Writers, Editors, and Publicity Offices

Writers, Editors, and Publicity Offices:
The More Things Change, the More They Remain the Same

by Russ Neff
Originally printed in Jazz Notes
copyright © 1999, Russ Neff

Early this year a local school booked the Lincoln Center Jazz Orchestra for a clinic & concert. They first billed the event as a "Wynton Marsalis Concert." This should have been clue number one as to what lay ahead.

I, the sole jazz writer for the local daily newspaper, had to search out the local people responsible for the event just to ascertain such details as the time of the gig, the name of the venue, and how one ordered tickets. All I had was the date as listed in the orchestra's itinerary which I routinely receive from the Jazz At Lincoln Center Public Relations office.

Through the efforts of the Jazz At Lincoln Center Public Relations Manager I obtained an interview with LCJO pianist Eric Reed. Press releases, photos, and biographies were sent from New York and I commenced to write a feature article for the newspaper.

I never received one news release from the sponsoring organization. But two weeks before the gig a staff member at the sponsoring school inquired if the publication date of the feature I was writing could be advanced.

They had only sold about 60% of the house and needed additional publicity. My response was that I had no control over the publication schedule and it was my understanding that the story was scheduled for the Sunday edition five days prior to the event.

A week later, one day after the copy deadline, I received another call from the school. This time the request was for the inclusion in the story of the location of a store where tickets were being sold. My response was that the story had been submitted for publication.

Things then got really messy. The feature was bumped from the Sunday edition due to more pressing coverage. As I later learned, the article was rescheduled to run three days in advance of the performance.

At 7:30 Monday morning I was awakened by a phone call demanding an answer as to why the article was not in the Sunday edition. The person calling stated that they were "devastated, especially since we canceled our weekend advertisements because we were counting on the story being in the paper." My response was that the only publicity one can count upon is the publicity one buys.

In addition to the above problems, it appears that the entire event may have been predicated upon some seriously flawed assumptions. With an admission price of $45.00, any concert, but especially one held in a school auditorium, becomes a very difficult item to sell to most jazz fans.

When, as I understand, a capacity audience is necessary to break even financially at such an unusually high price, the reason for holding the event is called into question. It would seem that an assumption was made that the magic of the Marsalis name would produce a full house no matter the price or the venue. Obviously, the presenter had done very little, if any, audience research prior to booking the event.

I must admit that the concert was not the unqualified disaster I had feared. While the Lincoln Center orchestra played to a less than capacity audience, the majority of the seats were filled and the performers were at the top of their form.

I suspect the clinic and concert opened a significant number of new ears to the beauties and pleasures of jazz. However, more jazz events at this venue do not seem to be in the immediate future. When questioned about the financial outcome of the event, the sponsor declined to share the results, (perhaps due to embarrassment over red ink?).

I wince in anticipation of hearing once again how "Jazz doesn't sell around here" and "the jazz audience just doesn't turn out" for concerts or what-have- you. Add to these the overworked accusation that the local media did not "support our event" and one can almost smell the melting tar and hear the ripping of pillows.

Unfortunately, the holders of such opinions do not keep their feelings to themselves. Their friends, family, and colleagues will not only be subjected to this fatally flawed party line, they in turn will spread this misguided indictment of Jazz. Try convincing any of them anytime soon of the cultural significance of jazz.

[Other JJA members are encouraged to submit for publication in Jazz Notes their experiences vis a vis editors and/or publicity offices. E-mail them to wrstokes@capaccess.org -- Ed.]

C o m m e n t s

Jazz Publicity 1 of 2
Don Bates
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April 22, 02

Hi: I liked your editorial on publicity issues. It's fair warning for anyone who wants to promote an artisitic event regardless of whether it involves music, theater, dance or film. Most artistic events have great talent but suffer from tepid attendance because the people in charge don't plan their promotional programs months ahead of the actual gig. And even if they do plan, they often don't -- as your story makes clear -- follow-up strategically and aggressively with their initiatives. Depending on the press alone to fill seats is just plain silly. The most successful theatrical and concert organizations have always understood the value of promoting their events well in advance with offers of significant discounts for early reservations. A common example are offers touting free additional performances -- e.g., 4 performances for the price of 3. These organizations know that no matter how good an artistic event may be, lack of an audience when the times comes will be the kiss of death. Smart marketing and public relations are what make the difference in their experience, not dependence on free publicity.

P.S. Speaking of marketing and public relations, would anyone know a savvy PR consultant in New York City who specializes in jazz. I have a couple of friends who need to promote their music and appearances but are smart enough to know that they need professional assistance in order to do the job right.

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