Gloria Shanstrom discusses how to write stunning press releases that will get published, the best times to send them out, and how to start forming relationships with the media. Be sure to listen to the end where she talks about the importance of having a curtain speech.
Gloria has been involved in Denver Theatre since 1987. She has worked in marketing for the Temple Buell Theatre, co-produced the Denver Drama Critics Circle Awards, and was the marketing assistant at the Denver Center Attraction. She is currently the General Manager for the Colorado Theatre Guild. In 2004, she started Full Court Press, a company specifically designed to assist small non-profit arts organizations get a great press release out to the media.
WILLIAM: Hello and thanks for joining us.
Today, our guest is Gloria Shanstrom, who has been involved in Denver theatre since 1987. She has worked in marketing for the Temple Buell Theatre, co-produced the Denver Drama Critics Circle Awards, and was the marketing assistant at the Denver Center Attraction.
She is currently the General Manager for the Colorado Theatre Guild. In 2004, she started Full Court Press, a company specifically designed to assist small non-profit organizations get a great press release out to the media.
In this episode, Gloria discusses how to write stunning press releases that will get published, the best time to send them out and how to start forming relationships with the media. Be sure to listen to the end where she talks about the importance of having a curtain speech.
So, let’s get into it.
Hey Gloria, thanks for coming on the show today.
GLORIA: Hey Will! I really appreciate your asking. Thank you so much.
WILLIAM: Oh yeah, of course. I’m excited about today’s episode. To start off, can you tell us a little bit about yourself and why you started Full Court Press?
GLORIA: Well, back in the late ’90s or early 2000s, I joined up with the Colorado Theatre Guild and got on their board and we started putting that organization together.
In 2003, we finally got a website up and running. Now, overlapping those times, I was working at Denver Center Attractions in their marketing department so I had already established a pretty good relationship with the press. And when time came to get this website for the theatre guild up and running, I needed to reach out to the community because we now had a calendar that we needed to populate.
So, I contacted the theatre community and said, “You guys, please, put me on your press distribution list so that I can get your information and put it on our calendar.” When that information started coming in, the realization hit me that so much of this was being done by a volunteer workforce that didn’t really understand the ordering and the importance of the information that needed to go in the press release.
So, later that year, I reached out again and started offering my services at a very reasonable fee to write and send a comprehensive press release that both, they, the client, and the media would find easy to use and to cut and paste from.
WILLIAM: I see. So, what makes press releases still important in today’s marketing mix?
GLORIA: Well, we certainly know that the big daily papers are shrinking in both staff and size, but the neighborhood monthly and weekly papers have become a more important source of information for the people who are still readers of newspapers.
And also, more people today are seeking information on the web. So, when I send out a press release, it doesn’t just go to print and radio and TV. There are bloggers out there that the release will go out to, individual writers and also, I sit down and reload the press release into 30, at least, and sometimes more, entertainment websites. That is, of course, the most time-consumptive process.
For those who have done it, they know what exactly what I’m talking about. Because each website is different, you don’t have that option of always just an easy copy and paste. You need to sit down with it and fill in each specific requirements or nothing happens.
WILLIAM: Now, how do you go about finding these media outlets?
GLORIA: I go out and do searches because these sites come and go like any comprehensive and well-ordered press distribution list. You’ve got to maintain it. You’ve got to work it almost on a daily basis because people and media outlets change.
So, what I will do every once in a while is, for example, I will look at a show that’s going on in Colorado Springs and I will do a Google search on it. And I will see if it got picked up by any websites that maybe are not living on my list. And then, I will check those sites out and see what the rating is as far as popularity amongst people who surf the internet looking for entertainment.
So, we’ve got a few things with this. I mean, we look at social media and social media is wonderful for these companies as long as you recognize a couple of things. With social media, you may well be playing to the same audience over and over, along with the fact that someone almost needs to be looking at social media or following your posts or this information gets lost or missed.
I know that there have been plenty of times when I’ve asked about an event and was told, “Oh, I posted it on Facebook.” Well, I didn’t happen to be looking at Facebook right at that moment. So, there are still plenty of opportunities for a listing or a pickup or even more through the traditional media sources and outlets.
WILLIAM: I see. And when you’re getting ready to send out a press release, what else should you include? And is it different for online versus traditional newspapers or do you send the same release to everyone?
GLORIA: The release is the release. It does not have to be manipulated or massaged for different outlets. The important thing is, especially for, say a theatre production, you have to look at your licensing agreement and make sure that all of that information is in there. If it’s a musical, it would be: Who did the music and lyrics? Who was the book by? Was it based on a book or was it based on a movie? All of that information is critically important because that was part of what you signed on for when you got the rights.
The second most important thing and the third and the fourth and the fifth, is that you say who you are, what you’re presenting, when you’re presenting it, where you’re presenting it. What are your performance dates? Are you doing Friday, Saturday at 7:30, Sunday at 2:00? Are you in a venue that doesn’t allow so much for a standard weekend performance?
You need to be very clear because this is what the media is putting out to the public, so you don’t want any confusion about when you’re performing. Also, what are you charging to come and see this? And how do we get tickets?
It is always best and many, many websites do not allow a posting for a company that does not have a phone number. So, if you’re purchasing through a website, that’s always easy, but there should always be a phone number even if it’s for someone who is not web savvy to call and leave a reservation or to get more information.
Once that part is done, then please tell us a little bit about the show, give us a synopsis. Make it entertaining but don’t get breathlessly editorialized on it. After that, I’d like to include the cast. Sometimes that gets picked up and sometimes it doesn’t but as it’s going out to theatre reviewers. Sometimes, that is the difference between going to a show or not going to a show.
I also like to include a little bit about the playwright. A lot of the companies like to have some of their own information in the press release, a little bit about the company that is producing. And then, at the bottom, I do a very, very brief calendar listing. And that’s the order that I pretty much always put things in.
WILLIAM: And are you going for previews or reviews and do you need to let them know, you know, the media, “Hey, come preview this,” or “We would like a review on this show,” or do they kind of just decide what they want to do?
GLORIA: In the press release, it is not always in there. Sometimes I am acting in a capacity beyond just sending out a press release. I will make note at the top that the press is invited, “To get your complimentary tickets, contact me.” There should be a contact person at the top of the release as well, phone number and email address as the media contact.
But, usually, if I’m doing that part, I will send out a separate invitation because the press release should go out, ideally, four to eight weeks before the event. So, a separate invitation to come once the show is opened is a reminder.
WILLIAM: And if I’m going to be attaching photos to my press release, what kind of quality do I want those photos? And do I send one photo? Do I want to send 10 photos? What’s the best way to attach those?
GLORIA: This is really important because for the web, the quality of the photo is not so important, but for print, it is extraordinarily important that the photos on the very, very thin and very, very porous news print, the photo needs to be 300 dpi, and what dpi means is dots per inch, so that when the image is transferred, if you think of taking a pin and dipping it in some ink and in a one square inch square, you’re dotting 300 times, to get the clarity for print.
Web photos don’t need that kind of clarity but I always recommend if you’re doing photos, do them all high resolution because a website can take a high-res photo, but a print publication cannot take a low-res photo. So, if you’re just going to do it, just do it once, in a format that reaches across all the mediums.
WILLIAM: That makes sense.
GLORIA: That makes perfect sense. And as far as numbers, if you’ve got one really killer photograph that emphasizes and says everything about the show that you want to say, then you can go with one.
Traditionally, I will send three or four. The media also looks for both horizontal and vertical formats, so if I have two photos, I try to send one vertical and one horizontal because I don’t know what space they have available to plug a photo in, so I want to make sure we’re covered.
WILLIAM: Now, do you suggest photos with people in them or just the set with maybe an artist’s rendition of the play? What do you suggest as far as type of photos?
GLORIA: The best photographs are something that is active. When I go out on a photo shoot for a production, what I traditionally do is have the cast or the actors or whoever we’re focusing on for that particular shoot. Start running a scene. Start running a scene that has some action to it, some expression, some emotion.
On set is best. In front of a black curtain is enormously uninteresting. I would rather see it moved outside or to a location if the set’s not ready. That is so much preferable than to have stagnant actors looking at each other in front of a black curtain. There needs to be something visually interesting behind them as well.
WILLIAM: So, basically, make that photo as visually appealing as you possibly can.
GLORIA: Absolutely. You know, the old adage of a picture is worth a thousand words could not be more true than when you’ve got one image to represent your event in the paper or on a website.
WILLIAM: Do you think that good press releases with high quality images are going to be published more often than saying a press release with a bad photo or with no photo?
GLORIA: Yes. And that’s all I can say about that. I have sent them out both ways. Sometimes they have to go because a photo is just simply not available, but I will see more activity and I can track more activity by that photo than sending out a press release without it.
If someone has a block of space that they need to fill, they’re going to go with the event that sends them a really good, attractive, high-quality and interesting photo.
WILLIAM: Now, let’s say that I send out a press release between that four to eight weeks out and I don’t hear anything back, I don’t see my show in the paper or online outlets, what should I do? Do I need to send out that press release over again or is that it? Is it a one-time thing or do I send them every single day until I get some type of response or is there some middle ground that should work best?
GLORIA: With that it is now, the media doesn’t really respond. They don’t let you know that they’ve gotten your press release. They don’t let you know if they’re using your press release. The office staff have shrunk to the point where that’s just simply not possible. Once we get closer, you’re not really going to start seeing a lot of activity on a press release until, really, about seven working days before the event opens.
Papers, monthlies, deadlines are on the 20th so that they can get their paper out by the end of the month for the upcoming month. Weeklies, about 10 days out, they start looking at, you know, today they’re looking at next week’s edition. So, all of that comes closer, but it’s still important for them to have the information as far out as we can give it to them because they’re very good at keeping things on file. They know how to order what might fit, what looks interesting.
And then, the next piece of information that we’re going to send out could be a press release if things have changed, if there’s a major shake-up of the cast, for example. If something occurred where we have to push back opening a week or two. Those are all big events that justify a second release going out.
And then the third thing that we send out or usually the second thing we send out is the invitation to come and see our show and perhaps, write about it.
WILLIAM: So, you will only recommend sending out one release and not per media outlet?
GLORIA: One release and a follow-up invitation, yes.
WILLIAM: And you’re only going to be changing the contents of that release, then, and the only reason that justifies sending another release is if something changes with the show.
GLORIA: Exactly. Because, then, after that, because we’re all busy and they are busy, there’s walking a fine line between giving them the information they need and then, simply becoming annoying. And the last thing we want to do is become annoying, so it’s a little dance.
WILLIAM: So let’s say that you have pushed out a press release and your shows happen and you just haven’t done any coverage at all and you’ve sent all those releases out, how can you start forming a relationship with the media so that they know that you’re there and they know that you’re doing shows without like you said, sending a release every day and just becoming annoying? What’s the best way to kind of start that process and form that relationship?
GLORIA: The easiest and the hardest thing to do is to pick up the phone and make it personal. It’s called PR. It’s personal relationships. It’s media relationships and those can be very difficult to establish just via email.
Yes, these people are busy and they may not be available to talk to you, but if you think out what you want to say before you pick up the phone and be concise with your inquiry, “I sent this press release out. Was it okay? Is there something that I missed? Is there something I can do to make it of more interest to you? No, it’s just fine. You got it. Thank you very much. I hope you’ll come to the show.”
And that would also be the type of thing that you would kind of need to put there in advance in case you get a voicemail because god knows, I have left the bumbling, fumbling, incoherent voicemails and I know I’m not going to get a call back once that happens and there’s no walking that back. So, a little pre-planning before you make that call and just make sure that you’re behaving in a professional manner and you’re not taking up more of that person’s time than necessary.
WILLIAM: Now, if you are getting a person, would you say call again and then leave a message or are you going to leave a message on the first call that you try?
GLORIA: Good question. If I get voicemail and I don’t feel properly prepared, I’m going to hang up and call back because again, you know, that first hearing of your voice, picking up that voicemail, is that first impression that you’re going to leave with the person that you currently have no relationship with. Yeah, I will call back if I don’t feel completely prepared to leave a comprehensive and clearly outlined voicemail.
WILLIAM: And how long after you send that release out do you call them up? Is there a certain time period after the release or a certain time before your show?
GLORIA: Boy, I find that a little hard to answer, Will, because it has been, for me, personally, I rarely have to make that follow-up phone call. I’ve done my job. I’ve done it well. I’ve given them all the information that they need. If I’d have to contact them again, it’s because one of the aforementioned reasons or because now I have a photo or a video to share with them. So, that would be another reason to contact them again.
But, usually, I’m calling a reviewer. I’m not calling the media, in general. When we get down to coming into the show, I’m specifically looking to find out if a specific reviewer is available to come and see this show. And if I’m going to invite them, I need to have seen something of the show–a rehearsal–so that I can speak about why they should come and see it.
And if I’m going to invite them to come and write about it, I want to make sure: A. It’s a very, very good show, and B. Once you’ve established a relationship, that it’s the type of show that they will like and that you are strongly encouraging them to come and see it.
I’ve got, with a lot of these people, I have 5, 10, 15 years of experience with them. A new person is going to have to start establishing that. So, the conversation is going to be a little bit different with someone who is just starting to establish that relationship. But, there’s no harm in calling and saying, “I just wanted to call and personally invite you to my show.”
WILLIAM: Before we wrap this up, do you have any advice for what event producers can do today to start increasing their ticket sales?
GLORIA: I’ve always had one specific thing that is starting to fade away that I find sad, and I hear from so many people in the community, mostly, how much they dislike the curtain speech.
Here’s the thing. The curtain speech isn’t for the theatre folks in the audience. The curtain speech is a way of communicating not only to your season ticket holders who have been with you for years, but that patron who is in the theatre for the very first time.
WILLIAM: Before we go on here, can you explain to our listeners what a curtain speech is?
GLORIA: A curtain speech is where the producer or the director will get up before the show starts and say, “Hello. Welcome to our theatre. Turn off your cellphones. We’re happy to have you with us tonight. The bathrooms are to your left. There’s a bar in the lobby,” that just kind of introduces the space.
Sometimes they’ll take a little bit further and they’ll talk for a minute about the show that the people are about to see. But mostly, it’s just to get housekeeping items out of the way. “Don’t put your drinks on the knee wall.” That sort of thing. “Actors will be entering and exiting through the voms.” “Keep your legs out of the aisle.”
But, also, during that curtain speech, these guys, these producers and these directors have a captive audience and it’s the prime opportunity to take that extra step and go, “If you enjoy the show, if you enjoy the space, we thank you for coming. And here are some ways that you can help us. During intermission, you can buy a ticket for our next show outside on the table. There are postcards. Please take some with you and share this experience with your friends. We have a volunteer ushering staff. Please let one of our staff members know if you’d like to volunteer.”
I think that through the recorded curtain speech, although some of them are enormously clever and entertaining, that they have given up that huge opportunity to connect with their audiences on a personal level.
Audience members can be one of their most enthusiastic marketing tools, but they need to know and they need to be instructed on what it is they need to do next. And I hope that makes sense.
WILLIAM: Yes, definitely. This has been really informative. Thank you for coming on the show and sharing all your insights with us.
GLORIA: Oh, you’re more than welcome. It’s been fun.
WILLIAM: How do we keep up with you and find out more about Full Court Press?
GLORIA: Well, I’m a bit of a one-person secret society. Because my work is mostly referral, I never put up a website for Full Court Press. So, most of the information that I get out is through my personal Facebook page and people are always welcome to call me or email me or look at the Gloria Shanstrom Facebook page.
WILLIAM: What’s a good email for people to reach out to you to contact you?
GLORIA: The best email is my last name, it’s Shanstrom, S-H-A-N-S-T-R-O-M, Shanstrom@comcast.net.
WILLIAM: Okay, great. We’ll put that in the show notes, too, so people can contact you.
GLORIA: Okay. And if people are interested in knowing what theatre is happening all around the State of Colorado, they should definitely go to the Theatre Guild website, Coloradotheatreguild.org.
WILLIAM: Okay. Well, thanks a lot, Gloria, for coming on the show today.
GLORIA: Oh, you’re so welcome. Thank you.