How and why collaborate with the media
A journalist’s advice and inside view
The specifics of the culture industry of the 21st (and not only) century is really simple — you can do your thing (play, compose, paint, dance, write, etc.) unbelievably good, but if nobody is getting informed about it, nobody will know it and your work will get piled in the attic shelves, self-released CDs and other formats nobody will know about. To ensure it doesn’t happen like this, there are many options to tell about yourself — mass media, social media, different ways of outdoor advertising, as well as transmedial activities, locking many platforms in one story. Nevertheless, one of the stable cornerstones still keeps being so-called traditional media — radio, television, articles, magazines, and internet media have also joined during the last decades. Unfortunately, during my experience as a journalist, I’ve observed that artists (and their representatives) still tend to communicate with the media awkwardly, often not getting the meaning and further consequences of this communication. in order to at least somehow help understand it, this article was created.
Before diving into the questions about the daily routine of the media and how artists communicate with them, I’ll share that I have been into journalism since 2013, my materials have been regularly published in many Latvian digital and printed media, and at the moment, I’m working at both of the public media — Latvian Radio and Latvian Television. During these years, I’ve interviewed people, written reviews, did investigative articles, TV shows, and much more, so I’ve gathered various kinds of experience and formulated my thoughts and wider problematic issues in the context of this article.
So let’s begin. The primary task of any media is to inform and educate. This is the core of everything, it’s the main goal and essence of the mass media, so these two principles form the daily routine of the media, principles, actions, editorial policy, and other parameters. It’s important to keep it in mind because it often doesn’t correspond to politicians, businessmen, and culture event organizers’ main goal- advertising and selling their product or service. The purpose of the media is responsible, independent, and democratic content creation that tries to include all social groups regardless of their ethnic, political, religious, and any other beliefs. The media is also a mediator between authorities and society, different countries, nations, social groups, individuals. Of course, media is also a source of entertainment, so various shows, concerts, plays, movies, and other types of content are being created.
It’s also essential to keep in mind there are different kinds of media:
printed (newspapers, magazines)
broadcasting (radio, television)
Each media kind has its own specifics, way of planning daily routine, format, working tempo and volume, and most often its own audience.
After diving into all these specifications, many readers, especially of the younger generation, could be asking — why think about these traditional media forms at all if there are social media and different platforms, influencer marketing campaigns, and other opportunities in the digital environment? Is there any meaning in doing this at all? As a journalist, I’d, of course, tell that there’s both meaning and results, but let the facts and numbers talk — the ones that the media calls ratings. The research agency «Kantar» data for winter and spring 2021 we see that, for example, five of the Latvian Radio channels reach 500 thousand listeners daily, and the television data should be taken into consideration — news is watched by many hundreds thousands of people daily. We also have to consider that these numbers are about the linear content only — in addition to it, there are views and listening times in the internet sources, social media profiles, and podcast platforms where a great deal of content gets placed. This also serves as an answer to why the so-called traditional media are still in the first place in terms of audience reach. The specific example of the culture industry — Latvian Television Culture news, for instance, in January of 2021 were watched by approximately 100 thousand people (television only, also add extra views on the digital platforms to it). This means that if a story gets produced about an event (app. 2:30 — 3:00 minute long), this immediately reaches 100 000 listeners. And at this point (at least in Latvia), information about any event in this short period of time can’t reach such a huge audience on any other platform. This is also the most important answer to a question: why should we begin collaborating with the media at all — because this way, it’s possible to reach the audience most effectively. So to say, nothing personal, pure mathematics.
Another important reason is also trust — people still trust traditional media way more because people realize that the contents are being created by professional journalists to whom this is a job. This differs from social media, where anyone can publish anything, and it doesn’t have any guarantee of reliability or high-quality selection.
Before I move on, I’d also like to add that it’s imperative to work with all media channels (both traditional and social) because this is your opportunity to talk about yourself to a broader audience than just your friends, family, and acquaintances. If your goal is to become a musician/composer and do this in life, whether you want it or not, your audience is important. And you as a human being cannot reach such a broad audience yourself as the media can, with all their algorithms, structure, system, platforms, and a ready stable audience. So use these opportunities, so that you won’t have to complain afterward that «nobody comes to my concerts”. Most probably, nobody comes simply because they have no idea.
When I’ve briefly replied to the questions like «what is media» and «why should you collaborate with them,» I’ll continue with specific recommendations, examples, and calls. All of the further mentioned examples are real, no matter how incredible they would seem.
Journalists live in the informational jungle, so I used to get many dozens of emails daily containing press releases and informational messages, so:
* provide precise information! Your press release (what, where, when, at what time, how, why) is the visit card of your event, you send this out to all of the appropriate media, so if anything isn’t precise, it will show EVERYWHERE. A typical mistake would be an imprecise name or a person, date, time, and it would be really hard to correct it afterward; many different variants will show up that will embarrass people, and it will be out of your power to control the information anymore. So always recheck the information and give your press releases to others to read through to eliminate possible misunderstandings.
* contact information EVERYWHERE! I still quite often get information via email without any telephone number, although nowadays telephone still is the quickest way of communication (email definitely isn’t!). So it was this week when I got a press release without a phone number, asked to send me one via email, but just because I got a reply a couple of hours later, unfortunately, I couldn’t include this event in my workflow because planning happens quickly, there’s no time to wait, search, leave a chance of refusal. I also know an example about the very first International Jazz Day in Latvia — my colleagues printed out many thousands of booklets with the whole concert plan, although nowhere, not in a single place, no contact information appeared. So they had to put a stamp «www.jazzday.lv» manually on all of the three thousand booklets so that in case someone needed it, journalists and any other person interested or an event attendee would have a chance to find out more about this great event. So remember — contact information is critical, and sometimes it can also determine if a journalist would even deal with your event or choose another one where it will be easier and quicker to contact the organizer.
* provide everything necessary! Some media need horizontal pictures (mostly the internet portals and web pages), some need only vertical ones. Digital media will be okay with an average resolution, while printed media need a higher quality so that the print quality is better. Newspapers or portals can be fine with just a press release, while the radio and television, if they decide to take care of the story, need someone to be able to talk about the event because the journalist won’t read the press release on-air himself. So every media has its own needs and requirements, and you have to consider them if you wish for your event to be covered as widely as it can. (IMPORTANT: this means that you have to have the materials to share. It’s better, to begin with, a professional photoshoot; ideally, you’d also have professionally created video material. It’s not advised to send daily pictures from ordinary situations to the media as the presentation materials). And, if you’re asked for a horizontal image, don’t send a vertical one. Not that complicated, isn’t it.
Some more advice on creating a successful long-term collaboration:
* attitude. If you invite a journalist to your event, take care of him. It is often that the journalist doesn’t know a specific venue, building, and its planning so well, so it isn’t nice when you leave him after the interview just with the indications like «now go to your right, now down, then to your left, then straight, up again, to the right and straight and the entrance will be just around the corner”. It is especially not nice if it’s late evening, dark inside, lights are turned on only in some places, and the many indications spilled out very fast… Well, you know what I’m talking about, right? Just take care of a journalist who came to visit you.
* if you promise — deliver. This is especially important now when the press conferences and other events happen online but can also be related to any kind of recordings. If you promise to send something at a specific time, you realize that a journalist will count on that. If you send it some hours later (most probably it won’t seem such a big difference to yourself), then maybe the show will be already done without your specific addition, and it won’t be necessary anymore; the journalist will be done with the available materials. If any technical problems occur, inform them about it instead of making the journalist wait without talking.
* take time into consideration. I once had a situation where a person at the beginning of a precisely set interview time writes he won’t be coming, after all. And that’s it. Or when I come to a filming set where the operator and I get brought to a room and told: «In half an hour a woman is coming who’ll tell you more about the topic”. Of course, some emergencies always occur, or plans happen to change last-minute, but this also can be communicated by paying respect instead of superficially and arrogantly. Saying sorry would be at least a decent minimum gesture.
* get involved. As a producer of your own event, you know better who the people are who could tell more about the event, what are the places that suit the filming better, what pictures to use and so on. Any involvement is advised and even preferable so that the story about your event gets as pleasant and precise as it can.
And some other general advice:
* always bring your presentational materials with you. You can meet a journalist at a concert, exhibition, restaurant, presentation, cinema, theatre, or elsewhere. Sometimes you carry on just a usual talk or acquaintance in a basic daily situation, using the situation wisely, but in order to use this opportunity fully, I advise «leaving a trace”. In the case of musicians, it can be their album or any other presentational material, and it will definitely work better than just an oral information exchange. Because one can occasionally forget about a talk, while the physical material will be sooner or later seen and taken out of a pocket.
* be ready to talk to the media. I recently witnessed a situation on the television when in the morning some fresh news occurred in the social media that would be quite important to cover for the Culture news as well. But there are only 10 minutes during the whole day when I can get an operator for short filming. And it can only happen in the television building because we have no time to go anywhere. And then it depends on the event creator if he can adjust and come in order to use this chance and tell his listeners about it or not. The media can call you unexpectedly and ask for a phone comment or ask for an opportunity to film only at a particular time. Live shows on the radio or television can only happen within the specific live showtime; there’s no option to postpone it to any other time. If you’ve come as an accompanying musician, you also can get interviewed, so be ready for it. And if you want to get interviewed, there cannot be many reasons for your refusal, and they have to be very, very important. Otherwise, you can also not be invited the next time.
aim for different audiences. If possible, prepare information in other languages as well (for example, Russian and English if we’re speaking about Latvia) and send them out to the media accordingly. There still are many media in Latvia that were created for the Russian-speaking audience, and the communication happens in English, mainly in the international environment. Remember — the more people you address, the more people will know about you.
* don’t keep silent. If there’s a reason why your event should be canceled, rescheduled, or any important member has to be changed, don’t keep quiet on the reasons for it. Journalists are curious people, they would like to learn the reasons, and then the unclear versions and rumors can arise that you won’t have any chance to change afterward. It’s better to clearly and instantly tell all the reasons than let them appear in the veil of mystery.
* correct. Correct them instantly if a journalist mentions any detail incorrectly during the talk (date, time, venue, artists, etc.). Attention mistakes can occur to anyone, but it’s important to you so that the errors don’t spread any further. So be polite and accurate, but do correctly.
* timeliness, regularity of the media. Monthly magazine issues create his content plan differently from a daily newspaper. Evening television show works differently than a quarterly magazine does. A weekly radio show creates its plan differently from an internet portal. Keep in mind that different media with a different regularity of release work in a different way, so it doesn’t make sense to think that if you send a press release just a week before the event, it will appear in all of your desired channels. And if you send news just two days before the event, don’t hope for anything more than mentioned in the event list or a phrase in a news feed. The earlier the information gets passed, the better.
* informed artists. If you as a musician represent, for example, a festival in a show or story, be ready to speak about the event as a whole, not only about your own performance. Of course, you don’t have to know absolutely everything, but you have to know essential things on an overall level. As a bandleader, inform the other musicians to learn the most critical information about the event, at least on a fundamental level. If they need it, if such a situation accidentally occurs, they can speak about this to the media. Because you definitely don’t want the situation where a chance to mention your event gets used in a «hmm, I guess I don’t have more information about it, so I’ll have to ask colleagues» way.
* read through and revise. If you’re not sure you speak clearly enough and a journalist perceives everything in the right way, if you didn’t get accustomed to the interviews overall, be sure to ask a journalist to send you the article for revision before publishing. This is acceptable for printed/internet media. But be ready to really quickly read it through, and in case you need, check imprecise information, not taking too much time on this. It is, however, important to know you can’t just take and rewrite all of your replies if you don’t like the style of you talking. This all-correction story only applies to the facts, inaccuracies, tiny details, not to the whole story. However, don’t ask to see the television or radio interviews before they go on air; it’s not how things usually work.
* find out for yourself. If you arrange an interview in the media, understand what the media is. If a filming crew comes to your place and you ask which television, channel, or show this will be visible on, it signifies that you haven’t even learned what you’ve talked to.
* share the content. If any of the media puts the interview, show, story, the program is featuring you on their social media, share this post — this way, you (both you and the media) will reach a larger audience.
* practice. Nobody gets born with amazing communication skills, elegant speech flow, and rich vocabulary. But the good news is that you can develop all of this. If the interview is coming and you don’t feel safe, practice — at home by the mirror, with a family member or a friend playing the journalist’s role. Record your answers at least on your phone voice recorder and analyze — do you talk plain and clear, laconic enough, not plunge into too long stories as a response to simple and short questions, etc. Film yourself to ensure you’re not waving your hands too much, walk around while standing, bang your fingers on a table while sitting, can you keep eye contact. Do you like what you see? Work on the things you don’t like. Before the interview, think about what someone can ask you, consider your answers thoroughly, but don’t learn them by heart (!). Many people get stressed when they see a red lamp on a microphone or an eye of a camera, but the good news is you get used to it with time. A great way is also to analyze the others — watch the interviews of colleagues, listen to the shows, this way you will not only understand to yourself what you like or not but also subconsciously feel the structure and flow of the speech. In the beginning, all of this is very important and also remember — all of the people who are flowingly, easily talking in front of the television cameras with a smile once did it for the first time as well.
If all of this seems unnecessary and useless to you, remember: Latvia has a vibrant cultural life, and journalists have many chances to fill in the on-air time, pages, news feed, and other channels, but do you also have as many opportunities to inform the society about your art or a specific event?
Ideally, part of these things would be done by a press representative of every artist. However, the real-life situation shows that not every artist has one, especially at the beginning of their career. So it’s great if you understand some of these things yourself and can help yourself. But, in the end, journalists also aren’t any evil, dark powers who will ask any impossible things from you and suck all of your vital juices out. We are one team, after all — you want to inform society about yourself, and we have a chance and a platform to make it happen.
See you on-air, in the interviews, talks, and shows,