I hate Thursdays.
Not any PARTICULAR Thursday, but ALL of them, because that’s the day I have to get my Theater Events and Art & Around listings done each week.
You wouldn’t THINK that it would take me pretty much ALL DAY to update those two columns, but it does – especially between the months of September and April.
What is about this particular job that’s overly cumbersome, you’re probably asking yourself? What can be so hard about deleting expired events and adding a bunch of new ones?
Let me explain it this way, using Theater Events as an example.
Last season alone, 115 different theater groups from around the state (plus Toledo and a few nearby cities in Ontario) sent me press releases, hoping that I’d include their shows in the weekly Theater Events column – which I did. The problem, though, is that there’s no standard format for press releases. Sure, there are certain basics that SHOULD be included in every press release, but more often than not, something important is missing.
Which means one of two things: That I either (1) ignore any press release that’s missing important information, or (2) hunt the information down either by phone or by searching the theater’s Web site.
Can you guess which option I follow?
A major part of my Thursday, then, is spent trolling theater Web sites – which, quite honestly, is equally as frustrating, since many are out of date, terrible to navigate or are as incomplete as are the press releases. Or I’m on the phone trying to track down the person who sent me the press release – which, when I’m on deadline, can be very frustrating.
Are ALL theaters as bad as I’m making them out to be? No, of course not. Those with full-time PR professionals are generally quite good at supplying the press with everything we need to help promote their shows.
But most non-profits can’t afford such a luxury. So they do the best they can with volunteers and others who have little PR training or experience – and hope for the best.
I’ve often thought of conducting a few seminars on press release preparation, but instead I send out a Submission Guidelines document each season to help theater (and arts) publicists get the best coverage for their shows. (These common sense guidelines are applicable to most daily and weekly newspapers.) However, I often suspect few actually read it, as it’s somewhat lengthy and wordy – and many keep making the same mistakes over and over, year after year. (The guidelines don’t just TELL people what to do; they also explain WHY.)
Trust me: Press release preparation ain’t rocket science. But you’d THINK it was, based on some of the most common mistakes people make when preparing them, such as:
(1) Not including a phone number for potential customers to call for tickets or information;
(2) Not including the theater’s Web address (a major no-no, if you’re trying to reach a tech-savvy, younger crowd);
(3) Not including area codes with all phone numbers (very important with so many area codes around these days);
(4) Not including ticket prices (are they embarrassed by them, I always wonder?);
(5) Forgetting to include the address of the venue at which the show will be performed (isn’t it presumptuous to assume everyone knows where you are?);
(6) And finally, not being specific about the dates their show will be performed.
If that last one sounds silly, it’s not. Quite often a theater will send out a press release that boldly claims an upcoming show will run, for example, September 1-28, which it’s not; it’s only performed every Thursday through Saturday, plus every other Sunday during that period. But how are WE – and, ultimately, their customers – to know that, unless they tell us? (Wouldn’t YOU be pissed if you showed up some Wednesday night expecting to see a play, and the theater was dark?)
I could go on and on – but I won’t. (I don’t REALLY need four pages of show synopsis, for example, when one or two really well-written paragraphs will do. And don’t forget to include the photo credits – but most leave them out.)
Thank God for Fridays!
(FOR “REVIEW BOX”)
CONFESSIONS OF A CRANKY CRITIC
One theater critic’s view of the world around him.