How to pitch to arts journalists at the Edinburgh Fringe | Writer Ashley Davies offers some tips for performers

How to pitch to arts journalists at the Edinburgh Fringe

Writer Ashley Davies offers some tips for performers

Every August, thousands of comedians, theatre productions and the rest all fight to get noticed at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe. And with media organisations struggling with ever-decreasing resources and space, in the case of print outlets, it can be hard to get coverage for any show. Here, arts journalist Ashley Davies offers some tips to performers  that might just make the difference...

1 Make it easy for them

Journalists are busy, so you need to make this easy for them. Email them with a sharp, snappy description of the show, with a longer, more detailed version below that. High up you should include a link to your best material so they can have a quick taste of what you’re like on stage. Make your contact details and dates obvious.

Anything that’s unusual about you should be highlighted because that makes a better story. . It doesn't hurt to have a little gimmick - eg the promise of free cake/tea/nudity/etc - in a show to help the headline writers. Don’t expect journalists to be detectives; they might want to but they just don’t have time.

2 Don’t be shy about your accolades

Imagine you’re writing about someone else if this is hard. Arts journalists get thousands of press releases for August, so yours needs to be clear about what praise you’ve received, any broadcast credits and awards received/nominated, but it also helps them sell it to their bosses if you’ve been in something else or are about to.

3 Visuals

Create a Dropbox for high-quality, colour images of yourself – a selection of landscape and portrait so the page designers have options. Invest in good photography and a designer, and credit them in the files. (Personally, I prefer Dropbox to WeTransfer, as the latter can take too long and the expiry date’s annoying.)

Bright/unusual colours will stand out and are more likely to be chosen, as will pictures that reveal character through the performer’s eyes.

Picture editors often select an image they know will look good on the page, even if they don’t know much about the show itself. Make contact with the picture desks on Scottish newspapers and try to make their jobs a little easier. Sometimes they run standalone picture stories that could give you more standout than a preview or a review.

4 Your online presence

Be easy to find on Twitter and Instagram, be easy to contact and reply promptly. Make sure your profile says who you are, put your face out there for easy recognition and consider pinning a link to your best bits.

If you have a website, direct people there, and keep it up to date with gig dates and accolades. Maybe have a press area there so people can access your images without having to bother you.

5 Make the most of all showcase opportunities

If you’re invited to do one of the venue press launch nights, bring your A game. I can’t tell you the number of acts I’ve seen at these things who’ve wasted the opportunity by phoning it in. I don’t understand this!

If you’re not invited, do consider asking the venue liaison staff how you can get a slot. You never know.

6 Make the most of the venue press office

Befriend the staff in your venue press office and find out how you can help each other. They’ll be just as exhausted as you will, working gruelling hours.

If you bring them a healthy snack every now and then and tell them they’re appreciated they’ll remember you with warmth and might go the extra mile for you. They’ll probably give you the option to know when a reviewer is in your show; some people prefer not to know.

7 Use the Fringe press office

Find out what they can and can’t do to help you – and find out as early as possible. Their resources include a list of journalists who are happy to be contacted. Most years they run a Meet the Press section, where acts of all kinds line up to pitch to journalists at Fringe Central. During the festival, Fringe Central is a useful spot for rest and admin.

Remember: the Fringe is a charity that helps the festival happen. They’re emphatically not the guys making all the money. Be kind to them! Their workloads are unbelievable.

8 Reviews

Stress soup. If you get a bad review, try not to be bitter or angry. I know it’s hard, but you can’t afford to squander your emotional energy in August. Most of the established reviewers will be fair, even if it hurts. Slagging them off might feel good for a few minutes but it won’t help.

What’s often harder is not being reviewed, and feeling as if you’re being ignored. There are times when you’ll give someone a press comp and the review won’t appear. This isn’t necessarily their fault: their editors will decide what runs, and when, and sometimes they simply run out of space. It’s rare but it does happen, and is more likely to happen with what would have been a two-star review, so it might work out better for you anyway.

9 Think laterally

There has been a dramatic reduction in the amount of print pages available for festival coverage over the past few years, and it can’t all be squeezed in. If your show touches on something specialist – such as medicine, education, animals or mental health – consider targeting publications that cover these areas. They might be able to give you a preview.

Encourage your audiences to leave you reviews wherever they can, and find a way of getting those quotes out there.

Remember: loads of punters don’t even read reviews, preferring word of mouth recommendations. Which leads to…

10 Direct promotion

Have a look at how other people are giving out flyers, and think honestly about how you’ve been receptive to them in the past. Consider putting a QR code onto your flyers or posters so potential audiences can go straight to a YouTube clip showing them how good you are on stage. Make it easy for them. Maybe help them along with an ‘If you like x you might like this.’

If you never do audience interaction, it’s worth letting potential punters know that. Some people are truly afraid of it, and will be so much happier buying a ticket knowing they won’t have to brace themselves. Be generous with 2-for-1 offers, and consider giving out little treats when you’re flyering. Be charming and positive, even if you’re feeling desperate.

A note on mental health

The Fringe is an incredible, stimulating festival, where careers and partnerships can be made. But it’s expensive, exhausting, often soul-destroying and overly competitive. I’m not saying you should have low expectations, but it can be helpful to frame everything that happens as an investment in your all-round expertise. Not getting immediate recognition is not a sign of failure. Learn from everything. Don’t compare yourself to anyone. Remember: loudest doesn’t mean best.

Make time to be alone. Go to the beach. Walk down the Water of Leith. Eat healthily. Go see some theatre. Ask more established acts what they wish they’d known. Stay in touch with friends who have nothing to do with the festival. August is also about the book festival, art festival and film festival, so give your mind a different kind of stimulation while you’re here. You’ve got this.

• Ashley Davies is an arts writer for Metro and Alba (The Times Scotland) Twitter: @msashleydavies

Published: 7 Jun 2022

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