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How to Get Some PR For Your Art Show

In a previous life, before I became a full-time artist, I was a public relations professional. Twenty-three years of my career was spent at Amtrak headquarters where I held various corporate communications positions, ending as senior director of public affairs. There, and in later jobs, I represented companies and projects that were newsworthy; meaning, it wasn't hard to get the media's attention. At times when I'd get frustrated with Amtrak and think about making a move, I'd see a help wanted ad for something like the Lace Manufacturers' Association, and I'd wonder how in the world that PR person would ever find a reporter, at least outside of trade press, who would be remotely interested in their "news."

As artists - at least for most of us - our job as PR/marketers of our own work is about as tough as that of the PR pro for the Lace Manufacturers. How in the world do we get the media's attention for our show or project? I'm going to risk giving you some tips, but with this caveat: You can follow every single one of these tips, do everything textbook-perfect, and still not get coverage in your local media. The possible reasons for that are many: There's only so much space allotted to visual arts in the newspaper; your newspaper has cut back on arts staff; the week of your show just happens to coincide with some "more important" art events in your city; and so on. 

With that said, you stand a better chance of getting coverage if you follow these tips:

  1. Read your local paper or watch your TV news and see how they cover visual art. Be realistic. If most art shows are simply a calendar listing, write your news release just as it might appear in the calendar listing. Make it easy for the reporter or intern who is compiling the listings.
  2. When planning your exhibit, come up with a compelling theme/title that provokes curiosity. If you are a well-known artist, then a theme like “New Works by [your name]” may suffice, but if you are a relatively unknown artist, then something a bit more conceptual and curious will serve you better.  A little irony, a little humor, never hurts.  One local Salt Lake City show currently is themed “That Thing You Hate.” The featured artists worked with mentors to develop some process/skill that they’ve previously avoided.
  3. If you believe your concept/theme is truly unique and therefore possibly newsworthy, write more than a calendar listing-type release. Give the arts editor enough information to convince him/her that it is worth a feature story. (There’s no room here for writing tips, but you may want to consult with an expert about how to write it.)
  4. Send your release via email to the appropriate contact at the media outlet. Don’t send it as a mass email to all the media contacts on your list; send a separate email to each. Do not send it as an attachment, but in the body of the email. Do send good images of your work as attachments (more on that below).
  5. Time your release to reach your media contacts at least two weeks before you want to see it appear in the news. Ask about deadlines for weekly or monthly publications; some may require a longer lead-time.
  6. If you believe your show/project warrants more than a calendar listing, follow up with the arts editor or reporter by phone. Sometimes it’s difficult to get through to them, but it’s worth a try. Be prepared with a couple of very brief talking points that will convince them they need to take a second look at your release. Maybe you have a timely theme (associated with a current event or issue). Maybe you the artist have reached some major milestone or overcome incredible obstacles to get where you are. Maybe there’s something unusual about your process. On the other hand, if this show isn’t super special in some way, don’t waste the reporter/editor’s time with a phone call.
  7. About images – Recognize that a good printed image must be high resolution – 300 pixels per inch (ppi). If your newspaper typically prints photos that are up to about 3x6 inches, then you must send them an image that is that size and 300 ppi. But don’t try to email images that are humongous in file size; about 1 or 1.5 megabytes is probably about right. Name your image file with your name and the title of your art. That’s the minimum information; some artists also include the size of the painting in the file name. Be sure to send a jpeg type file.
  8. If you are trying to attract television outlets, you must give them a time/place and something visually interesting to put on video. Perhaps your process is so unusual that it will be deemed newsworthy. Do you paint collaboratively with your horse? Does your art fit in the eye of a needle? Are you an "action painter" like Jackson Pollock? Do you collect trash and up-cycle it into art?
  9. If you are successful in getting a listing or article in your news, be sure to locate it online if possible and link to it through your Facebook and/or other social media accounts.

If you have something from experience to add to this list, I'd love to hear it. And if you have questions, I'm happy to try to answer them.

Good luck!

Topics: Art biz
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2 Responses to How to Get Some PR For Your Art Show

Joseph Vranich
via suemartinfineart.com6 months ago

Hi Susan! I thought of you yesterday when thinking of a certain employer we once had and decided to search for you online. You were easy to find. Also, I'm glad to see that you are back in the artist mode, which I know you've always enjoyed. Your advice on how to get PR for an art show is excellent -- but, then again, you are so very well experienced in PR. I'm happily married and living in California; my work is in corporate relocation consulting (love it) tht includes travel all over the country. Live is good. With fond memories, and my best regards, Joe

Sue Martin
via suemartinfineart.com6 months ago

Hi Joe,
How wonderful to re-connect with you. Thanks so much for looking me up and finding my web site. Yes, I am living my dream and feeling incredibly fortunate. Sounds like you, too, have found your niche and loving life. If you'll send me an email through the "contact me" section of this web site and include your contact info, I'll try to connect when I'm in CA in 2014. -Sue


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