing detailed information through the press? These are important considerations.
Use your narrative
The benefits of press releases extend beyond attracting media coverage. Writing a release forces you to create an official narrative for your event. What do you most want people to know about your festival or fair? What’s the message you want to convey?
Whether you create your own release or work with a professional writer to develop one, seeing important information condensed into (ideally) one page or less will help you figure out what it is that truly makes your event special. This knowledge will be crucial for all of your marketing materials.
You can also get extra mileage out of your release by distributing it on social media. For example, if you have a Twitter account set up for your event, you can tweet a compelling headline along with a link to the release. To increase your chances of capturing the attention of your followers, get creative by including an image or video.
Social media provides an opportunity to extend the reach of a press release. Through social platforms, promoters can leverage their own networks as well as the networks of those involved with their event. This is the key to successfully building hype: continuous, creative promotion.
Marketing a festival or fair can be stressful, especially if you’re worried about attendance levels. Luckily, in the summer, people are looking for reasons to get out of the house. It’s your job to make sure they know about your event - and why they should be stoked to attend it.
Getting local press at the right time can significantly boost your promotional efforts. To maximize your chances of gaining media attention, tell a story. Make sure this story is unique, straightforwardly told, and (it goes without saying) immaculately written. Find the journalists who are most likely to be interested in what you have to say. And don’t forget, sending your release to the media doesn’t necessarily mark the end of its usefulness.
Now take your story, get out there, and start promoting!
Feature Image: Jon S