Edinburgh Fringe People

The Venue Press Officer: Jen McGowan

Published on Sunday 12 August 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 time, we return to the marketing side of the Fringe and chat to Jen McGowan from the press office at theSpace.

Getting media coverage is a key aim for many people and companies performing at the Fringe, either to help with ticket sales during August or to help build profile beyond the Festival, or both.

Many shows have people on their team responsible for reaching out to the media or they hire a publicist to help with that task. But many venues also have press offices that support their companies in this domain and are a key  contact point for media and reviewers wanting to see shows.

Having previously working in the box office at theSpace, Jen is now one of the venue’s press officers. We spoke to her about what that involves.

TW: Let’s start at the start, what does a venue press officer do?
JM: I imagine it varies from venue to venue. But at theSpace, we have two key roles. First to provide advice to our theatre companies on how to attract media attention and grow their audiences. And second, to be the main point of contact for press and critics. Exact tasks obviously vary as the Festival progresses. For example, in the run up to the Fringe our main focus was advising companies on their press releases and ensuring these things match the house-style of the venue.

TW: Individual shows may also have someone on the team liaising with the media. How do venue and show PR people compare and interact?
JM: We have 480+ shows being staged at theSpace so, obviously, we have to be pretty efficient so that we can provide as much support as possible to each company. Quite what they need varies because we have such a huge variety of shows across our venues. Some have big teams with PR reps while others are one-person operations with just themselves to do the marketing. We support them all. From my perspective, working with a lot of shows gives you a much broader overview and a lot of variety, which is great.

TW: What do you need from the companies to ensure you can help them?
JM: Just the obvious things really. We need each show’s press release and their publicity or production images, and any other information that will enable us to understand their show better and which we can then pass on to interested press.

TW: Tell us about your background. How did you get involved in the Fringe and at theSpace?
JM: I actually have a background in education but am currently pursuing a career change and plan to move into art and culture roles from this September onwards. But because I was teaching, that meant I had my summer holidays free. With my interest in art and culture, I applied for roles at the Fringe and was fortunate to get a position at theSpace. Initially I worked in the box office and this Festival became a press officer.

TW: How does working in a venue’s press office compare to working in a venue’s box office?
JM: They’re very different! Being in the box office meant I was very much in the thick of it. You work with a big team, which was great fun. The press office team is smaller, though I’m fortunate to be working with some great colleagues once again. And working in the press office gives you real insight into what marketing a successful Fringe show involves, and that is really interesting.

TW: What are Festival media and journalists like to deal with?
JM: I have no complaints! Everyone I have met in theSpace press office has been very friendly and really interesting. And reviewers always have great show recommendations!

TW: There are lots of new and online media that cover the Fringe each year. How do you work out which publications you should be pitching to and taking review ticket requests from?
JM: Yes, you’re right, they’re are loads of different magazines, websites and blogs covering the Fringe. We tend to focus on reviewers and publications that have been accredited by the Fringe Society’s media office. But with such a variety of shows, with a real variety of needs, we deal with lots of different media during the Festival.

TW: The Fringe is a very competitive place and competition is just as high for getting shows onto the radar of media. What tips would you have for shows trying to get reviewers in?
JM: Take every opportunity via your venue and the Fringe Society to meet the media. PR is really all about networking and these are great opportunities to network. When you talk to critics, remember they are human! They are just as passionate about arts and culture as you are, so engage them in conversation and find out what they are interested in, rather than immediately jumping down their throats with your pitch. Though, that said, have a great pitch for when you’re specifically asked about your show.

TW: What should theatre companies do with good reviews once they’ve got some?
JM: The most effective thing is printing off mini-flashes with select quotes and star ratings and attaching them to your flyers. I know that’s the really simple answer, but that’s because it really works!

TW: What should they do with any negative reviews?
JM: Don’t let them get you down! Your morale is important and you need to look after yourself. Reviews are not the be all and end all. If you get a bad review, just ignore it and carry on.

TW: Getting press coverage is just one way performers can market their shows. What other tips would you have for companies trying to get noticed at the Fringe?
JM: You can’t underestimate the power of flyering at the Fringe. Flyer hard, flyer regularly and flyer well! Beyond that, try working with other companies at the venue, especially if you’re a one-person production. Help each other flyer, support each other on social media and view each other’s shows. That can really help with both morale and marketing.

TW: And finally, what tips would you give for anyone working at a Fringe venue, whether in the box office or the press office?
JM: Get to know your colleagues quickly at the start and get to know all the performers too. The beginning of the Fringe, when you first arrive, is always a whirlwind, so it’s important to take time to get to know the people around you. And of course see lots of shows! You can get super busy and forget to do that, but it’s why you’re here, and you’ll be able to better support shows at your venue once you have seen them.

LINKS: thespaceuk.com