Pete Shaw: Is PR Worth the Money?
Image Credit: ‘Fringe 8b’ by Phil Richards, shared under CC BY-ND 2.0.
  • By Pete Shaw
  • |
  • 18th Aug 2017
  • |
  • Edinburgh Fringe

Earlier this month I saw an amusing post on Twitter from Garrett Millerick who decided not to drop £2K on an EdFringe PR and instead buy a top-of-the-range flatscreen TV instead. He then proceeded to staple reviews of the telly from the likes of What HiFi? to his flyers. A stunt worthy of a Malcolm Hardee Award.

Your PR may have a decent contact list, but that doesn’t necessarily mean they know how to use it

But this raises the point about the value of PR. A couple of years ago one PR posted on Twitter “Fringe Guru want me to do a questionnaire but I can’t be arsed. Instead I’m going to send them a job lot of these” with a link to a knitted penis hat. Needless to say their clients seemed less than impressed with their lack of enthusiasm to do their job when an opportunity was handed to them on a plate.

That’s not to say hiring a PR won’t get you any coverage – the best PRs know exactly how the system works and which strings need to be pulled in order to get your show in the media. But there is a depressingly large number of PRs who either don’t know the basics of a press release, or seem to do their level best to get themselves blacklisted – along with your show – from the pages of a publication.

This article is not the place for a tutorial on creating a press release – much has been written on that subject on Broadway Baby already – but the bottom line is that 99% of the press releases we receive serve no purpose. If you send us a news story, written as such, we might be able to use it; if you’re just sending us the blurb from your flyer littered with pull quotes from other publications, that’s of little interest. Especially since we, like most of the larger publications covering the Edinburgh Fringe, already have your show details and marketing blurb courtesy of the Festival API which transmits all that data straight to our listings.

If your PR is creating press releases like the latter described above, perhaps you’ve picked the wrong one. A good PR will be looking for all the angles about you and your show so they can spin a story; and they will try to find different ways into each publication based on their knowledge of what the editor likes.

This knowledge, and the relationships between PR and publication are vital. A good PR will know who has the influence in the media to schedule a review, run a story, or conduct an interview; and the best PRs have a relationship with those contacts that mean their communication doesn’t get ignored. But there’s a fine line they have to walk between exploiting that influence for the good of your show or destroying your chances entirely.

A case in point. Early in the festival we handed a one-star review to a show promoted by a familiar face in Edinburgh (I won’t go into names). This person decided to berate both the reviewer and Broadway Baby on Twitter – effectively saying we weren’t real reviewers. Armed with the information this promoter didn’t consider BB a valid source of reviews, we pulled all the ticket requests for all the other shows they were representing. Sometimes you’ve got to take the rough with the smooth.

PRs also need to manage expectations. Even with the largest reviewing team at the Fringe, our resources cover barely a third of the burgeoning programme. So when a PR I have known for years sent a polite, if not a little desperate, email asking for help getting coverage I at least opened the message. But the problem was not just one show that needed a little love, but eleven. A case of asking for too much at once resulting in getting nothing – the reality is that once the Festival is in full swing, our schedules are pretty much sewn up. Squeezing in the odd one or two may be possible but not your entire portfolio.

Another regular Fringe PR was dealing with our Managing Editor, Levi. Levi’s a generally accommodating kind of guy, but has way too much on his plate during August just keeping track of ticket requests, reviewers and the inevitable problems that spring up on an hourly basis. Said PR pushed so hard to get his entire roster on the schedule to the point Levi was uncharacteristically going to delete all his planned reviews. He didn’t, but it took two strong cups of tea to talk him down.

Features Editor James T. Harding said, “Press releases in August proliferate like ignored Hogwarts letters. Last year, I was even sent one on Grindr. (I blocked him). The unfair emotional pressure some PRs try to put on critics and editors to cover their shows favourably makes being at the Fringe quite unpleasant sometimes. I know at least one person who denounced a promising career in criticism because of it.”

Being greedy isn’t an appealing quality. Far too many emails, Tweets and pigeon carriers arrive with gloating notes of five-star reviews from other publications asking for us to come in too. We look at those less favourably, as we’d rather cover the guy who’s had no press in rather than add another notch to your bedpost. Your PR may have a decent contact list, but that doesn’t necessarily mean they know how to use it.

So is it worth putting down £2K on a top-flight PR? Possibly, but I wouldn’t blame you if you went for the 50” OLED flatscreen instead.

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