Attracting Fringe Reviewers and the ‘Most Important 40 Words You’ll Ever Write’

As an arts PR Matthew Shelley of SFPR represents a range of shows at the Fringe each year and also looks after publicity for Army@TheFringe. Here he asks leading figures from two review organisations for their top tips for companies hoping to be in Edinburgh next year.

Reviews sometimes feel like the most valuable currency of the Edinburgh Fringe. Opening up a newspaper or a webpage and seeing the name of your show followed by ★★★★ or ★★★★★ can validate months, or even years of creative toil.

Matthew Shelley – The Edinburgh Fringe is hotly competitive.

Those stars can feel like diamonds, helping get bums on seats (maybe even paving the way for a tour). And it’s not hard to see why.

Posters and flyers adorned with constellations of stars can be pretty persuasive when audiences are deciding what to go and see.

But the quantity of shows is vast and the number of reviewers is limited – a very large percentage will not get reviewed at all.

This Thursday at 2.30pm, as part of Army@TheVirtualFringe I’ll be in conversation with Richard Beck, editor at large for the highly respected Broadway Baby reviews and entertainments site, about maximising the chances of getting reviews and running a PR campaign.

We’ll hopefully be joined by Paul Levy, who runs FringeReview and is on the receiving end of thousands of press releases a year from performing artists and their PRs.

In advance of the live chat I asked Paul for three quick tips about what makes an effective press release and he said:

  • Be truthful and avoid the word “amazing”. Seriously, no hype.
  • Press releases should have one clear image within the email and no more than a page of text.
  • Let your press release tell the story of how the show came into being along with the provenance of the theatre company, why now, and what is unique about it.

Turning to Richard I asked what companies should bear in mind when they are trying to attract reviewers. This is his advice:

“On the way to full houses and a five-star review there are many hurdles. None is insurmountable, but if you fall at the first you’ll never see the end.

“Reviewers initially access your show in one of two ways: the Edinburgh Festival Fringe Programme online or a press release.

“The programme is arranged alphanumerically by genre.  As far as is consistent with your show, choose a title that has a symbol, number or word that begins with a letter in the early part of the alphabet; it puts you higher up the listings. You might choose a start letter from the very end of the alphabet if you believe enough people work backwards!

“If you’re doing Macbeth, well that’s another bit of bad luck from the Scottish play!

“On the EFF programme initial listing page you have 40 words to describe your show. They are the most important words you might ever write. This is your chance to grab punters and reviewers. Go to The Fringe Handbook for Promoting Your Show, read the advice and look at the examples. Spend hours brainstorming and drafting to get it right!

“More press releases end up in the bin than anywhere else. Seek professional advice or go online to find a standard format template. If the press release looks unprofessional it reflects on the attitude of your company and possibly the quality of the production. If it hits the spot, I’m on my way to the theatre.”

Having worked with Richard, Paul and others for a fair few years I can absolutely vouch for their wisdom – indeed I’ve often turned to them for advice myself.

So join us on Thursday and we can hopefully offer some suggestions that will give you a head start in the intense competition for media attention.