How to Write Art and Artist Press Releases,
Newsletters, Announcements, Updates
Press releases, announcements, newsletters, invitations, social network posts and other types of updates are key to artists, galleries and arts organizations getting the word out about their current and upcoming activities. Writing and sending these notifications is important, but do you know what's even more important? Making sure people read them. And do you know what's even more important than that? Making sure people understand them. And do you know what's even more important than that? Making sure people take action once they read them. And do you know what's even more important than that? Making sure people share them.
But one point before we even get started. No matter how you get the word out, make sure you have something to say when you do. And make sure it's something your fans will care about. Send too many updates about nothing and people will start deleting them before they even read them or worse yet, unsubscribe from your newsletters or social networking pages altogether. No artist, gallery or arts organization wants that. Now for a few brief words about how not to get your news out.
Unfortunately, many art-related communications are so poorly written, disorganized or geared for specialized audiences that a significant percentage of recipients lack the knowledge, patience or will power to figure them out. Perhaps the main reason they're so difficult to hack through is they assume readers already know plenty about the history and background of the senders. In other words, they're written for existing audiences, not potential new audiences. The irony here is that the overwhelming majority of people who publish these posts and send these emails not only want to get the news out to the regulars, but even more importantly, want to increase their followings and expand their fan bases rather than keep them constant.
So to begin with, write for as broad an audience as possible, especially for people who may know little or nothing about your art, gallery or organization, but who might possibly have interest. Don't worry about those who are already up to speed and regularly follow you; they'll skip the parts they're familiar with and go straight to the news they need. Now that we're in the Internet age where things get shared, cross-posted, forwarded and commented on, pretty much anyone from anywhere can end up reading what you write, so provide enough basic information for strangers or newcomers who may happen to come across it and like what they see.
Give them a fighting chance to become fans or at least appreciate what you're doing and want to learn more. If you do a good job, hopefully they'll take some sort of action like attend your event, click over to your website, subscribe to your email list, follow you on social networks, visit your studio or gallery, share what you've written, or make contact in some other way. You don't have to write the entire announcement for beginners, but at least give them a grip on what it's about and why they should care. If you must get detailed, technical or specialized (which you should avoid), do it after you get the essential information out or include a link where they can read more.
Perhaps the best way to welcome new readers is to have a brief introduction to you or your gallery or organization near the end of the announcement, similar to the "About" section on a website or social networking page. You might mention how long you've been active or in business, where you're located, what you specialize in, what you're known for, what sectors of the community you serve or focus on, mention a highlight or distinction or two, and so on. That's more than enough for most people to get an idea of who you are or what you're about.
Adding an image or two to an announcement (which hopefully download FAST) is also recommended. Good compelling images slow readers down at least for a moment, and when they like what they're looking at encourage them to read more. Don't overuse images though; long strings of images get boring or confusing. If you are writing about a group of artworks, link to them instead-- like on your website (preferably) or social networking pages. That way the people who like them the most can click over while the rest of us don't have to be burdened with them.
As for the structure of your email, put the most important information first; get it in front of the reader immediately. Don't bury it somewhere in the middle of your text and make them hunt for it, or ramble on about what you've been up to lately, or talk about general art world news, or get into any other unrelated topics until you get the essentials out of the way.
For example, if you want people to know about your latest show and are inviting them to attend, make sure they see the complete details before anything else-- especially who, what, when, where and why. In the subject line or headline and again at the start of your announcement, tell readers who it's about (you or your gallery or organization), what it's about (the name of the show or event), who's participating, when it's happening (the date and hours-- from beginning to end including the opening), where it's happening (the complete address including street, city, state and zip code-- because you never know who might be reading or where they're from), and why the event is taking place (its reason or purpose or significance).
Not to belabor this, but the perfect announcement or update is one that pretty much anybody can read, understand, appreciate and get the main message about within the first thirty seconds or so after opening it. The headline news, update or event is all most readers care about, and often all they have time for. So be sure to include every significant detail in the first paragraph or two, preferably the first, and don't go too much beyond that. Many people will stop reading right there; the few who want to know more will either continue on or click to links where they can read more or contact you directly.
You especially have to think about people who receive tons of newsletters, press releases and other types of updates and announcements. These are often the people you want to reach the most-- datebook or events website editors, art writers, newsletter or blog or magazine editors, curators, critics, and others with significant art world standings. They simply don't have time for complicated, detailed or disorganized notifications, and if they can't figure out what's going on fast, they often give up and hit the delete key. People who receive tons of announcements have limited patience and HATE wasting time.
As for what follows the "who, what, when, where and why" of the announcement itself, resist the urge to go into elaborate detail or explanations, no matter how excited you are or how much you want to share. One or two additional paragraphs are plenty, assuming they're direct, specific, relevant and to the point. Go easy on your audience. Again, those who want to know more will either attend the event, click the link you want them to click to, or contact you with any questions they might have.
A good announcement or update is more like a teaser or incentive or come-on than anything else. It entices people to want to take action rather than inundates them with verbiage. It leaves them wanting more rather than gasping for breath. Those who decide to participate or attend or get involved will get the full story soon enough; there's no need to tell the tale in advance.
If recipients read your post or open your email and are immediately confronted with an overwhelming deluge of words, the mere physical appearance of all that text can be a turn-off in itself, and may reduce the chances they'll read it. Some people get intimidated by how much time they think they'll have to spend, decide it's too much to read even before they start, and hit the delete key instead. Remember-- you're in competition with all those other artists, galleries and organizations sending out similar announcements, so compete intelligently. Get your main point across fast and easy.
The most effective updates keep to a single story, event or news item. If you must write about more than one event or story, have a complete table of contents at the top so readers can easily skip to those parts they want to read without having to scroll through everything. The worst announcements ramble on and on, listing event after event or update after update, whether they're related to one another or not. If some of these emails were actual sheets of paper, they'd trail on for many feet. Don't make people scroll; people hate having to scroll through story after story or announcement after announcement that they could care less about in order to get to the one or two they really want to read. Rambling newsletters or updates are a great way to lose subscribers. Do your best to make sure readers can see all content instantly the moment they open it.
Again, remember to keep in mind that not everyone who sees, receives or is forwarded your updates or posts will know you who you are or be familiar with your gallery or organization. The best way to keep them in the game is to include brief background information about yourself or your gallery or organization at the close of the announcement. Limit it to a single paragraph that explains who you are, a bit about your history and includes full contact information for anyone who may want to subscribe, follow you, or otherwise get in touch.
We all know how short people's attention spans are these days, how fast they want their information and how little time and effort they want to invest getting it. Keep this in mind whenever you compose a newsletter, announcement or update. In as few words as possible, tell people whatever they need to know or where they have to go to get the full story or have the complete experience. Those who want to participate will; those who don't will at least thank you for being clear, quick and concise, and will hopefully look forward to your next communication.
Need professional art writing? I write for artists all the time-- statements, essays, press releases and more. If you need good quality writing, you're welcome to email me-- Alan Bamberger-- or call 415.931.7875. Let's talk about what you need and I'll tell you what I can do.
(art by Nick Ervinck)
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