Also known as a Press Release, this is a tool that you send directly to the media to inform them of all the key details of your production. By sending it to them 4-6 weeks in advance of your Opening Night, you are hoping they will:
1. Add it to their listings - either in print and/or online
2. Respond that they’d like to attend the show and review it.
3. If they can’t review it, maybe they can write a Preview or do a story about it.
There are many different styles and approaches to formatting a Media Release/Press Release, but the essential information to communicate is more or less the same. In an effort to clearly explain the components, we’ll describe one version of a media release as per the attached SAMPLE, but please note this is not the ONLY way. If you’d like to see more examples of different formatting styles, many established companies have media releases/press releases available on their websites (usually under the Media/Press section).
Remember: A Media Release is the first experience most people will have of your show.
Let's break down the structure of the sample media release above:
- FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE and Please add to all event listings in the header.
- Say who is presenting the show – can denote your relationship with another company or a venue (“in association with” vs. “with support from” vs. “presented by”, etc.)
- Date and city at the beginning of the text
The first paragraph is the intro paragraph: Similar to an elevator pitch, everything they need to know about the show should be in the first paragraph. Be catchy and concise. Include link to box office information and performance dates.
Give context about the play! Why come see the work? Esteemed playwrights, historical reference/relevance, the type of adaptation it is, if it’s an unusual theatrical form maybe give explanation of it, etc.
Outline the credits of cast and crew. You can break it up if there are many names.
- Generally each person gets three artistic credits, unless it’s a large cast in which case maybe only 1 credit.
- Formatting Credits: Some variations around the industry, but we’ve done: Jane Doe (Show Title, Producing Company; Show Title 2, Producing Company 2; Show Title 3, Producing Company 3)
- Title italicized, theatre company not italicized, generally don’t list character role unless they played “Hamlet in Hamlet at Awesome Theatre Company”.
- If there is no producing company, it’s not a useful credit (ie. it is not helpful to say “Sandy in Grease” - high school production vs. Grease on Broadway is a significant difference)
- Non-professional credits should be left off. If they have no professional credits “and introducing Jane Doe” works well.
Include set designers, producers, etc. It’s polite and they might also want this document for their portfolios.
Talk about your company! Include company history and mandate.
- Show/Listing info: here you can be specific about venue, dates, times, ticket prices, and accessibility information.
- Provide links to event info, social media/website, hashtags.
- MEDIA CONTACT: contact info for publicist or person on your team who is reliably going to respond quickly and know all the answers.
- To signify the release is done, historically there is -30- OR ### at the end.
- One page is best, 2 MAX (unless it’s a Festival or Theatre Season)
- Quote from a previous review, or line from the script that really helps give context for the show or its style/theme.
- Running time - especially helpful during festivals when reviewers are trying to schedule many shows simultaneously.
- If you’ve received grant money for this production, you need to include the language and logos they provide.
- Link to photos (NOT your poster image) - while Toronto companies generally send this later in the media kit, in Vancouver you won’t get any attention on a media release that doesn’t include photos.
- Trigger warnings - nudity, violence, enclosed space, strobe effect, explicit language, etc.
- Make it easy for them! When you send this out, it gets seen and used by different people in different ways. Some listings will include the release in its entirety, some will copy one paragraph only, others will give you one sentence and the ticket information. Build your media release in a way that is super-easy for any of those three needs to be met. You don’t want to make them search it out or cobble together a description because they might get it wrong or not do it at all. Ideally, they should get all the information without even reading beyond the first paragraph.
- Length - 1-2 pages is more than enough for a single show announcement.
- ACTIVE language - this isn’t a grant and it isn’t intended to be read by a theatre-trained audience. Less emphasis on the types of things you explored intellectually when writing it. Provide a description that lets the reader in on the action or experience the audience can anticipate.
- Language in general - As noted under Strategy, language choices should reflect the tone of the show. If every word is 5 syllables or longer, readers will assume this is not for children and probably more of a thought piece than a Second City special.
- Hyperbole - Tell us it’s a comedy, but don’t tell us it’s the funniest thing in the whole wide world. You cannot guarantee that your show will be the BEST thing we have all seen this year so don’t tell us it is - it’s lazy and makes us want to call you a liar (bad start to our relationship). Unless someone else saw it and said so (ie. not a member of the creative team or producing partners) which is totally valid - see next point:
- Who said it? If you are quoting someone (reviewer, artistic director, etc), say who said it. Also unless it is from a published review, make sure you ask permission to quote them.
You can either send it as a clearly-labelled PDF attachment (SHOWTITLE-ProducingCompany-MR) with a short intro in the body of the email, or format your Media Release in a program like Mailchimp or Mad Mimi. You can also send via regular Mail but email is so quick and easier on your budget and schedule.
Different people have different opinions on whether PDF or Mailchimp/Mad Mimi is best, but we like Mailchimp/Mad Mimi for these reasons:
- Formatting looks great, can adjust colours, fonts, include links and graphics and the program smartly adapts depending where it’s viewed (desktop, phones, etc.)
- All the info is right there in their inbox - no downloading and saving the file before you can even see what’s in it.
Easy to replicate campaigns - very easy to adapt your media release into an eblast to subscribers by adding some more photos or personalized messages
- Each campaign has a digital version or url link which makes it SUPER easy to share your media release or eblast to your social media. This is our FAVOURITE reason to use it.
- Mailchimp and Mad Mimi have analytics so you can track how many people open your email, whether there were clicks through on links, you can even find out how many times a person opened your email (in case you need to just send a polite follow-up nudge to get them to commit to coming to see the show).
Do some research to see who is reviewing shows by companies in your circles; newspapers, magazines, blogs, podcasts, etc. If you are just starting out, there are good odds you won’t get the “Big Papers” coming to review your first show, but by sending a Media Release to them, they will start learning your name and your work.
In cities like Toronto, there are also a lot of niche publications for certain communities who are usually thrilled to be given content if your show relates to their mandate (cultural, religious, interest-based, different languages, etc). Remember, while reviews are very useful, you are hoping to get the word out through their publications to potential audience members. If you can get your kids show in some mommy-blogs or Parenting magazines, that could potentially be more useful than a review in NOW Magazine. Remember, this is all about finding audiences for your shows so which publications are read by your target audiences?
Some other good places:
Canadian Theatre Opening Night Directory - curated by Kelly Nestruck of the Globe and Mail
The Play Map of Canada - run by Playwrights’ Guild of Canada, you can post productions of Canadian plays
Toronto Theatre Database - dedicated to the recording and preservation of the production histories and performance dates of Toronto’s professional theatrical productions, send them a digital copy of your show program and poster.