Or at least I hope they die. I don’t think they serve any purpose anymore.
I’ll call this yet another “solutions” post, though I don’t know that the press release problem is one that many people have identified. I think it’s real, though, and in the ongoing discussion about how to promote classical concerts — and find a new audience — the press release is something we ought to reexamine.
It’s a formal document, written almost like a newspaper story. Headline, subheads, content. With the emphasis on who, what, when, and where. More or less like this:
OLIVIA THE PIG CONDUCTS BARNYARD SYMPHONY ORCHESTRA
Program to feature Saint-Saens’s Carnival of the Animals
Concerts will be held at Silo Symphony Hall on May 20 and 22 at 8 PM, and May 21 at 7:30
Olivia the Pig will return to the Barnyard Symphony as guest conductor in May, conducting three concerts. Featured on the program will be Saint-Saens’s Carnival of the Animals. Maestro Olivia will also lead Mozart’s Symphony No. 40, and Leonard Bernstein’s Symphonic Dances from West Side Story.
Maestro Olivia has received much acclaim and many honors, and this past summer garnered rave reviews after becoming the first non-human to conduct Wagner’s magisterial Ring at the Bayreuth Festival. Orchestras that she has conducted include the Berlin Philharmonic, the Vienna Philharmonic, the London Symphony, the New York Philharmonic, the Chicago Symphony, the Cleveland Orchestra, and many others. She last appeared with the Barnyard Symphony in the 2008-2009 season, helming Beethoven’s Missa Solemnis.
And so on, for perhaps two pages of printed text, complete with further eye-glazing biographies, quotes from Olivia and from the executive director of the orchestra, details about ticket prices, and more, more, more.
These things go out by snail mail and email. An active classical music critic might get 10 to twenty each day.
And what happens to them when they arrive? Well, they’re essentially unreadable. Very rarely do they say anything compelling, or even interesting, or even vaguely good to know. You skim the headline and the subheads, and you know what’s going on. And you know whether you care. So you don’t read the rest.
Or maybe you go further. You throw some of them out unread. I’d love to see a count of how many media people do this. You learn, after a while, which publicists and organizations have something to say to you. Those who routinely don’t, who routinely send out releases of no interest — well, it sounds cruel, it sounds unprofessional, but triage rules. Your days are endless, and the releases pile up. So some don’t get read.
Same for the emailed ones, especially those with subject lines (and this happens often!) that say nothing more than “Press Release,” or “For Immediate Release.” If you have 20 press releases sitting in your inbox, and you’re insanely busy, some won’t get read.
And why the formality? Why the headlines? Why write the silly things as if they were newspaper stories? Once upon a time, I think, newspapers would sometimes print these things verbatim, so you wanted them to read like news stories, with headlines, and a first paragraph — the “lede,” in newspaper talk — a just-the-facts-m’am who, what, where, and when.
But newspapers don’t print press releases anymore, except maybe for some very small operations. And these days news stories aren’t written in this style. They’re written more like features, with catchy ledes telling you the core of the story, including the most important thing, the thing almost always left out of classical music press releases — why. Why is this performance happening? Why should anyone be interested?
So let’s kiil press releases. If they don’t say anything, if most of their text is never read, if some are never read at all, if they’re written in an empty, deadly, forgotten style, suitable only for making a reader’s eyes glaze over, what’s the point?
Instead, my publicist friends, why not kill the snail mail press release entirely? And why not kill the deadly press release format, and instead just send a short, friendly, two-paragraph email. In it, you’d give me the key information — including that all-important “why” — with a link for me to click if I want more information. There should also be a link to music. If Olivia the Pig is conducting your orchestra (and lucky you, if she is! the first animal to conduct at Bayreuth!), give me links to recordings she’s made, and especially to recordings of concerts she’s done with your orchestra.
This is especially important for new music. If you’re a composer, how can you not give the media people on your list links to hear your music? What could be more important than that?
Here’s what a two-paragraph email would be like. The subject line might read, “Olvia the Pig Changes Her Mind.”
And the text would say:
Olivia the Pig swore she’d never conduct the Carnival of the Animals. “That’s stereotyping,” she used to say. “People expect me to conduct that piece, because it’s about animals. But I have other interests. And the piece gives a human view of animals, which frankly doesn’t interest me.”
But then she found herself at a concert where the piece was played, and fell in love. “Now I can see that I never gave the work a chance,” she says. “Saint-Saens may have been human, but he see things about animals that we ourselves can’t see. Now I’m eager to conduct the piece!” Which is exactly what she’ll do on May 20, 21, and 22 with the Barnyard Symphony.
If you’d like more information about these performances, and about why Maestro Olivia changed her mind, please click here.
And click here for recordings of her last appearance with the Barnyard Symphony.
Much better! Clean, quick, friendly, informative. And OK, four paragraphs instead of two, but the last two are nothing more than amplified links.
Will someone worry that you won’t impress us if you don’t tell us how distinguished Olivia and the orchestra might be? Please. If you can’t interest us with something like what I’ve written, you’ll never interest us. Cut the boilerplate, the empty verbiage, and just get to the point.
Maybe there still are media people who prefer the old-style press releases, but I’d think that most of my colleagues would rather have it this way.
I know I would.
(And, if we want to get a little more analytical, what I’m proposing is far more in keeping with the culture of Web 2.0, and everything else in the world we live in.)