Why a press release matters

So I just made all this fuss (below) about a press release for Caramoor. Someone may very well say, “Well, sure, the press release might not be very good, but does that really matter? How many people read it? The public doesn’t see it!”

And of course that’s right. The public doesn’t see the empty press material that so many classical music institutions send out. But the same kind of language also shows up in season brochures and advertising, which the public does see. So it’s good to root it out wherever it is.

Besides, one very crucial group of people does see press releases: writers and editors at the media outlets the releases go to (and producers, for radio and TV). I’m talking here about people other than the classical music critic, at those few media outlets that have one. Classical critics, in my experience, just ignore the writing in a press release — except, of course, on the rare occasions when it actually says something — and go right to the details. “Caramoor…Ninth…Oundjian. Do I care?” (The press release, of course, is losing any chance to make them care.)

The other writers, and the editors and producers, may also ignore the language of the press release—consciously, that is. But don’t think it doesn’t get to them. It makes them think, “Yeah, classical music. Nothing going on there.” Or, worse, “Wow, this is as bad as Britney Spears.” And this is a serious problem for us. The media, as time goes on, covers classical music less and less. A lot of people in our field complain about that. Sometimes they blame the media, as if all these editors and writers and producers — many in their thirties and forties, precisely the people we know we’re not reaching — had some obligation to cover us, which they shamefully neglect.

But in fact, as some smart classical music publicists explained to me many years ago, the problem is the opposite of this: People in the media are getting smarter, in part because there’s more art for them to think about, more theater companies, dance companies, museums (not to mention everything in popular culture). So they won’t automatically cover everything the local music festival might do. They want to know what the story is. And we’re not giving them anything!

So if we’re not getting covered, it’s partly our own fault, and press releases like the one from Caramoor are a big part of our problem.

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