Instead of a press release…

A colleague teaching an entrepreneurship course at a major music school emailed this question:

I’m planning my entrepreneurship class for the spring and I used to have an exercise (using your blog actually) that required students to write a press release. This now seems kind of futile to me, since press releases, well, they are so analogue. Do you have any ideas about what I could replace this with? I like the notion of students having to publicize (and articulate) their projects. Blog post? Personal letter?

Here’s how I answered:

press releases blog

You’re asking a wise question. Two problems with press releases. The standard ones have no content, and the strategic plan of drawing an audience by using them is bankrupt. Depends on an ecosystem that’s no longer there.

So maybe an assignment could address both parts of this. First [this is what my colleague might tell his student to do] , define your plan for drawing an audience. Who do you want to reach, and how can you reach them? Personal letter works if you know people who do snail mail and might come to your concert. Blog post works if many people read your blog. Etc.

Once you know who to reach and how, then comes the content. What will you say to people? What can you tell them or show them with graphics that will make them want to come to your performance?

 About standard classical music press releases having no content: See this blog post of mine, this one, and this one.

About the press release ecosystem: If sending a press release is going to help draw an audience, you need:

  • Media that will respond to the release, use it in some way, get information about your event in front of readers/viewers/website visitors.
  • Readers/viewers who’ll already be interested in events like yours, so if they see something about one in the media, they’ll say, “I think I’ll go to that.”

Media people these days aren’t as interested in classical music as they used to be. They may not respond to your release.

And if they do respond, the already-interested audience is shrinking. And mostly goes to the things it already knows about.

The new classical music audience? It doesn’t read newspapers, and gets its ideas about things to go to largely by word of mouth. So you have to reach it in an entirely new way. Press releases won’t do the job.

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  1. says

    Is it worthwhile for an artist to send out a press release? If the answer is no, it’s not because press releases are intrinsically ineffective. It’s because an individual is likely to lack the personal relationships, access to contact information, and experience required to turn even a well-written press release into an effective tool for generating press – which is why people hire professional publicists (like Dotdotdotmusic). Sending a press release is merely a single step in a successful campaign. True, not all press releases are created equal. But in whatever form they take, they’re essential to the task of securing press coverage, from listings to features.

    In your last two paragraphs, you seem to make a leap from saying that press releases are pointless to asserting that all press work is futile. Do you really believe that, Greg?

  2. says

    Press releases are 100% essential, especially if you want to make that leap from getting your grandparents to your concert vs. people you’ve never met. Word of mouth is the only technique that many budding musicians utilize the most, and it’s not very effective. Also, press adds credibility to those words from those mouths. It’ll be, ‘So and so got covered by the Times, this looks like a big deal’ and not, ‘My friend is playing the bassoon and there’ll be free beer…’ One can only go so far with word of mouth.

    Re: ‘the already-existing audience is shrinking’: does not mean there aren’t new audiences to be had. I did a business plan competition once at NYU Stern (although I was a music major) and I was told that it’s not bad to start a new business in a declining market, in this case, classical music. It’s about creating a need, then creating a marketing message around that need to draw audiences. Marketing does NOT equal selling out or changing anything about your art; it’s simply about who you want at your concerts, and how to get them there.

    This post also doesn’t list any effective things to do instead of a press release. There are many additional PR activities that need to happen to get people to a concert beyond a Facebook invite. Personal emails are a bit more effective and a good idea at the beginning, but at some point that leap needs to be made where you’re going for an audience beyond your network. (Personal messages are also a bit tricky because it can seem like a group can only reach their direct network, and ironically makes concerts less appealing to that network.) Re: blog posts: that’s only one aspect of general PR. Also, you’d need to already have a following to make that effective. A blog post is something musicians can use to help spread the word online, but it’s not enough.

    There are a TON of PR that need to be done to get a decent turnout. Writing a press release is one of them.

  3. says

    I have something that may help you deal with options to press releases. My blog gives tons of free advice on how to do your own publicity without using press releases. It is at Once people discover they can get much better results with the distribution costs of press releases they move to a whole new level. OK, thanks, Edward Smith.

  4. Kathleen Connell says

    Yes- press releases can just chew up valuable time when other longer term operations/strategies would be more useful. I guess the group/ individuals/ company would have an email list being developed; a social media presence- facebook, you tube, and the many more; a newsletter for their regulars; and some marketing methods for encouraging new comers- for example-subscribers friend at half price. Developing relationships with journalists for advertorials takes quite an effort and sometimes the newspapers ( struggling anyway) are not interested unless you are paying for an advertisement.
    Steven has a point about whether the press release is for a group or individual (an individual would need to have a mighty profile for an effective press release)
    These days you are competeing with cool graphics, snazzy copy and catchy slogans- all doable but for start ups a bit pricey- unless you work with your peers/colleagues in the media department- again doable- and a great way to start learning new skills, networking and expanding your ideas. My two penneth!

  5. Ariel says

    Interesting … I believe given his background that Mr. Sandow knows more than he tells us .
    All the hype and entrepreneurship classes in the world come to grief if what is presented on
    the stage does not fully and honestly as possible speak to the attending audience .The
    sensibilities of to-day are not those of the 18th. & 19th. centuries .We have become accustomed to hearing differently than Mozart , Chopin etc .but pretend all is a passing on
    from one generation to the next . If I’ve had it for a while in hearing the Emperor Concerto
    as presented by Ms. zx or Mr x it is only because I would rather hear something different for
    a change..but you ain’t too often going to get the change without having to sit through yet
    again a series of “standard ” works that also need a rest . I used to go to concerts every week
    now seldom , I’ve heard the standard 125 works played over and over and ……etc. What we need is a Stokowski of the old Phily days .Entrepreneur classes are much like teaching how to
    dress the corpse and presenting it as live .Writing a press release means nothing if what goes on speaks to no one .

  6. says

    Echoing Sugar and Kathleen, I’d like to emphasize that press work is most effective when combined with smart social media + direct marketing campaigns. No single channel of communication can do it all, but together they can build a community of interest around an artist/ensemble/event that extends outward from friends + family to the public at large.

    • Kathleen Connell says

      Agree Steven. I recently read an article by a highly experienced publicist describing where ‘the publicity party’ is. Not once did she list a press release. Instead social media, blogs, networking, website. For established artists- a press release works- for start up- all the other strategies need to be worked on- takes time. I’m just a tinsiest gog in the music world, but online has worked for me. And–Could we please get over the musicians are different and need special ideas- check out what works for your sisters and brothers in the writing, graphics, web developing, drawing, craft, ceramics and on and on world.

  7. says

    90% of press releases are a waste of time and done by amateur publicists who have no idea of what it takes these days to get someone’s attention, much less get a stranger to venture to a concert hall. One thing that is not touched on here is the importance of an interesting photograph to go with the release, especially for the social media, blogs and web based arts, entertainment and events sites. The problem is that hardly anyone ever thinks about the person reading their notice and skew the message to reasons they might be intrigued enough to attend. It takes as much creativity to do good publicity as it does to write a symphony.

  8. says

    everything fails until it succeeds; nothing works, except what does and all similar all-encompassing statements are useless…in other words, if there was a magic formula to success, be it releases, photos or social media, someone would have attempted to patent it by now and be quite in demand…how about, rise above the clutter, have a good story to tell and a good product to sell…find a way to reach your audience and do it…doesn’t matter what vehicle you use, just understand how that audience receives its messages and deliver them in that form…that might call for different tactics for different targets…there is no cookbook, just the need to pay attention to the market…and, by the way, good grammar helps