Edinburgh Fringe People

The Publicist: Madelaine Bennett from Premier

Published on Monday 11 June 2018

We’re talking to people who perform or work at the Edinburgh Festival each year to get their perspectives on what performing or producing at the world’s biggest cultural event involves, and top tips on how to get the most out of the experience. This week arts PR expert Madelaine Bennett from Premier.

With so many shows taking place at the Edinburgh Festival, one of the biggest challenges is getting noticed. Media plays an important role in getting your show onto the radar of both ticket-buyers and the Fringe community, while good reviews can help convince people to give up the time and money required to see you perform. But with all those shows and a finite number of publications and reviewers, how do you get the media coverage?

Some shows and performers hire the services of PR agencies like Premier to pitch their work to key media people. We ask Madelaine what exactly being a publicist at the Edinburgh Festival involves, as well as getting some top tips on how performers and producers should approach and interact with media.

TW: What role does a publicist play on an Edinburgh Fringe show?
MB: A publicist’s role at the Edinburgh Fringe is to help a show get as much press attention as possible.

The work starts as early as March or April, preparing press releases and defining key messages. Then we spend much of May, June and July meeting with press and bombing them with emails, whilst trying to carefully maintain the delicate balance between “pesky but useful” and “please stop emailing me!”, so that we get as much coverage for our clients as possible whilst being as helpful as possible to the press.

This is my thirteenth Fringe as a PR so I’m relatively confident I’ve worked that one out.

TW: What kinds of shows and performers do you work with? Who are some of the people you are representing this year?
MB: I’m working with comedy shows, theatre shows and some music too. It’s lovely that you’re giving me the opportunity to plug some of my shows here! But unfortunately, much like a parent, it would be wrong to pick favourites and I don’t think you’d give me the room to list everyone. So I’ll just say I’m really pleased with my roster this year – all top stuff that I personally love and am excited to represent.

TW: What kinds of coverage are you seeking for your clients?
MB: The coverage can take the form of preview articles, Q&As, interviews, critic’s choice picks, podcasts, radio interviews and some TV – although the TV coverage of the Fringe is limited so only certain performers get that.

While all this coverage is very important, it’s the reviews that are most central to a Fringe campaign. People take the best words and stars from reviews, print them out and staple them to their flyers and paste them on to their posters all over the Fringe. Good reviews are the thing most likely to ensure a successful Fringe – so they’re the biggest focus for a PR.

It used to be very much the case that almost all performers and producers valued print coverage more than online. There’s still a huge affection for and attachment to print coverage, but people are coming round to the idea that both are equally valuable.

Indeed, if PR is all about raising profile so that as many people know about the show as possible, then the value of online coverage – both in terms of how many people originally see the article and it’s ongoing ‘shareability’ – is sometimes bigger than print.

TW: How do you decide which media and journalists to target? Do different media play different roles?
MB: To be honest, whilst of course there are certain top targets – national coverage, for example, will always carry a certain amount of weight – the days when Edinburgh performers, even high profile ones, would dismiss coverage on a blog as not useful enough are pretty much over. So whilst we target different press for different shows depending on their specialisms and interests, outside of that we value all press coverage.

Recognised media brands help lend credibility if they endorse a show, and we have to make sure we get that kind of press into the mix. But equally, you shouldn’t underestimate a well written and intelligent rave review in a blog you’ve never heard of. It can still make a real difference – especially for flyers, posters and online sharing.

Different media have different roles, in that some write articles ahead of the Fringe, some broadcast on the ground, some exclusively review and so on, but in general we strive for as much coverage in all areas of the press, at all levels.

TW: How does doing PR at the Fringe compare to the projects you work on the rest of the year?
MB: It’s a very long project! It honestly takes up half the year. But that’s the same for anyone going to the Fringe, be it performers, PRs, producers, publishers and so on.

It’s intense and because so much is resting on that investment for an artist, there’s a real sense of personal responsibility to your clients. You live and breathe the worry and stress with them.

The actual mechanics are similar to other campaigns although they are hugely intensified during the month of August!

TW: Mainstream media have – in the main – been cutting how much they spend on covering culture, and therefore are generally covering fewer shows at the Fringe. What challenges does that create? How can you meet those challenges?
MB: When that started to happen – which was most notable at the start of the recession, so essentially ten years ago now – it was really quite scary. And it still breaks my heart a little every time I go into a meeting with a mainstream editor to be told their budgets have been cut and coverage will be reduced – I can’t pretend that loss isn’t felt.

But people are still interested in the arts, and where there is interest there will be a way to find out about something. So blogs, podcasts, YouTube influencers, independent broadcasters and publishers who can operate online without the overheads of the bigger publishers are all there to help spread the word.

As publicists we just have to make sure we keep up-to-date with the world around us and understand what this new generation of press need from us in order to shout about our clients.

TW: What PR tips do you have for new performers and producers who can’t afford a publicist?
MB: That’s always such a tough question – given I just banged on about it taking six months and how much of an intense job it is if you want to do PR properly! – but obviously there is a DIY route and some people do it very well.

Write a good press release. Lay it up nicely on one page. Add a picture. Make sure all the listing info is correct and is clear. Fringe Central has a press list you can download – it won’t have as many contacts as a PR will, but it’s very useful if you don’t have PR.

Also go online and see which blogs cover the Fringe each year, they’re not all listed on the media list and they often have their contact details on their site. Email them as early as you can. If you’ve not started your press outreach yet, it’s not too late but it is definitely time to start.

Don’t bombard them – 30 emails to the same journalist begging for attention won’t win you many friends – but equally don’t be afraid to follow up your initial outreach. Press can sometimes get literally 1000 emails in a day at peak Fringe time so there’s no harm in a couple of follow up notes to maximise your chances of being noticed.

And – as and when press do come back to you – be polite and prompt in your responses! There is also a Meet The Media event at the start of the Fringe. People with PRs don’t really need to do this, but for those without you can meet some valuable people there.

TW: When a show gets some positive coverage, what can they do to maximise the value of it?
MB: Whack it on every flyer, every poster and share it online lots. If it’s a particularly amazing review it’s also with considering spending the price of a couple of tickets on some sponsored social posts. This can be tricky to decide when to do, as it all adds to the cashflow nightmare that is the Edinburgh Fringe, but it can really help sales.

TW: When a show gets some negative coverage, what should they do? Do you have to take it on the chin?
MB: You really do have to take it on the chin, sadly. Unless something is published that is blatantly untrue and therefore potentially libelous. In which case, call your PR if you have one, or speak to the EdFringe media office if you don’t, as those kinds of write ups – which are thankfully relatively rare – can usually be taken down.

Write ups where the journalist just didn’t like your show are sadly not something your PR has any power to take down, and really, nor should they be able to, or the entire system would become pointless. I have had the odd client demanding that I have a review taken down simply because it wasn’t positive, but it’s hugely unlikely to be possible.

Negative press about something you created is horrible to read and if it happens your PR should only tell you about it sensitively – and not just before you’re about to do your show! But ultimately, you have to remember that you won’t be sharing that one with everyone, so far fewer people will connect it to your show – and after that it’s time to try to put it to the back of your mind and get out there to hopefully secure more positive press.

TW: What are the benefits of hiring a publicist to work on your show?
MB: A publicist knows how to present a show in a way which highlights the hooks and angles that press are looking for. We also have lots of contacts that aren’t available elsewhere. And if you get a good publicist they will work long hours employing myriad tactics in order to get you the best results.

TW: What are you most looking forward to about this year’s Fringe?
MB: My team and I have a really good set of shows. If we work out socks off, and with a bit of luck, then we’ll get to the point in the Fringe where everyone has had good reviews and write ups.

I’m looking forward to that midway point where people are happy with their coverage and I can relax a bit and maybe even see a show or two for no reason other than fun. We still work like crazy for the second half of the Fringe, all the way to the end, but if our shows are all doing well, it’s a much less stressful kind of crazy.

Apart from that, in a non-work sense, I’m looking forward to seeing friends, hanging out in one of my favourite cities in the world, and just the rush that being part of the Festival brings.

LINKS: premiercomms.com