How to write a good press release

APRA AMCOS recently eavesdropped on Music NSW’s free panel discussion ‘Music Publicity 101: Why your press release sucks!’ that featured some of the industry’s most renowned music journalists and publicists including Iain Shedden (The Australian), Stacey Piggot (The Drones), Natalie Dodds (Amanda Palmer), Larry Heath (AU Review) and Claire Collins (Gotye). It was a fantastic discussion so we thought we’d share some key insights with you to help get your PR right the first time.

Keep it succinct & detailed

Journalist Iain Shedden receives hundreds of press releases every week. So if yours is a four-page spinner filled with grandiose hyperbole, he probably won’t read it.

“All I want is short, succinct information that I can pretty much say yes or no to on the spot,” he says. “Simplicity is key.”

Larry Heath also advocates making life easier for journalists. “Your press release should tell us everything we need to know – we shouldn’t need to research simple facts,” he says.

Stacey Piggot swears by it. “If it’s an album launch, you need to include the date of the release, the names of the songs, who is available for interview, when they are available, how they are available – whether the interview will be over the phone or in person,” she says. “You need to cut out that back-and-forth email exchange or people will get fed up.”

Tell us your story

 If you send your press release to any kind of media, it needs to tell a story.

Whether you’ve spent the past three years touring rural Australia selling CDs out the back of your van like The Waifs, or you got your heart broken and retreated to a cabin in the middle of the woods to write a record like Bon Iver, something has to grab the media’s attention.

“The volume of releases that come to me each and every week is huge,” says Iain. “You need to grab the journalist's attention with a brilliant story.”

Stacey agrees. “Until you have a strategy, until you have something to say, until you’ve done as much as you possibly can, if you don’t have a lot of cash, I don’t think you need a publicist,” she says. “Plus it’s pretty unlikely a publicist would take you on unless you have a story to tell.”

Your career = an onion

 It’s all well and good to know you need a story to promote your music, but what if you don’t have one yet?

“Concentrate on your songs,” says Claire Collins. “That’s the most important thing. There’s no point spending a million dollars on fancy press shots, a fancy bio and your website if your songs aren’t there and your songs aren’t getting enough interest by fans.”

Stacey agrees. “A lot of bands forget about that and go straight to The Australian or to Rolling Stone. Then they get really disillusioned because they don’t have a lot of substance behind what they’re doing at that time and people like Iain just don’t have time to respond.”

Moral of the story? Start small and gradually grow layers.

Plant seeds at the grassroots

Start with grassroots media before approaching the big boys. If you don’t have a huge following yet, grassroots media like the AU Review can help you build it.

“We want to be the first to discover a new band and support them,” says Larry Health, Editor of the AU Review. “I’m a huge music fan and everyone that writes for the AU Review loves music and want to discover new music.”

The Jezabels is a case in point for the value of grassroots media.

“Before mainstream media got behind The Jezabels, we went to community radio who DO want to know about those smaller bands and who DON’T care about those stories and having a huge following. We went to all the online magazines and blogs. We went to every single regional newspaper and every community radio station in rural areas.”

Work hard

 All the panelists agree that you have to work really hard to get noticed and build a following.

If you send your press release to a website, call them a week later to make sure they got it; if you send your CD to a radio station or magazine, call them and ask if they’ve listened to it.

“You can’t just send stuff out there and expect everyone to run to you,” says Claire.  “You’ve got to follow up with a personal email or phone call so people know they’re not just talking to a mail out system.”

Stacey Piggot is a strong advocate of putting in the hard yards. “You really have to work your ass off. Bands are surprised when they send their CDs to AirIt and nothing happens!” she says.

“You’ve got to get a print out of every single person that was sent your CD, Google their phone number, call them and ask them if they got your CD and whether they’ve listened to it. That’s why I’m awake at 1am every morning – because I do it every single time for every single artist I work for.”

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