Be Smart About Art

How do you get press?

written by: Susan Mumford May 29, 2016 1) RECOMMENDED-> Susan's weekly blog post 3202 views

How do you get press?

from our Sunday reading series - a weekly blog post (subscribe here

When preparing my first West End exhibition, I had enough experience of working in galleries and curating shows to understand that simply presenting an exhibition wasn’t enough to get press exposure. In addition to the handwritten names and addresses for the 700+ invites to be posted (this was prior to email marketing becoming a thing), we posted more than 25 press packs, each with individual letters handwritten by yours truly. Every newspaper and publication to which we’d written received follow-up calls, providing we managed to get hold of telephone numbers. It was a bloody massive effort.

The result? The show was deemed number one exhibition of the week in The Times*. Anyone who knows anything about London press understands that such is no easy feat. It’s from this kind of experience that I learned all too well, based on many hours of preparation and hard work, what you need to get coverage.

In my early days mentoring art dealers, I was surprised to find that many galleries distribute press releases for each and every exhibition. Even for summertime group exhibitions of no particular consequence, they trawl away, emailing the standard press release template, with details of the forthcoming show, to all journalists and publications on their list. At least some of them were sending individual emails rather than mass e-shots (which immediately getting binned by journos).

What’s wrong about sending a press release for each and every show? Well sure, exhibition details should be submitted to national press association websites for listings, in addition to local publications, but not every art exposition is worthy of a big campaign. The key to getting national press is having a hook, a term regularly mentioned by reporters. What’s the captivating headline? Why would someone be interested in reading a piece about the event? Answering these questions is paramount to getting press exposure. If the piece isn’t a story, it’s doubtful that it will be picked up.

Rather than create a drab, same ol’ same ol’ press release that’s churned out like the world turns, decide which shows are newsworthy, and make a big push with those. After a while, since you send newsworthy press releases, journalists will learn to pay attention to what you send (instead of automatically binning them).

The other key is getting out the word about the event. Sending one email isn’t enough to ensure that a journo has noticed your press pack. If you have something that’s worthy of coverage, then it’s deserving of your single-minded efforts to craft captivating angles (even changing angles for differing publications with varying audiences) and to ensure journalists on your list are made aware of it. In time, you’ll vary how you approach different individuals based on your relationship with them, and how they like to receive information. In today’s world, this can vary from an email press release to a tweet with a link to information.  

If you want exposure, craft a compelling narrative and work for it.   

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*Side note: I only learned about The Times coverage thanks to the friend of a friend who congratulated me on the piece. Today, we would've spotted it via Google Alerts (a cinch to set-up).   

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