Publicity, legwork and owning the last mile: Urban Arts Case Study, Part V

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Let’s say you’ve done your homework:

  1. You’ve got strong videos promoting your theatre company’s work.
  2. Your website has interesting content that’s well-integrated into your promotional strategy and effectively leverages social media platforms like Twitter, Flickr and Facebook.
  3. You’re appropriately using your cast and crew’s personal social media profiles to drive and spread your content.
  4. Everyone involved in the production understands the importance of actively looking for the next good hook to fuel your communications activity.

That’s it, right? You’re set.

Sure — provided you translate all this leg work into a complete promotional package that firmly positions your company in the best possible light.

Victoria-based Urban Arts Productions had a great product in their adaptation of Marie Antoinette: The Colour of Flesh, but weren’t able to translate that creative success into large audiences or a key critical review.

This is my last post in a six-part case study on what they and other independent theatre companies might do to better-promote their creative work, capture larger audiences, and engage key critics.

Playing catch-up? Here’s what you’ve missed:

Owning the Last Promotional Mile

Remember back in the Urban Arts overview post when I talked about the Victoria theatre scene, the difficulties Urban Arts had encountered when trying to secure a review and the general newspaper situation in Canada?

As the Times-Colonist/Postmedia Network situation demonstrates, reporting jobs are getting scarce, there’s more content than a reduced staff can reasonably cover, deadlines are always tight and more cutbacks are on the horizon.

In this journalistic climate, no one’s got time for unnecessary leg work.

So if you want coverage, doing a straight-up news release — no matter how well written — isn’t going to cut it. You’ve got to own the last mile.

Why? Let’s do another tour, shall we?

Mainstream and commercial newswires have evolved

Whether you hail from the publicity or journalism side of the promotional house, you’re likely familiar with news agencies.

According to Wikipedia:

A news agency is an organization of journalists established to supply news reports to news organizations: newspapers, magazines, and radio and television broadcasters. Such an agency may also be referred to as a wire service, newswire or news service.

Commercial newswire services charge businesses to distribute their news (e.g. Business Wire, the Hugin Group, Marketwire, PR Newswire, CisionWire, and ABN Newswire).

Here’s the theory:

  1. You sign up as a client of a news agency (Urban Arts Productions went with to promote Marie Antoinette) and write your press releases, with or without their help.
  2. Some agencies will also allow you to create original photography or purchase stock images to augment the visual appeal of your material, depending on how much your budget allows for such things.
  3. The news agency gives you a medium through which to push your content out to a national and global audience of journalists and other relevant subscribers.
  4. Zillions of people see your material and either directly repurpose it from the news agency or contact you for more information.

There’s just one problem. News agency services are so ubiquitous that everyone who can afford to use a wire service is doing the same thing.

While writing this blog post this morning, I took a screen grab of all the releases posted on Canada News Wire (CNW).Here’s what I could see at 9:47 am:

A selection of the 34 news releases posted since 9 am on CNW when I checked at 9:47 am today

There were more releases posted since 9 am that my screen grab missed — I counted 34 in total.

While content searches, tagging and other SEO tricks can help users find relevant content, standing out in the midst of that kind of noise is challenging.

CNW understands that. They offer webcasts, podcasts, video and photography with a traditional text-focused service. And they’ve adapted that package to social media, too:

Where to find the link to social media releases on the CNW website.

Click that Social Media Releases link and you get another dull-as-dishwater listing of recent media releases, which is disappointing (has no one at CNW thumbnails, anyone?).

Click on an individual listing— and there are a lot fewer of them (e.g., only four were added on April 19, 2011) — and the picture gets a lot more interesting.

Consider this release by Canada Post about a new stamp celebrating Prince William and Kate Middleton’s impending nuptials:

Canada Post’s media-rich release to announce the Wills & Kate 4evah stamp.

Here’s a breakdown of the highlights:

  1. A full set of attached high-resolution images, along with an embedded Youtube video that provides an overview of the stamp’s creation and a short glimpse behind the scenes.
  2. Before you hit the copy — which features links to useful information in the lead paragraph (it never ceases to amaze me how many text-based releases don’t do this well or at all) — you’ve got options to share this content through a variety of social media networks, including a standalone share button for Twitter.
  3. Canada Post’s logo is prominently displayed, reinforcing their brand identity.
  4. There’s a TinyURL provided so you don’t have to go to the bother of shortening the page URL yourself if you want to share it with your network (interestingly, CNW doesn’t suppress other shortening service platforms the way the New York Times does — when I put this release’s URL into, I was able to generate
  5. The release shows Twitter comments in real-time in the side margin so you and others can see what people are saying about the release.
  6. Comments are also enabled directly on the release page (below the area my screenshot captured), along with Technorati and tags.

Is putting out this kind of content likely to translate into better results? The case is strong to me, but you decide — here’s a screen grab of Google News results for keywords in this release:

Google News results related to Canada Post’s royal wedding stamp release.

I’d say 184 stories is nothing to sneeze at, particularly when the agencies range from the usual Canadian national media suspects (CBC, the Globe, the National Post) to international outlets like in China.

Many of the stories I viewed did feature the photos and video from the original release. So while the global glut of interest in Wills and Kate made sure this piece was going to find some kind of positive reception (media work often boils down to timing), the content Canada Post provided in its release did seem to help.

Sure, you say, but Canada Post has a communications budget that would make me cry. What about the resource-stricken theatre producers?

While the quality of the product and communications materials are always major factors, consider that many newspapers —the Times-Colonist included — feature a photo tab in their reviews so that people reading the material online can look at pictures from the show. The really evolved ones also append video clips where available.

It stands to reason that if you’re a theatre promoter, putting compelling video content along with a strong overview of your production in the hands of the people you hope will cover your show is a good idea.

Does that mean you need to pay for CNW’s services? It’s a great setup if you can afford it, but other providers exist and you may be able to put this kind of display together on your own depending on the resources you have available. I used CNW as an example because they demonstrate what’s possible if you’re willing to leverage your legwork into the best-possible promotional product.

Summing up

How well you navigate the last mile of your promotional plan may be what distinguishes you amongst the herd of people doing exactly the same thing.

As you prepare, remember that:

  1. Press releases aren’t just about copy anymore — if you want your material to have punch, you need to think of the whole promotional and social media picture when creating them.
  2. Newspapers are starved for visually appealing content they don’t have to pay to create. Upload your video clips and add photo galleries to your press releases. If you can’t embed the content or can’t afford a wire service that makes this kind of thing easy and intuitive, at least make the links easy to find (e.g., don’t put them at the bottom).
  3. You don’t want to make the reporter think about what’s missing — that’s your job. Your press release should supply all the relevant angles. Make it easy for them to access information about the acting and production company members through robust links to web content, Facebook pages or other materials.
  4. Your promotional efforts should be shameless, but always not at the expense of being personable.

This is my last post about Urban Arts and it’s been an interesting experiment in writing a case study.

As I mentioned in an earlier post, I’ve had some positive feedback from one person associated with the show and a few other comments from people in the industry. Now that the set of articles are complete, I’m planning to share the material directly with the Urban Arts team.

If I get any feedback and it’s appropriate to share through the blog, I’ll do a follow-up post.

I did end up doing a follow-up post on how Urban Arts adapted their communications, particularly on the web and via Twitter, and had a little feedback from Urban Arts.

Catching up? Here are links for the whole series: