"I want to have sold-out shows and get in the NYTimes."
One of the biggest mistakes a person can make when they're producing their own (or someone else's) show is waiting too long to hire a press rep or having unrealistic expectations on what a press rep will do for you.
I asked a handful of kick-ass press reps from the indie theater scene and beyond to share their thoughts on how to get the kind of success your show deserves.
If you like this post, please share your thoughts, experiences and suggestions in the comments below and stay connected on Twitter and Facebook!
What does a press rep do?
EMILY OWENS PR: A press rep acts as a liaison between the show producers and the media. We handle everything from sending out press releases and submitting listings to pitching feature stories and securing review coverage.
Press outlets may include newspapers, magazines, TV, radio, websites, freelancers and bloggers, along with any new and emerging forms of media. It’s the job of a press rep to stay on top of the new publications and outlets, with the aim of getting the show as much coverage as possible. That may be reviews, feature stories, interviews or profiles on the artists, a listing, or even an appearance on a program. They handle all seat requests from the press throughout the run as well as reach out to committee members of awards the show qualifies for.
KATIE ROSIN (KAMPFIRE PR): A press rep's job is to raise awareness about a production to the media. They do this by issuing press releases, pitching features or stories, securing interviews, submitting listings, distributing photos, inviting critics to review, and maintaining positive relationships with journalists. I love this article and send it to all potential clients.
RON LASKO (SPIN CYCLE): We act as a liaison between a theater company and the media. Our goal is to get print, online, radio and TV outlets to cover your show. As quickly as possible and as favorably as possible. Timing is everything.
ANDREA ALTON PR: A press rep helps create a buzz and raise the profile of a production or theatre company. This is usually done by writing an engaging press release, pitching story ideas, and securing reviewers.
DG: Ultimately, the rep can’t control whether an outlet decides to cover a show, that’s up to the gods at the end of the day, but they can make an enticing case. They can push and push your show, politely, of course. Also, asking a press rep to specifically not invite a particular press person to a show is a no-no.
KR: A press rep does not put butts in seats. The fruits of their labors (ie, if an article is secured or a great review runs) if properly marketed may help to facilitate audience development, but PR is not a direct line to the consumer.
RL: Fill seats. Invite other industry people to your show.
AA: Press and marketing are two different things. I know most theatre companies don’t have money for both press and marketing but if you can budget a little money for marketing, it’s usually worth it. You can buy web ads that aren’t too expensive and there are ways to get free advertising such as cross promoting with other theatre companies and offering ticket giveaways.
How should a producer go about picking a press rep?
EO: Honestly you just have to go with your gut! When I’m deciding what projects to take on I first read the script. If I don’t dig the play, that’s an immediate pass. You should work with a press rep that believes in you. It doesn’t matter how many people recommended them or how much coverage they secured for someone else’s show if a press rep doesn’t believe in the work that you’re doing. The rest really just comes down to personality. Do you like the person? Are you on the same page? Do you communicate well?
DG: Two questions a producer should ask a press rep are: How interested are you in this project, and do you have the proper amount of time to give it your full attention?
|Katie Rosin and Antonio Minino|
KR: Picking a press rep is very much about relationships. Most press reps have the same contacts, but do they have good communication skills, do you get along and have fruitful and smart discussions, are they collaborators, do they like to have check-ins. If they have a good rapport with you, they most likely have a similar rapport with the journalists they are trying to attract.
RL: I would look at smaller shows that have gotten some attention and see who repped them. Find something that didn't have a star, a "hot" playwright/company, or was in a fancy new theater. Show-score.com is an excellent place to do some research. With one click you can see how many reviews something got and a score for that review. If something got a lot of mediocre (or even bad) reviews, someone put some effort in.
AA: First, I’d ask colleagues for referrals. I find that people are very open to sharing good and bad press experiences. Also, if you see a show that is getting a lot of press, find out who the press rep is and reach out to them. Figure out what your goals are and what you hope to achieve by hiring a publicist. If recent press coverage isn’t posted on their website, I’d ask for it. It will help you evaluate what types of press they can get you. Also, be leery of publicists that only show you press coverage from years ago.
How can a producer best work with a press rep?
EO:Communication is key. Check in once a week and see where they are and what they might need from you. Be responsive to emails and phone calls, and clear time in your schedule for interviews. Keep your press rep in the loop as much as possible. Especially with any major changes to the production (the playwright added an entirely new character, your director quit, you decided to add an intermission etc.)
DG: Because press outlets have hard deadlines, one of the most important things a producer can do is to provide all assets to the press rep in a timely manner and respond quickly to any/all requests by the press rep. Going out to the press with full materials, including photos, will give your production the best chance of being covered. Choose your press dates carefully, it can be challenging to reschedule press once they are booked. While unforeseen things can happen during a production, having clear communication with your rep and pre-set press dates will ease the process.
KR: Working with a press rep does not eliminate the work of the producer. It is the producers job to make sure the press rep has all the material they need to do a good job. We have a form "What Kampfire Needs to Do Their Job and Do It Well" that lays out exactly what we need from the producers. This includes everything from bios to photography. Great photography can make or break a PR campaign, so this is very important. We have a list of photographers we like working with at every level. Maintain a weekly conference call or check-in to update the press rep on new happenings; the producer is in the rehearsal room and has more intimate knowledge of the production then the press rep.
AA: Hire someone sooner than later. Sometimes the press rep is the last person to be brought on board. In my experience, the sooner I start working on a show, the more press coverage I’ll be able to secure. Also, providing info in a timely fashion and having great press photos and graphics can really help. Everything is so visual and immediate now. If you can take some photos a month before your show opens, you’ll increase your chances of getting press and you’ll also have something engaging to share on social media.
What are common mistakes producers make working with & picking a press rep and approaching this aspect of their production, in general?
EO: I hear the term “leveraging relationships” a lot when people talk about press reps. I think this gives producers the idea that we can pitch anything to journalists we have good relationships with and they’ll cover it. That really isn’t the case! At the end of the day, editors are the ones who make the final decision on what to cover and there is not much a press rep can do if that person passes. Don’t expect press coverage to be some kind of magic bullet that will achieve you tons of critical acclaim, sell out your entire run, or launch your career to the next level. This unfortunately rarely happens!
DG: A producer needs to get an honest answer from a press rep about the rep’s bandwidth and interest in their production. If a press rep has too much going on they won’t be able to dedicate the necessary time to get the show the coverage it deserves. Producers need to have reasonable expectations, as well. Everyone wants The New York Times to review their show, but it’s simply not always possible.
KR: The New York Times - if a press rep promises you a New York Times review they are not being truthful. This can not be guaranteed. What I promise is that I will invite them, I will follow up with phone calls, and I usually get a hard answer (No is my second favorite answer because at least I know.) If it is a NO, I can still go back and ask one more time with a different angle. I also think people try to save money on this aspect and I often get "emergency" calls from someone who paid very little and is getting very little and are upset. Be wary of someone who over promises, but also of someone who underpromises. Meet in person and make sure that you have a good understanding of goals.
RL: There are three. The biggest is that they don't include people on the administrative side in on the creative process. Theater is collaborative and the biggest successes are when everyone is working together. A press agent can help make valuable decisions about when and where to do your show, who to cast, etc. We tend to know who the hot up-and-coming actors and playwrights are that the press likes. We know the theaters that they like to go to and what performance times are going to be most attractive. The second is in not knowing the difference between press and marketing. Getting a lot of good press is often not enough to fill houses. People have to see those good reviews and then want to spend time seeing your show and fork over the money to do so. The third is in not knowing the difference between a preview, a press preview, a company opening and a press opening. All are different and important when creating your performance schedule. In terms of your expectations, it very much depends on your goals and how much you are paying. Nothing is impossible with time and unlimited resources. These days the average showcase gets 3 or 4 reviews. Timing, luck and a good press agent can get that up to maybe 7 or 8 reviews.
AA: If you’re a small theater company just starting out and no one has heard about you yet, it’s a process. You’re building your brand and business and that takes time.
Also, sometimes people assume nothing is being done if they aren’t getting interviews or review requests. Know that if you hired a quality press person, they’re working on your behalf but also ask for updates.
When is a press rep needed and when is one not needed?
EO: If you’re producing a show that has a 3-4 week run with at least 9-16 performances, and having the show reviewed is one of your goals, then you’ll want to look into hiring a press rep. You really don’t need a press rep if 1. The play is still being developed and you’re presenting a workshop production, 2. You have less than 9 performances, 3. Your show opens in less than six weeks, 4. Reviews and press coverage are not one of your goals.
DG: Short runs are challenging in the theater world so it’s good to have reasonable expectations. If a show is still in a nascent state or a work-in-progress and press will not be invited, then a press rep may not be needed. Only invite press if the show is ready to be reviewed. Revivals by new theater companies, without a unique angle or star casting can be difficult to get press interested in, but that said, if your show has an angle or is topical, a good press rep can work with that.
KR: A press rep is only needed if you want to raise awareness of your production to journalists. If the project is in development and you want audiences but no reviews, you can often get away with a limited PR plan or just marketing.
RL: PR is definitely needed if you are looking to build and grow a company and not just a single production. Beyond that, it depends on your goals. If you don't have at least 3 weeks of performances, it is really difficult to get coverage. And I would never hire anyone for a festival unless you are 100% committed to the material and the production team and have serious plans to take your show to the next level.
AA: If you’re new to New York and have never mounted a production in the city, you might want to get a production or two under your belt before you spend the money on the publicist. Also, if you have a solo-show and you haven’t workshopped it or put it up in front of an audience, I’d recommend doing that first and then bringing in a press rep. If you need write-ups or reviews for grants, want your work reviewed, and want to increase your profile and grow your brand, I would hire a press rep. If you’re a theatre company that plans to be around for years, it’s also worth the investment.
EO: For an indie/off-off show you should expect to spend $2000-$3000. If you’re producing on an off-Broadway contract you’ll probably spend a little more.
DG: That really depends on the level of involvement from your press rep. The more involved they are the higher their fee might be. Do your research and homework. Ask around. Find out who your peers recommend. Interview lots of candidates and assess their interest, and you’ll wind up with the right person.
KR: Standards are that a third of the budget should be spent on Marketing and PR but that includes everything from your posters, postcards, eblasts, ect. But definitely don't short-cut yourself on spending. I recommend budgeting for the publicist alone anywhere from $1k - $5k depending on your level of Off Off Broadway. Off-Broadway and above publicists get about $750+ per week.
RL: You are going to pay between $1500 & $3000 for a limited-run engagement. Fees have actually come down a bit over the last few years - or at least stagnated. Many major outlets just aren’t covering theater unless there is a celebrity involved or you luck into being the hot topic of the moment. So the amount of coverage that is even possible has decreased fairly radically over that past few years.
AA: In addition to PR, I’m also a writer/producer who has hired publicists in the past and I’m very sensitive to the money issue and people throwing their money away. Many many years ago, I paid a press rep $750 to work on a festival show and the results I got were amazing. The next year I paid someone $2,000 (the other PR person had moved across the country) and the results were lackluster and I ended up doing the work on my own. With that said, I would be cautious of spending more than $2,500 - $3,000 on a festival show or indie theatre production. If you pay above that amount, I feel that the press rep should have extraordinary connections and a stellar track record. However, there are no guarantees with press so anything can happen.
Emily Owens is a media-relations expert specializing in New York and World Premiere productions off and off-off Broadway. Her clients include downtown theater venues, indie theatre companies, and self-producing artists. Since founding the company in 2007, Emily's clients have been nominated for Drama Desk Awards (The Navigator in 2012; The Man Who Laughs in 2013; Alligator in 2016), won Obie Awards (Kate Benson and Lee Sunday Evans in 2015 for A Beautiful Day in November on the Banks of the Greatest of the Great Lakes; Horse Trade Theater Group in 2015 for The Fire This Time Festival), and numerous New York Innovative Theatre Awards, and received rave reviews and Critics Picks in The New York Times, Time Out NY, New York Magazine, The Village Voice, Wall Street Journal, NY Post, NY Daily News, and The New Yorker. www.emilyowenspr.com
Press Representative David Gibbs is the founder of DARR Publicity, a boutique press agency specializing in theater, dance, music-driven shows and unique theatrical experiences. David’s clients include The Amoralists, Blessed Unrest, Company XIV, Ice Factory Festival, La MaMa, The Mad Ones, New Ohio Theatre, PTP/NYC and The Queen’s Company. David has publicized shows at Rattlestick, Peter Jay Sharp Theater, Atlantic Theater, Minetta Lane Theatre, Playwrights Horizons, Theatre Row, New World Stages, The Flea, Walkerspace, Soho Playhouse, Town Hall, Cherry Lane and HERE. His clients have won Drama Desk, Lucille Lortel and Obie Awards. For more info visit http://www.DarrPublicity.com.
KAMPFIRE PR/MARKETING was instrumental in the launch of the Broadway musical Brooklyn and the National Tour of Mother Load. Kampfire has been integral in multidimensional campaigns for New York Innovative Theatre Award Recipients, GLAAD Award winners, back-to-back NYMF Best of Fest winners, and Drama Desk nominees. In 2014, Kampfire launched Stage17.tv, a digital entertainment destination for episodic fiction and reality programming for the world’s largest stage—the Internet. Kampfire clients include: Convergences Theatre Collective, Ensemble Studio Theatre, International Human Rights Arts Festival, The League of Professional Theater Women, Manhattan Theatre Works, MyCarl Productions, New York Innovative Theatre Awards, New York Neo-Futurists, and The Performing Arts Center at Purchase College. www.kampfirefilmspr.com
SPIN CYCLE was created in 1998 based on nearly thirty years of combined experience by its founders, Chip Duckett and Ron Lasko. This innovative cultural communications company specializes in PR, marketing and special events, and is extremely diverse in its projects.
Contact Spin Cycle at email@example.com or on Twitter: @SpinCycleNYC.
ALTON PR & PRODUCTION was founded in 2011 by Andrea Alton with the aim of providing full press and production services to theatre artists. Our goal is to provide affordable services to artists with an emphasis on new plays/musicals, solo shows, comedy, festivals, Off-Broadway and Off-Off Broadway theatre. In addition to press representation, we also offer assistance with production, audience outreach, and marketing. Recent productions include The Motherf*cker With The Hat and Loose Ends (T. Schreiber Studio/Theatre), Haram! Iran! (TADA), Damaged Goods (TOSOS), And Miss Reardon Drinks A Little (Retro Productions), A History Of Servitude (The PIT), The Fresh Grind Festival (Black Coffee Productions), Mr. Toole (Midtown International Theatre Festival), The Cleaning Guy, and ChipandGus (FringeNYC/Fringe Encores). Andrea is also the social media director for Emerging Artists Theatre as well as a curator for their biannual New Work Series. Alton PR has handled press and production work for numerous New York Festivals including The New York International Fringe Festival, The Frigid Festival, The 1st Irish Festival, Dream Up, The Midtown International Theatre Festival, The Fresh Fruit Festival, Planet Connections, and the United Solo.