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Overtones

Getting Publicity

Article from One Two Testing, April 1985

the workings of the Press, and how YOU can get publicity out of them


John 'Scoop' Morrish, hack by trade and medical discharge, reveals how to cope with the Press... shock, horror scandal. Mad Vicar...

Do you sincerely want to be rich?

Do you want your face on every teenager's bedroom wall from here to Honolulu? Do you want famous instrument manufacturers to give you famous instruments to "evaluate"?

I'll bet you do. I do. But do you want to meet John Blake? Do you want to be grilled by NME on your attitude to Kierkegaard? Do you want to appear in Kerrang!?

No, neither do I. So, for no more than the price of the One Two magazine you hold in your hand. I'm about to give you the benefit of years of painful experience and tell you HOW TO DEAL WITH THE PRESS.

A spot of Warfarin usually does the trick, I hear you say witheringly. But mock not. What you read here may help you on the road to fame, fortune and your own television show about how to look after babies.

The first thing to appreciate is that the Press is no more of a coherent whole than The Music Industry. And it's no good approaching The Balham Intelligencer and Tablet as if it was Smash Hits. So, let's look at local papers because that's where you are likely to appear first, in a paragraph like this: "Julian Toves and his Fish Farm Syncopators will be appearing at 'Tebbit's' cocktail bar on Friday at 9pm."

THE LOCAL RAG



Now, you are a pop star-songwriter, at least in embryo, so I take it you know all about the "hook". Here in newspaperland, we have a similarly nebulous concept which people get deeply excited about, and that's called the "angle". It serves the same purpose as the hook, that is, it persuades people to listen, or rather, read on.

Often the word "angle" is qualified, as in "local angle", "new angle" and so on, but even on its own it's a tricky concept. The search for a good angle is intimately related to the idea of "news values": put simply, what constitutes a story?

The journalist writing a story thinks first, "news value", then "angle", and then "intro". If you are going to send your local paper a story about yourselves, then you might as well follow the same process.

"News value" is a topic on which much ink has been wasted. It means simply this: what did you hear today that was interesting enough to tell your mates about tonight in the pub? That's my own definition, not to be found in "Teach Yourself Journalism", but it works for everything from Watergate to the kind of roller-skating-poodle meets bicycling-ferret story that bedevils contemporary popular journalism. I know because I have to do it.

The "angle" is whatever makes the story interesting. For instance, that the President of the United States sent a load of criminals to burgle a rival party — and then pretended he didn't. Or, that the ferret's name is Winston. That kind of thing. A local angle means, in your case, that at least one of the band lives, works, or did live, in the paper's circulation area. A new angle is something interesting that hasn't appeared in a rival paper.

Then there's the "intro"... songs used to have them back in the days of the Inkspots. In newspaper terms the intro is simply the first 15-25 words of any story. I say simply, but from the amount of agonising that goes on, you'd think that the intro was the only thing that mattered in the whole story. And in a sense you'd be right.

I was trained by a prat who said that the intro had to tell you these things: Who? Where? When? What? and Why? Which meant a lot of stories saying: "A Milton Keynes housewife, Mrs Elizabeth Spoons (45), this week set fire to her ninth-storey council home because of a delay in getting a leaky tap fixed, officials said". Not exactly snappy.

These days I think more of my mates in the pub and what I'd say to them about this mythical woman. I'd say: "This woman set her house on fire because she had a dripping tap". Cleaned up, that's my intro.

Harold Evans (hurrah!) had the best approach. He said you should think of one word which tells the story and build the intro around that. So: "A dripping tap drove a woman to fire-bombing her home", or, "A woman set fire to her home in frustration at a delayed repair."

Now, you and your band are not necessarily going to fire-bomb your home to get a mention in the local rag, but the principles are the same. News value; angle; intro. So, perhaps you are a heavy concept-orientated neo-folk band with a certain line in sartorial elegance. You wear flared trousers. Isn't that news? What's the angle? Well, why not say you are hoping to change the face of fashion. And your intro? The one word — what about "spearheading"?

So, here's your intro. "Grailsford rock group Wodin and his Granite Anvil are spearheading the return of the flared trouser." Yes, I know it's non-sensical and contains a gross mixed metaphor, but isn't that singular "flared trouser" delightful?

Now what do you put on the rest of the page? Sad to say, you'll just have to "describe" your music. "Like a cross between the Sex Pistols and Bing Crosby", or, "we are a sort of neoheavy-black gospel-doo-wop-synthesiser band", you might say. It doesn't really matter, but you've got to say something. Remember, the guy who first reads your "press release" (to use the pompous term) may never have heard you and probably never will.

After that you ought to say something about the dues-paying you've been doing. Local journalists are dead keen on this because that's exactly what they are doing, storing up credibility for the day when they become "The Man Who Really Knows What Prince Edward Has For Breakfast".

Say: "The line-up includes legendary Hemel Hempstead tuba operative Wild Willie Sinex, late of the Rusty Tricycles," if he's a star, or just say, "The band includes former members of Twinkle & The Toenails, Big Foot, The Effete Liverpudlian Psychedelists and Uncle Stan's Y-fronts."

If you are successful, say so. If not, say "sadly unrecognised", or, "on the brink of great things." A bit of name-dropping can help here. That is, "currently in the studio with the man who programmed Trevor Horn's food processor," or, "David Bowie's favourite band." After all, nobody's going to ring them up to check. WARNING: This tactic should be dropped like a shot once you leave the local paper arena.

And then the hard facts: where you can be seen, whether you've got a single coming out and so on. And that's all. Sorry boys and girls, our readers don't want to know your views on the coming struggle in Guatemala or whether the Phyrgian Mode is due for a comeback.

Now, with this goes a photograph. It doesn't have to be a professional job, although that would be best. But make sure it fits the story you've written. If you've said you are all Buddhist monks, try not to depict yourselves slumped over the bar at "The Strangled Minor 9th". Don't worry about the visual tautology of showing in the picture exactly what the words are already describing. This is endemic to newspaper work.

If you send that little package to your average, local free-sheet, most of it will probably appear next time there's a space, assuming the photo is good enough. If you send it to a real newspaper where there are real journalists, something else might happen.

A journalist might give you a telephone call, assuming you put a number on the release. You should have done. Better, he might ask to come for a chat, bringing a photographer.

Now this is where things can get a little more complicated. Gather your troops, excepting those with really gross personality problems who might put your master-plan in jeopardy. Then decide on a venue, say a pub, or a practice room, or even before a gig. But most journalists have more than enough evening work to do, and will run a mile rather than hang around at "The Rockin' Armpit" for half the night.

When the interview itself starts my advice is basically, don't be awkward. It might be fun to take the piss out of the reporter, especially if he's an ageing Paul McCartney fan (quite likely). But remember you need this man as a friend, not an enemy. And no prima-donna nonsense about how you have your photographs taken. Suggestions, yes; vetos, no. After all, they can always take their cameras and notebooks, and go. If the photographer wants you to dress up as the Queen Mary or lie in the middle of the M6, then say no. Otherwise, say yes.

As for the questions, as long as they appear fairly sensible, answer them. If they sound stupid, do your best to answer them. No doubt our notebook-wielding friend will want to know your ages, your addresses and what you do for a living. You might think this is silly and pedantic, but stay with it. It is a constant mystery to me in my daily life as a newspaper reporter why all the would-be social revolutionaries and overturners of bourgeois values are so afraid to give their surnames. Maybe they don't want their mothers to find out what they've been saying.

If you are a 30-piece Glen Miller Funk Orchestra, you should have one spokesman (spokesperson? spoke?). Generally, look controversy in the face, but make it relevant, local controversy. If the Filth stopped you playing an open air benefit for the miners, then say so. And act naturally, as the song has it. If you are a witty, amusing bunch, then be witty. If you are not, then don't force yourself. And most of all, be friendly and helpful. After all, in this instance the journalist is doing you a favour, not the other way round. It won't do to make him feel he'd rather be at a Drains Committee meeting.

And then, the long wait to see your stuff appear. Don't be surprised if it takes three weeks, and don't be too disappointed if a one-hour interview and picture session end up as a 60-word photo caption. The great thing about local papers is you can do it again and again, appearing time after time until the readers wonder whether you are paying the editor. And that's another technique...

Again, don't be disappointed if a casual remark has been lifted out of context and used as the "angle". That's the journalist's view of what his readers will find most interesting, and you have to accept that. If the paper gets some serious matter of fact wrong, then write in and ask nicely for a correction. If the reporter is rude about your band, that could just be the result of a bad day. If you got on well at the interview, communicate your disappointment to the scribe. Alternatively, if you like what you read, give the person a ring and say so.

Of course, criticism of your performances and your records is a different matter altogether, but in most local papers it is purely nominal. They tell you the venue, the size of the crowd, and the song titles.

Rock paper journalism is something quite different, which I intend to deal with later.

Going up the ladder, as I hope you will, your next contact will be with the regional daily or evening, so your "angle" now becomes something like, "Melksham is the last place you'd expect to find a fully-fledged Chicago Bar Blues combo," and who could argue with that?

Later, you'll meet the national press, and I'm quite sure you will find their antics with regard to music as ridiculously inept as just about everything else they do. (That sentence to be accompanied by the sound of axes gently grinding.) In other words, they'll only write about you when everybody else is, and in fact because everybody else is. A classic national intro might go, "The industry is buzzing with excitement about Plinth of Angels", which means their record company's PR man has been on the telephone that morning promising a trip to Rio.

Frankly, the last time the nationals (I include here the loathsome Standard) took music seriously was when Maureen Cleeve asked John Lennon what he thought about Christianity and nearly shook the Pope out of bed.

Otherwise, it's hard to find anything about music in the nationals, despite all the braying they do on the television about their embarrassing Pop Clubs and columnists. Unless you wear a dress (male) or wear a man's suit (female), you might as well forget it. Music? What's that?

The picture fetish, though, is just as strong, so if you can arrange to get savaged by a tiger at Stringfellow's or mistaken for a waxwork at Madame Tussaud's, so much the better.

So that's all for now. Next time, if I'm still in vitriolic mood. I'll demolish the pop press which to my mind has outlived it's usefulness. In the meantime, why not practice those intros? It's great fun. After a while you find yourself doing it all the time. "A disgruntled newspaper journalist this week lambasted his colleagues in the pages of an obscure musicians' journal," and so on.

And just think, with this training you'll be ready for the editorship of the Weatherfield Courier if the band goes west. After all, who trained Ken Barlow?


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Beyond E Major

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Drummers Drumming


Publisher: One Two Testing - IPC Magazines Ltd, Northern & Shell Ltd.

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One Two Testing - Apr 1985

Donated by: Colin Potter

Previous article in this issue:

> Beyond E Major

Next article in this issue:

> Drummers Drumming


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