An Indie Comedian’s Guide To Writing A Press Release

I am not a PR person. I’ve worked in a handful of PR companies in my day job (doing social media, not PR). So I have no idea what I am doing in terms of press releases.

This is part of my “indie comedian’s guide” series which you can find the main master post here.

However, I do have an internet connection and Google… but there’s so much conflicting information out there, so I got on the phone and rang every (almost) paper and asked them to tell me what they want from / in a press release.

Here it is. In their own words… what do the publications want from a press release.

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One last thing… 

I’ve linked (where possible) to the live pods for these people / publications. I’ve got very exciting interviews coming up with people like Julian Caddy (managing director of the Brighton Fringe), Neil MacKinnon (Head of External Affairs at the Edinburgh Fringe), Mel Brown (Edinburgh PR expert and founder of Impressive PR) etc. Along with people from TV / Radio. So don’t forget to Subscribe here on iTunes.

New pods from PRs –

[EP34 – Amée Smith – Associate Director at Prospero Arts PR – How to effectively promote a show, tour or Edinburgh run.]

[EP 19 – Mel Brown – Founder of Impressive PR]

[EP 14 – (Kate) Copstick – Head comedy reviewer for the Scotsman Newspaper at the Edinburgh Fringe]

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“What makes your show unique? What would make your show a news story? Tell me in the shortest possible amount of words. 1 page is enough for any comedy show.”

“If your show is back for a 2nd year, I’m not interested.”

“Be authentically you. I get 10 press releases from PRs and I can’t tell the difference between any of them. Highlight something that stands out from the crowd. Is it an interesting venue? Or topical?”

“Don’t request a review.”

“I’d say that one of the primary offences of press releases is leaving off basic information – make sure dates, times, venues and prices are flagged up clearly at the start (and, in some cases, included at all. You wouldn’t believe the number of press releases we get that don’t even include a date).”

“My personal hate is press releases as attachments, or info only readable in an image. Don’t make us download something to read it! Plain text in the body of an email is best.”

  • A national publication which did not want to be named.

“If you’re an organised comedian, you probably don’t need a PR person. Publications are just as likely to read your press release as if it’s come from a PR person (maybe even more so, as it’ll be delivered with passion rather than just a function of someone’s job).”

“It’s possible to find the email addresses of pretty much every reviewer / arts editor online – just search about. Email is better than trying to contact via Facebook / Twitter (as most journalists tend to keep their Facebook etc as work-free personal space, and you can’t attach stuff on social media). Unless you’re an A-list star, never phone or txt, that’s just annoying!

For newspapers, don’t email the generic press address (e.g. arts@publication) unless you absolutely can’t find a personal email as it’s unlikely to get to the right person otherwise. Conversely, for the comedy-specific websites any email is fine as it’s just a small team.”

“Always address the journalist(s) by name (E.g. “Hello Paul”, “Hi Tim and Andrew”). A generic “Hi Beyond The Joke” (rather than “Bruce”) means the personal connection hasn’t been made, so it’s much more guilt-free for the person to then ignore it.”

“On the same lines and probably even more important… don’t use a mailing list or put everyone in the BCC line. That’s so impersonal it’ll almost certainly not get a response as there’s no guilt in ignoring it. “

“For the subject line, try and be interesting and eye catching, but include some details too. Example: “Steve, come see my funny, honest Edinburgh Fringe show Chuckle Nights” rather than “Press release: Chuckle Nights” or “Wacky comedy show”.”

“Don’t just tailor the name, tailor the first paragraph of the email too to prove you know the publication and explain to them why you’d be a good fit for them. For example, you could flatter them and show you’ve actually read the publication before in one sentence “I loved your article on Tony Law – I agree with you, he’s misunderstood”, and then explain why you’d be good for their next feature. “As you can see below, my show is about politics. I saw some of your forum users discussing this, so it might be a subject your readers would be interested in? I talk about…””

“Email from an account with your name on it. You’d be surprised how many we see with a ‘from’ field of just “Billy” or “James – Home account” or something. If you’re a sketch group, you should have a team inbox so the email comes from “Mixed Doubles” rather than “Will Close”.”

“This all sounds like a lot of work… but if you want to get featured, you do have to try and stand out from the deluge of emails somehow! We expect about 800 press releases about the Edinburgh Fringe this year. We can probably only pick out 50 (so 1/16) to focus on – we’ll do that by looking for emails that look interesting and come from comedians who are clearly organised and engaged in the publicity process (and thus will help the feature appear smoothly and quickly).”

I spoke to Hester several times during the run up to the Brighton Fringe and the team there provided me (and now you) this document -How to write a press release workshop_notes – of tips which goes into detail of how to sell / structure a press release. They did an event in Brighton which I couldn’t attend so it’s cliff notes from the 90 minute talk.

Search for the hero inside your clown.

You wouldn’t expect that comedians – or any performers – would be backwards in coming forwards when it comes to publicising themselves. You’d be surprised. When it comes to writing self-aggrandising prose in their own press releases then they can get a bit of ‘page fright’. That’s why they come to PRs like me so they can serve up the superlatives on their behalf. 

During the process of PR I think that one lesson we can teach performers – sometimes – is to feel no shame when it comes to, for example, social media blasts and penning their own opinionated blogs for websites and so forth. Weirdly, this is an occasion when us spotlight-shy types can teach the extroverts something about letting loose.

In short – be (almost) shameless, mine your show for angles that may be of interest to the press, mine your life for the details that you don’t ultimately mind other people knowing about (odd hobbies, celebrity links, bizarre claims to fame) and remember that sometimes you need to be on message repeatedly for it to get through the Twittersphere.

This is not to say that some of you comedian folk are not self-publicists par excellence. I work with some acts who are virtually unstoppable and cross every t and dot every i, right down to being active on forums and comment sections of articles.  It is something to behold. 

I’m not sure that you can every be too ubiquitous, not just because it goes against grammar, but because everyone is at it, and until you have earned the level of fame that allows for enigmatic and intriguing silence there is something of a scramble to rise to the top. Or, in other words, those who laugh loudest, laugh longest!

I couldn’t actually get a hold of anyone at Broadway Baby however they do have a dated article (2013) entitled “How To Write A Press Release” which includes how they would like to receive them.  You can read it here.

UPDATE – I am talking to Broadway Baby and they’re sending through their tips as you read this. Check back for them.

Just a bit of background… I contacted Steve for his take on press releases and he said I could republish the highlights of his article instead of giving me anything exclusive. He then went away and wrote this. Below are the most interesting points to me. But the whole thing is worth a read.

“First, the press release. I’m often asked what we look for in these, and while the truth is that while they are not that important to us (as we’re generally aware of most working comics already) they can tip the balance, as a reminder when putting together schedules.”

“Many press releases look the same because they feature the same credits. I’m not sure semi-finalist in the Laughing Horse or So You Think You’re Funny? carries a huge amount of weight as there are hundreds in this category, although admittedly not all editors might be aware of that fact. Finalist, now that’s saying something. Lists of comedy clubs you’ve played don’t impress for the same reason.”

“And on a practical note, just paste the text into a plain email. Life’s too short to be opening attachments, however pretty they might look. And we do want pictures – but attach only thumbnails at best. Give us a link to a file transfer service or where the high-res images live on your own server, not an attachment stretching into the MBs.” 

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