Feature: Have you talked to your critics?

As a venue or production company you most probably spend a lot of time trying to find out what your audiences want and expect from you. Well I’d hope you do. But what about that odd minority group who regularly visit your venue, see perhaps more productions than the majority of your audience and who may have some impact on future sales – theatre critics?

Have you asked them what they’d like to see from your press office or PR agent, and what sort of service they need to be able to be of value to your venue and conversely what can make their jobs harder?

There’s been an explosion in PR companies and productions all vying for precious coverage, yet as the sector expands the basics often seem to be overlooked.

So what do critics and arts correspondents want? Really you need to talk to your respective contacts and see what works for them; however, a quick canvas around critics from across the industry reveals some common trends. In no particular order then the top ten issues for critics:

  1. Don’t expect us to be mind readers – You know about your production but unless you tell us we won’t!
  2. If you do tell us about it, let us know in time -An email invite 24 hours before your press night is unlikely to get a review
  3. If you arrange tickets for us make sure they are there – It is embarrassing for both your box office and us if they’re not there
  4. If you want us to review a show we need a programme (or at least a cast list) – Otherwise how do we know who we are seeing
  5. Please have suitable photos for use – Print and online have differing requirements
  6. Think about deadlines and have photos and material ready in advance – A week later is no use to us
  7. Know your locality and media – Different outlets have differing requirements, one size does not always fit all
  8. Reply to emails/phone messages – For a communication sector its surprising how many no reply we get
  9. Integrate your Social Media and press strategies – While it’s great to give loyal customers breaking news online, can you really expect a news organisation to run the story two weeks later?
  10. Talk to us – We’re not here to catch you out and are (normally!) very approachable people

Yes it’s an unscientific list but its surprising how the same concerns crop up time and time again and from all quarters – national critics, regional critics, online and broadcast – all mentioning the same frustrations. We may appear a fierce bunch, huddled in the dark scribbling furiously in our notebooks but on the whole we are nice approachable people who are passionate about the arts. On your next press night why not ask us what works well and what needs improving? And in the interests of balance tell us what doesn’t work for you. Collaboration and communication is the key – see the Arts Council would be proud of me!

Originally written for Arts Professional

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