It may not seem to be a top priority when running a youth orchestra, but it will help with many things:
- raising awareness of the orchestra among young musicians to assist recruitment
- raising awareness of the orchestra and its activities to support other fundraising efforts
- gaining funding from local authorities, VECs and other sources.
- providing a platform with which to thank sponsors and contributors
- bringing new audiences to concerts and events
- finding new volunteers to help with managing the orchestra.
In application for a project that received an Organisational Achievement Award at the 2008 Festival of Youth Orchestras, Fingal County Youth Orchestra described how they used the press as a means of recruiting new members to the orchestra. They felt that engaging with their local newspapers had been a great success in reaching their goals.
The reach of the “Community Voice” – as many local papers are not well read and concentrate on advertising, the Secretary had been sceptical. But this north Dublin publication really came up trumps. We hope to get further exposure in it, and are currently preparing a feature on the Scottish Tour at the paper’s request
The growth of the internet in recent years means that many ways of promoting your orchestra to different audiences have become very cheap, with websites, email marketing software and social networking software all available online for use for free by anyone with the time and technical competence to use them. And those two things are often a big stumbling block for those involved in the organisation of youth orchestras. There is plenty of work to do without launching press and internet campaigns to promote the orchestra. It is extra voluntary work, but work that might be done by new volunteers who can’t, or don’t want to, contribute in more conventional ways.
Also, something that should be remembered is that orchestra organisers have access to lots of young people. These often do have both the time and technical competence to make good use of the available technology. Getting young players to help with the initial set-up of web sites, Facebook pages and email lists is definitely of benefit. Being a publicist for a year might also be an interesting and rewarding transition year project for one of the young players in your orchestra.
All the resources here are free, provided you have a computer with internet (preferably broadband) but do remember that each one of them is a project and a new set of skills to be learned. Spread the work around to get the best effect.
In the next issue, we will talk about communicating with the press and getting those youth orchestra pictures circulated in your neighbourhood and beyond.
Email is a great way to stay in contact with your players, their parents, your audience, sponsors and others. Now you can have a fully functional email marketing tool for free through MailChimp at www.mailchimp.com.
MailChimp Operates on a ‘Freemium’ model – you can use a certain amount of features and volume for free and choose to pay if you want extra. However, with free emails to up to 1,000 people and the ability to send up to 6,000 emails a month at no cost, the free service will be more than adequate for most youth orchestras. The only requirement for the free service is that you include a MailChimp logo at the bottom of your emails.
You can use the pre-defined templates for sending email, entering your own logo or header, or you can design an email newsletter template that matches your website, newsletter and concert programmes.
Managing lists is easy with a range of sign-up forms that can be embedded in or linked to from your website. You can provide users with the option to sign-up or unsubscribe for themselves with no work for yourself.
Deliverability is one of the key points to keep in mind when sending email circulars. Your emails can be blocked by your own email server (GMail, Yahoo etc.) before they even leave your outbox. There are also a whole host of reasons why your email might not make it to all, or any, of your intended recipients. Email marketing software, like Mail Chimp, monitors such activity and will let you know if your emails are getting caught by spam filters and will also let you know if recipients are clicking the ‘Report Spam’ or similar buttons in their email.
Mailchimp includes a whole suite of ‘How-to’ videos and has weekly ‘webinars’ to help you get up and running.
There is just one golden rule with email marketing – Don’t Spam. If there are too many reports of people clicking the ‘Report Spam’ button, your account will be suspended. Closer to home, you don’t want your supporters ignoring your emails because you send too much too often.
Social networking sites are currently the stars of the marketing world with Facebook undoubtedly the king of them all. They are a great way to keep people up to date with what the orchestra is up to. Your young instrumentalists and music teachers are likely to know how all this works, being able to set up group pages, events and announcements.
However, although many young people are accessing these sites at a younger age, the content that they encounter may not always be suitable to be endorsed by those in the position of managing a youth orchestra. It is recommended that you read ‘Safe Social Networking’, published by Youth Work Ireland. You can download a copy here.
Knowing what people think about your orchestra is always a good thing, and who better to tell you than the players, their parents and the audience. At IAYO, we have found that short online surveys that give people a chance to say what they think have been very useful in improving courses and events and finding out what are the issues faced by member organisations. Especially when it comes to young people, the response rate for online surveys are far higher than giving out paper questionnaires, and some of them take the time to write in detail about their experiences. Two free tools that allow you to do this are Survey Monkey at www.surveymonkey.com and Google Forms, which come as part of the Google Docs suite. Both allow you to make up questionnaires and publish them on the internet. You then send a link to the people you would like to survey and wait for the results to come in. For us, Google Docs Forms have the advantage that information is stored in spreadsheets and downloaded, mail-merged etc., whereas Survey Monkey only allows such downloads with paid accounts.
Many youth orchestras have their own web sites up and running already, sometimes at great expense, and sometimes not. There are plenty of cheap and free options for getting online at the moment, although many of them will carry advertising of some sort or other on the sites created. Below are a list of currently-popular website building services for do-it-yourself.
One thing that will help if you have a website is an easily rememberable web site address. www.ourorchestra.ie is much easier to remember than http://sites.google.com/site/ourorchestra. On free web services, this is usually called a ‘custom domain name’. For services that allow you to use a custom domain name, you can buy a .com , .org or .net at any registrar on the web. For a .ie address, you need to buy through an Irish based registrar and show that you have a right to the web address. There will usually be instructions with your free service on how to set up a custom domain. If they don’t apply to your particular registrar, just contact the support desk at your registrar and they will help you out.
Some Irish registrars are
Blogging is also a good way to get yourself on the internet, although it should be said that if you want a web site, a blog is generally not it. Blogs organise content by when it was posted, what categories content is in or what tags are applied. This is great if what you want is for people to follow the latest news and be able to browse through older news, but not suitable if you want control over the structure of your web site. The also make it easy to upload audio and video footage and photographs. WordPress and Blogger are two of the most popular blogging platforms.
And let’s not forget sharing video, photographs and audio files over the internet. You probably already have video editing software – Microsoft Movie Maker on PC or iMovie on Mac. Get audio editing software free from Audacity . Share video on Youtube and Vimeo. Share photos on Flickr or Picasa. Guidelines from The Arts Council on the use of images of children can be downloaded here.
Audacity – Sound Editing Software
Vimeo – Video sharing with more time and storage than Youtube.
Flickr – Photo Sharing
Picasa – Photo Sharing with free photo organising and editing software.
Sending out press releases is a good way of getting attention from newspapers, radio and television and can be done relatively freely without worry of having editors feel that they are being pestered. They are generally relatively short – all contained within a single page of A4 and are aimed at generating further interest from the media, their contents being used to generate short articles in the side columns of newspapers, or being included in listings. Often the press release will be the initial step in getting an interview, article or photographs printed in the press.
Writing the release
The following template is something that is good to follow and, certainly, to take notice of when writing press releases. However, creativity of approach may also land you better coverage so don’t feel confined to a formula.
Preliminary: You should put the text FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE at the top of your text. You can also write IMAGES AVAILABLE if you have high-quality photographs to accompany an article.
After this comes your heading or title. This should be clear and descriptive and it is best if it is relatively short – something that you can imagine reading in a newspaper yourself. It can be the name of the event or a summary of what is to follow – 16th FESTIVAL OF YOUTH ORCHESTRAS AT NATIONAL CONCERT HALL, DUBLIN.
Next comes brief details of the event or story – get the important details across in one or two sentences. You might consider including date, time and venue in this section so that it can be extracted for listings or used as a ‘filler’ in a side column. If not, then you can put the event details either preceding or following this paragraph as follows.
Saturday 12th February 2011 at 3pm
National Concert Hall
Tickets €15, available from . . .
A more detailed description of the event can follow in the next paragraph or two, although keeping in mind that the full release should ideally be an A4 page or less.
Including a quotation is generally a good idea – it allows the newspaper to create a short article with a personal touch rather than just presenting information.
Some general background on your youth orchestra might also be included, as can some information on conductors, composers or other notable people involved with an event. Do remember to acknowledge any funders or sponsors.
At the end of the release, have the text ENDS on a separate line.
It is most important that you include contact information on the release and that phones and email addresses listed are monitored and answered. A press or media editor or researcher may only make contact once and move on if they don’t receive a quick response.
For further Press Information contact:
Name and Phone Number
Circulating the release
It is easiest to circulate releases by email although sometimes paper can work better as it is not (quite) so easily disposed of. Make the subject of your email with the title / heading of the article preceded by the word release – Release: 16th FESTIVAL OF YOUTH ORCHESTRAS AT NATIONAL CONCERT HALL, DUBLIN. Keep the formatting of the email simple, either plain text or format headings in a slightly larger font size and in bold. Also attach the contents of the release in a Word document. Again, keep it simple and just duplicate what is in the email.
Consider how you batch the emails that you send. If you send an email from a brand new account to fifty or sixty addresses, the chances are that your email may not even make it out of your own inbox as your email providers’ security software may mark it as having a high probability of being spam and not send it. Also be aware that sending the email to yourself and adding lots of addresses in the bcc field may have the same effect. Those things being said, if you have an email account that is trusted, there is no great harm in sending a press release to lots of recipients at the same time. Most press email addresses are well known to those in the business. Perhaps send separate emails to online publications if you are sending releases to those also.
An alternative, albeit untried by us here at IAYO, is that you could send your press releases as email only through an email marketing service like Mailchimp, without the attached Word document. This would make management of your email list more straightforward and allow you to send to different groups on your list if, for example, you have press releases that are only of interest to local publications or purely to catch the attention of television producers.
Timing is also a consideration. For most publications, you should be aiming to send a release two-to-three weeks before the print deadline, although for some you might then want to submit a second time closer to the publication date. This means that for monthlies, you will need to be six to seven weeks ahead but closer in for dailies.
As said previously, press releases can be circulated fairly freely and will often pick up interest from editors and researchers that you have not had direct personal contact with before. However, it can help to ring ahead and say that the press release will be arriving and to follow up afterwards.
Sometimes the story is about children eating their violins and sometimes it’s about young players lining up back-stage at the National Concert Hall just before their performance at the Festival of Youth Orchestras. Newspapers, magazines and websites are always looking for good pictures to make their publications look good and to fill up those awkward spaces that might appear when a commissioned story is longer or shorter than expected or has missed the submission deadline. Just as with getting articles published, you are always at the mercy of space considerations and other ‘important’ news.
Ways to get your orchestra’s photos in print and online media.
- Take your own: Are you or one of your volunteers / parents a good amateur or even professional photographer? If so you can try to submit your own photographs to local, regional and national press. It is always important that someone at a publication is expecting your photograph. National and some regional newspapers have a dedicated photodesk that screens all incoming photos for content and usability. In local newspapers, it will often be the editor or news editor that will receive and check photos. Do make sure that whoever is responsible for choosing photographs is expecting yours and has said that they will look at them. Photographs will need to be interesting, well lit and clear if they are to be used for publication. Jpeg is the only format that is acceptable to most picture editors. Photographs will also need to have a caption embedded – usually something that describes what is happening in the photograph. Just browse photos in any newspaper to see what sort of text is usual. This information can be entered in File Info in Photoshop or for far cheaper in Image Properties in the GIMP photo editor (available for free from www.gimp.org).
- Hire a photographer: This can be anything form not-so-dear to very expensive, depending on the photographer you hire. Paying a lot for a professional photographer is no guarantee of having suitable shots or that they will be published. However, there are photographers that specialise in freelance photography for the press and some of these have impressive records in getting their pictures into local and national newspapers. If you are hiring a photographer for a launch or event with a view to getting publicity in the press, do try and use someone that has a track record.
- Get the press to come to you: You can put out an event notice in advance to editors / picture desks describing what your event is, who will be there and details of what photo opportunities might be available. Again, this is a matter of contacting the right person in advance. And again, national and some regional newspapers will have people dedicated to screening opportunities for getting good photographs.
And in all of the above, treat your editor or picture desk with respect and they will become allies in promoting the good work of your youth orchestra. Send them lots of information that they feel is not relevant to them and your good work will end up in their email bin.
Undoubtedly, having ‘contacts’ in the media is a great advantage when engaging in public relations. Having a list is not rocket science, but it can take a long time to build up good working relationships with people in the media. Starting local is a good idea. Begin a list with local and county newspapers, radio stations and listings sheets. Also try to find out if there are web sites dedicated to things happening in your area. From there, try regional and national news, radio and television that might have an interest in what your orchestra is up to. Programmes like Kazoo on RTÉ often carry news on youth arts and there have been previous articles on youth orchestras on Nationwide, Newstalk 106, RTÉ lyric fm, Morning Ireland, RTÉ Six One news and many more national platforms. If you are preparing press releases, it is easy and worthwhile to put them in the mailout. Remember also that lots of people get their news over the internet these days and include in your mailing lists listings websites and others that might be interested to carry your news.
Wikipedia: List of Newspapers in Ireland
Wikipedia: List of Irish Radio Stations
Wikipedia: List of Television Channels in Ireland
And Finally . . .
And Not to Forget the other things that you can do to promote your orchestra. Posters and flyers are good not only for promoting concerts, but also for recruiting new players. Distribute them to schools of music and schools where you think there might be suitable players. In-person visits to schools with a short performance by some players can also bring more interested players along. Radio phone-ins are a great way to get word around also – ‘Best of luck to Tom and Sally in the youth orchestra, who are performing at the concert hall tonight’ – you might even manage to get Martin King to announce your concert on the TV3 weather.
Anything that you can do to promote your youth orchestra at local, regional and national level can have a potential pay-off in the future; in terms of gaining players, volunteers, audience members, funding and sponsorship. It’s also just good to know that other people are seeing and hearing about the good work that is going on with young people and music.