Staci Smith is a Seattle-based publicist with nearly two decades of experience supporting arts and nonprofit organizations. She began her career in New York, and first discovered her passion for arts marketing through performing arts. “I used to sing and perform, but at some point it was just easier for me to get my head around helping other people rather than being a performer myself,” she explains. In 2017, Staci and Art for Progress founder Frank Jackson co-founded Kindred Impact, an arts and nonprofit consultancy.
On October 31, Staci will be leading Press Release Basics, a webinar covering the role of press releases in media relations and how to write and format press releases. I recently caught up with her to learn more about her experiences working with artists to promote their work.
What are some of your favorite things about working with artists and arts organizations?
I like seeing artist who haven’t had a chance to get the word out, get the word out. The thing that’s tough is people want to have it happen on the first chance, and sometimes it doesn’t. Sometimes it’s a slow burn and seeing a name repeatedly that gets people interested. It’s nice when you’re working with artists aren’t under some sort of time constraint and have the time to really devote to developing their message and getting out there. It’s nice to see that pay off. I feel proud, and I like seeing them feel proud of the fact that people are connecting with their work.
What are some of the most common things you’ve seen artists struggle with when it comes to writing press releases?
The biggest thing that I’ve seen is that artists try to make their press release reflect how artistic they are, so they try to make an ‘arty’ press release, and that’s not the purpose of a press release. Press releases, even if you write a really, really well thought out or beautifully descriptive one, are still relatively dry. It’s not supposed to be fiction or creative writing or fantastic. It’s supposed to convey what’s happening.
Another thing is sometimes artists are so busy trying to have the press release convey their feeling and their art that they may not be direct or clear about the most important pieces of information.
What would you say is the most important thing for artists to understand about either writing or sending press releases?
I think the important thing is to not expect the world to move from a press release. I think a lot of artists hang a lot on it because they don’t know the difference between a pitch and a press release so they think they’re going to send the press release out and get press.
What’s the difference between a pitch and a press release?
A press release gives you a description of a project as well as important information such as dates, times, who’s involved, etc. If you’re also able to provide some context such as how your project fits into a larger national discussion or speaks to a particular social issue, that’s great. However, a press release does not specifically ask a press person to write about or interview you – that is the function of a pitch. A pitch tells a press person, here is what I’m doing, this is how it would make a good story, and this is why it’s a valuable story for your audience. A pitch is a direct request for press.
So here’s how I describe the difference between a press release and a pitch. Imagine a press release is like an ad for cabbage. You see the ad and you can be like Okay, I may or may not need cabbage. Thanks for letting me know it’s $5 off. Now imagine a pitch is like a detailed recipe. If someone sends you a recipe and they’re like, Here is cabbage soup. This is how you make cabbage soup, and it’s great for cold evenings. Cabbage is on sale down the street for $5 dollars off — It connects the two and creates some urgency around getting the cabbage. The press release is like just saying Cabbage is on sale down the street. A pitch is saying, This is what you want to do with the cabbage.
What role can a press release play in an effective media relations strategy?
If you’ve got a reporter who may be interested or a blogger who wants to write about your show, you want to have a press release on hand so you can quickly send them something that accurately describes your project and has all of the vital information that the press and/or the public needs in order to get involved. It’s also kind of like doing due diligence. While a reporter may not pick up a pitch or a story, you might still want them to have the press release because they might circulate it around.
Press releases are also really effective if you are doing press in a small market. Let’s say you’re in Winthrop and contact the local paper, they might actually say, Oh yeah, hand us the press release we’ll put it in the newspaper, because there’s basically one person running the whole outlet and there might not be someone available to actually write articles. They may not run the entire press release, but they can at least cut and paste the pertinent information for their readers. That’s also why you want to be really clear, because if people want to break it up to make it a news piece, you’re trying to speak to people who may not have that same artists’ vocabulary
What advice do you have for artists who want to promote their work but aren’t sure where to start?
If you’re promoting your own work and you’re showing it somewhere, ask the organization or venue what they do to get the word out. They might have different programs and outreach that they do, and that can help inform where you’re going to get started with your outreach. If you don’t ask, you don’t know what they’re doing, and they might just whip something up and you may not be able to be involved in it and learn from that process.
Another thing I would say is, see how artists in your community do it. You don’t have to reinvent the wheel. See where they’re posting information, see how they’re doing their newsletters, and try to use some of that strategy.
Interested in learning more? Join Staci for the Press Release Basics webinar on October 31. Learn more and sign up here.
Megan Gallagher is a writer from Redmond, Washington. She has been writing for the Artist Trust blog since July 2017 and loves learning more about Washington State’s arts communities.