Despite declining consumer spending, government cutting back support for the arts, and newspapers curtailing culture coverage, the performing arts in general are weathering the economic downturn. The media sector covering the industry is doing likewise.
“The performing arts are still relatively healthy because while people may search for lower ticket prices, they still want to satisfy their passions,” says Tom Holmes, publisher of Encore, a Playbill-like free outlet for off-Broadway theater, dance, and spoken-word performance in New York, Boston, and Los Angeles.
While a decline in mainstream press resources devoted to the performing arts is certainly real, industry publication coverage is different from that found in newspapers and magazines, Holmes explains.
“The mainstream press is still doing plenty of criticizing, but we see our role as trumpeting this stuff and letting the ticket buyers decide,” he says. “That's why we want to hear from PR people representing performances we can highlight.”
Karen Hildebrand, VP of editorial at Macfadden Performing Arts Media, adds that magazines devoted to specific genres also see their roles more as providers of information for enthusiasts, rather than as arbiters of good and bad performances. Macfadden is the publisher of several dance-themed outlets, including Dance Magazine, which focuses on top-tier companies and performers, as well as a user-generated content page that she describes as “YouTube for dance.”
Hildebrand adds that, thanks to TV shows like Dancing with the Stars, interest in the arts is on the rise.
“People are more interested in taking classes and... going to performances,” she says, adding that because dance is a visual experience, it's benefiting from online video.
The national performing arts media focuses on major markets, such as New York, Los Angeles, and Washington. However, media coverage of the performing arts in other parts of the US can still be had, says Genevieve Miller, PR manager for Denver Center Attractions at the Denver Center for the Performing Arts. Miller explains that any decline in local print coverage is offset by a rise in the number of bloggers and other Web-based editorial.
Miller adds she is having success going beyond traditional arts reporting. “We pitched a fitness story when the musical Chicago came through Denver, focusing on the dancers' training regimen,” she says. “And for the... Spamalot debut, we worked with food sections on a feature involving Spam recipes.”
Amy Levy, founder of Amy Levy PR, adds that a well-known star can attract celebrity outlets like Access Hollywood to a performance. But even without the celebrity hook, PR pros often find angles to pitch unconventional coverage.
“You can also boost interest... with a program specifically for children that you can then pitch to family and education writers,” she says.
- Don't be review driven. Focus PR on stories that go beyond what's happening on stage to stay in the public eye even after opening night
- Be artful. Performing arts are visual, so work with clients on photography and video that can accompany pitches
- Pitch the economy. Broadway tickets might be beyond many budgets, so stress the affordability of many performing arts events both in major markets and in other parts of the country