Wednesday, 20 July 2016

Why I’m talking about publicists (first take)

What's in this post:

  • Classical music press releases have to bring the music vividly alive, because they're going to be read — crucially read — by many people who aren't classical music specialists

I've heard that classical music publicists are talking about what I've been writing, posts that say these publicists aren't as effective they should be. So I thought I'd expand on these posts (which are here, here, and here). To say more about why I'm concerned.

And, maybe, to help the many people who've agreed with me, and think, as I do, that we need to do better.

lively writing blogSo start with this. Who are publicists' press releases going to?

Let's look at the Boston Symphony press email I didn't like (see the third post linked above), the one about streaming performances from Tanglewood. I thought it talked about one of the works to be streamed — the Mozart E flat symphony — in a way that couldn't interest anyone:

The Symphony No. 39 is the first of a set of three (his last symphonies) that Mozart composed in rapid succession during the summer of 1788.

I suggested this rewrite (not claiming it's especially good, but just trying to show a more compelling way to write):

One long-ago summer, in a burst of inspiration, Mozart wrote his three last symphonies. One is intense, another one is grand. And this is the endearing one, warm, enriching music for a summer night today.

The commenter, identifying himself as a classical music journalist, said he'd be insulted to get such an email, since he already knows the music.

The buried assumption

Lurking here is the unspoken assumption that these releases are for classical music journalists. And maybe that's true, by which I mean that maybe that's who publicists mean to target.

But the trouble with that is that there aren't many classical music journalists working anymore in mainstream media. Very few newspapers have classical music critics these days. The BSO email at least in theory had national scope, or even international, since anyone can stream these performances.

But I'd also think that media in the Boston/Tanglewood area — Massachusetts, northeastern NY state, and outward into New England — would be important targets.

And these media outlets — local and regional newspapers, local and regional TV — very likely won't have anyone on staff who knows classical music.

So the release would do better written in a way that could bring the music alive for people who don't know it. Who, overall, are the most important people the classical music world can speak to, the people who might make up the new audience we so badly need.

And it's not just this release

It's everything written about classical music. If people who don't know classical music keep getting meh press releaees, with nothing in them to interest any person with any spirit, any involvement with the world, then all of classical music suffers.

Because we're not just flacking the project du jour. We're representing all of classical music, in every public communication we make. That's a big responsibility. If we fail in it — if we can't bring classical music vividly alive — then we're failing our art.

And to conclude…don't forget the editors!

So one last thought. There are, of course, some big media outlets that do have classical music specialists. The New York Times, for instance, and the Washington Post.

But a newspaper with a classical critic may also have — is likely to have — editors who don't know classical music. (The Times is an exception, since it has a specialized classical music editor, but that may be unique in the media world.)

There may also be an arts reporter, who likewise may not know classical music.

So if you're pitching a story to one of these fortunate outlets, one with a classical music journalist on staff, remember that no story gets published without an editor's agreement.

Which means you have to sell the editor as well as the classical music writer. Which means you need, once more, to bring classical music alive in what you write. Or else the editor you need to get on your side will think that nothing important is going on.



Original Content: Why I'm talking about publicists (first take)

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