Publicists and criticism

As a theatre reviewer, I oftentimes work directly with PR reps and publicists to get opening night invitations, press tickets, photos, media events, press releases, etc. For the most part, my experiences with these groups have been just fine. However, recently I’ve encountered some issues and trends that need addressing:

Bad publicity shots: A picture says a thousand words. If you want to represent your show with amateurish imagery, then you are just shooting yourself in the foot. First impressions always are the most important. Furthermore, sending low-res or small files really limits the use of the picture. You can always make a big picture/file smaller, but not the reverse.

No fact sheet: Along with a press release and Playbill in the press kit, it’s always very helpful, particularly when running on deadline, for a reviewer to scan a fact sheet for venue name and address, dates, director, cast, etc — without having to pour through a creatively written press release. Only two theatres have offered fact sheets that I’ve noticed. A simple thing, but a major help.

Spamming/shilling: I recently had a slew of shilly comments posted on my blog relating to Cirque du Soleil’s new show Banana Shpeel. Things like: “I can’t wait for Banana Shpeel to arrive in Chicago! And you’re in luck! A great deal on tickets can be found here…!” And I wasn’t alone.

I’ve made contact with Shpeel‘s spokesperson regarding this matter, and she quickly replied, stating that she wasn’t aware of the spamming/shilling and would look into it. So far, so good.

(However, the cynical side of me thinks this was, in fact, part of Shpeel‘s marketing scheme, and it backfired.)

My point? Using social media and blogs to shill your show is not only annoying, it’s ineffective. We aren’t morons here. We can smell a marketing ploy a mile away.

No final confirmation emails: Countless of times I’ve had to take the lead in sending confirmation request emails to PR contacts to ensure I had a ticket waiting for me at the box office. Common sense, right? Which leads me to…

No press tickets: Three times I’ve arrived at a show to review, and no tickets were under my name due to some error on their behalf. I’ve had to pull up the confirmation they sent me on my bberry to get in.

And finally…

Pissy publicists: Without naming names, I’ve come to learn that a certain publicist is giving me a hard time in arranging a date to review a show s/he’s representing simply because s/he didn’t like recent reviews posted for other shows s/he represents on a certain entertainment site I contribute to. Mind you, these reviews s/he takes issue with I haven’t even written.

I’ve come to learn this isn’t an uncommon occurrence in the industry.

I find it completely unprofessional to be offended by a review for a show you’re representing. Your job as a publicist is to invite the critics and promote the show, not serve as gatekeeper to those sites or critics who you feel will give your show a good or a bad review. If your show stinks or has issues, it’s the critic’s job to call them out in such a way that lets the reader determine if they want to buy a ticket for the show.

Anything you’d like to add to this list?

6 thoughts on “Publicists and criticism

  1. I’d be interested to know which of these offenses are from hired publicists versus in-house person-wearing-the-publicist-hat. I know that with many small companies, people are often tasked to do things that not only are they not necessarily skilled at – but also often without any guidance as to the proper way of doing them–all while also doing the things that they are good at, that they like, and that are their primary duties. While this is not an excuse, it is certainly a contributing factor to at least a few of your grievances.

    With regard to low-res photos (huge pet peeve of mine is the vast number of people who don’t realize the difference between what works on screen v. what will work printed); I know for a fact that a lot of companies (again, smaller, and without a lot of wiggle room in budgets) shoot their own publicity photos, separate from the people they may have hired to handle their media relations and/or marketing/design, and quite frankly, just don’t know what they’re doing (see point 1).

    As for pissy publicists, you’re right. The publicist’s job IS to bring in the press and the critics. And a critic or publication shouldn’t be treated poorly because of an unfavorable review. However, I can easily see a situation where a publicist might be hesitant or leery to invite critics who are on assignment for a publication who has burned them in the past – with repeated no-shows, showing up without having confirmed attendance, posting reviews of preview performances before the show has opened despite promises to the contrary, or just generally behaving without courtesy.

    And I think that’s the key – we should all be acting courteously with each other. If we commit to doing so, small missteps can be corrected quickly and easily and without causing anyone too much inconvenience and certainly without being pissy.

    1. Hi, a.j. – Thanks for commenting.

      Great comments. And I agree that publicists have all the rights in the world to turn down a publication that is unreliable — as in no-shows, attending but not reviewing, no confirmed attendance, etc. However, in the case referenced above, it’s just a matter of the publicist not agreeing with a critic’s review. Nothing more. And that’s shady.

  2. Well, as a baby reviewer this is very educational for me as far as what to ask for from venues. All venues have been happy to have me, and maybe it’s my “aw-shucks” self-presentation, but none have ever talking about anything as hi-falutin’ as a press kit to me! Even if they don’t do press kits (since I’m reviewing a lot of community theater) it’s good to know the the things that WOULD be in such a kit, so I can be savvy enough to try and request them if they have them.

    So thanks for the edumacation. :)

  3. Be glad you didn’t join me for “The Pillowman” because they lost the will call list.

    At MCA, they give you a press release and also direct you to the press website they have where you can find images. But not really a kit.

  4. Just got my first press kit. Or, I will have, assuming the tickets are there when I get to the box office! :) No, I’m sure they will be.

    A friend of mine who does a lot of acting in Chicago was just telling me “from the artist’s standpoint, any review is a good review.” That made me feel kinda good and important. :) But also it raises the point that to refuse cooperation with a reviewer kind of disservices the performers/directors/crew ,because it denies them opportunities to get feedback on their work.

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