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Press Releases: What, How and Why?

This post will answer the following questions:

  • What is a press release and what is it for?

  • What information should a press release contain?

  • What should a press release look like?

  • What is required by The Performance Critic when sending a press release?

  • What next?


What is a press release and what is it for?

Press releases are integral to communications between the producer (or publicity manager or simply a creative) of a piece of live performance and a member of press (either online or in print media) who reviews live performances.

A press release details the key information of a performance and requests that the members of press attend it to write a review.

The press release, normally sent by email, is an opportunity to grab media attention and to ‘sell’ the performance, as this member of press will notably share their views on the performance with the general public who might then be incited to attend the performance themselves.


What information should a press release contain?

The following information is key to a successful press release and is obligatory:

  • the performance title;

  • a very short synopsis or plot summary or a concise list of the explorative/didactic aims of the performance;

  • the run (the dates and times) of the performance and its duration;

  • the date you are requesting that the member of press attend your performance, or multiple dates from which they can select one;

  • the address of the venue or location housing the performance;

  • a list of cast and creatives. This includes the performer(s) and, where applicable, directors, writers, set designers, prop/costume-makers, producers, the name of the theatre company producing and/or presenting the performance, musicians and music composers, sound designers, technicians and tech operators;

  • production photos; *

  • a link to the website of the venue or location housing the performance — more specifically, a link to the webpage describing the performance, on which one can purchase tickets; **

  • the website of the theatre company (if applicable);

  • and, finally, it is now common and decent practice to include trigger warnings (visibly, not in small print) in press releases.

* These are particularly important for online press, and it is good practice to use production photos from dress rehearsals or run-throughs (i.e. in the appropriate attire, on stage, with appropriate decor and lighting; not in preliminary rehearsals when the aesthetic of the performance could still drastically change). If this is not possible at the time of the press release due to unavailability or potential copyright issues, production photos can and should be negotiated and offered after the press night.

** Tickets are always complimentary to members of press. However, including information on how to purchase tickets in your press release is good practice, regardless. Members of press can use this to inform their readers on how to buy tickets to your performance and may also wish to purchase supplementary tickets themselves for friends and family members, should a “plus one” option be unavailable.

The following information is not inherently necessary but could enrich your press release or make the performance more appealing:

  • trailers;

  • very short (1-2 sentences) biographies of performers and key creatives;

  • a description of the venue, its history, or relational significance to the performance;

  • the political aims/agenda of the performance;

  • reviews, responses and ratings by critics who have already seen the production;

  • a mention of previous, reputable locations which have housed the performance;

  • charities funded by moneys raised by the performance, and organisations (such as Arts Council England) sponsoring or financing the performance itself;

  • and a special acknowledgement of other persons involved in the conception and/or production of the performance.

Above all, be conscious of the length and the overall look of your press release. Use a formal register, and be concise and descriptive.


What does a press release look like?

Effectively, a press release can be formatted however you wish, but this format must, of course, be coherent, well-presented, structured and simple. Conventionally, press releases have an average of two production photos, one in the header of the page and another either in the footer or the middle of the page. All text should be in the same font and size. No photos should overlap with text, even if the colours of the text and the photos are appropriately contrasting. Similarly, your background should be plain white; and your text, plain black. Font should be simple and professional-looking (e.g. Times New Roman or Arial instead of Comic Sans or Courier).

In the subject of your email simply write ‘Press Release: [TITLE OF YOUR PRODUCTION IN CAPS]’. The press release itself should be clearly distinct from other text in your email, perhaps as a PDF or another, common type of attached document. Make sure to use formal vocabulary such as ‘invitation’, ‘request’ and ‘production’, as opposed to, for example, ‘opportunity’ or ‘pop along to our show’.


What is required by The Performance Critic when sending a press release?

When sending The Performance Critic a press release, all items enumerated in the list of obligatory information above are required. The only exceptions to this are synopses, plot summaries and explanations of political aims or enquiries. Whilst these are sometimes beneficial in retrospect if something is unclear after the performance, these are not essential. The performance should speak for itself without impressive description or clarification.

Success or responses from other critics is not necessary. Whether a product of the west-end, a student production, an amateur performance, a live art performance or an idea in the making, The Performance Critic will consider all types and genres of live performance, regardless of their previous perceived efficacy or success.

Being an online reviewer, The Performance Critic requires production photos, preferably more than one, for initial free publicity and then for the review itself.


What next?

Once you have sent your press release, all you can do is wait for a response. Remember to stay amicable, polite and, above all, professional in all communications, as this is a person you want to pitch your performance for you second-handedly to the public. It is worth mentioning here that you should also stay away from overly informal language, emojis or emoticons, and kisses (X’s) in all of your communications.

  • Unless from a recognised and popular newspaper, reviewing is usually only one of many jobs that a theatre critic has within the respective industry, particularly for online reviewers, bloggers, etc. Remember to be patient for a response and lenient with your dates.

  • If you are worried as you have not received a response, it is better practice to resend the original email rather than a different, follow-up email.

(As for The Performance Critic, all emails are responded to within three working days — weekends may be excluded.)


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