Features Published 23 April 2015

Getting The Word Out

Chloé Nelkin is the founder and director of Chloé Nelkin Consulting – an agency, set up in 2010, that specialises in PR, events and consultancy with a dedicated focus on theatre, visual arts and opera. Here she talks about the differences between theatre PR and marketing and why they’re different players for the same team.
Chloé Nelkin

There is often a lack of understanding about the effect and importance of PR and it can be one of the first things to get cut from a company’s budget. I may be biased in thinking PR is of the utmost importance, but with the level of competition in the theatre industry, a production needs to know how to be heard above the noise.

But my biggest bugbear is how often PR and marketing are confused. I recently sat on a judging panel for a theatre-based award; when I questioned an applicant about the absence of PR in their budget, they replied “Well, we’re printing leaflets”. While PR and marketing are very closely related and work well together, they are two distinct areas of expertise. Marketing is directly about reaching consumers and selling to them, whereas PR is about building an identity and encouraging widespread public awareness.

At the heart of PR is storytelling. It is about creating a story to differentiate your client from the crowd and then ensuring that the right media outlets pick up that story. If a PR had to only make one phone call for a story to appear nationwide, our job would be easy. Instead, we need to work hard to build personal relationships with opinion-leaders so that they listen to our opinions (or stories) and help us spread them, influencing the general public in favour of our clients.

The media/PR relationship is built upon trust. As opposed to marketing, which is transactional and employs paid-for media to reach the public, PRs gain free editorial through the rapport they build and the stories they tell. While the former allows a much stronger degree of control over the output in terms of both content and size, a third-party endorsement of a show (for example, a critic’s review or favourable feature) is considered three times more effective at influencing sales than a paid-for advert.

To establish this necessary trust, PRs must remember that journalists are busy people with jam-packed schedules. The last thing a good PR wants to do is waste a journalist’s time. If a reviewer hates a particular playwright then you don’t want to invite him or her along to their new show. Additionally, if someone has recently reviewed a different production of the same show or show of a similar theme, the PR should know and acknowledge this, making the job of the journalist that bit easier.

For example, we recently worked on LAStheatre’s New Atlantis, which focused on climate change and water austerity. Before we began the campaign we spent time researching what journalists thought about other recent shows of this nature to gauge how best to sell in the story to them (why would this particular show about climate change be more of interest than 2071 at Royal Court, which they only gave two stars to?). By making the effort to get to know what a journalist wants, a PR is more likely to get better quality coverage to meet the needs of the client and simultaneously develop the trust of the busy journalist. This is why at CNC we are selective about who we speak to, and work with journalists on a one-to-one basis.

In PR it is hugely important to feel strongly about the companies you work for. While a marketeer can often exchange money for ad space for just about any brand, a PR must know their client inside out and believe in what they do to sell in a story that grabs a journalist’s attention. At the end of the day, if we don’t feel passionately about our clients, how can we expect anyone else to?

Here are the basic differences between PR and marketing:


Although you pay the fees of a PR agency, PR is about gaining editorial, i.e. free coverage, whereas with a marketing agency you will pay for resources such as advertising space or leaflet distribution.


Another key difference is that of control. You retain control in marketing whereas in PR as soon as the story is out, unanticipated things can happen and fundamentally no PR can fully control how the media presents the information they have been given. PR is a less straightforward transactional process than marketing.

Getting a return

Marketing focuses directly on building sales and clients want to see a return for their investment. Although PR may well increase sales, it’s about boosting the client’s company, promoting their brand, building relationships and building trust. Marketing has to be far more analytical with a shorter game plan. But, if the content is low quality and the visuals are weak, then the marketing practitioner has nothing to work with. Content is just the start for a PR – it’s about selling-in the correct story, having conversations with journalists and working out the specific angles that appeal to the person you’re talking to.

Messages and timeframes

A PR campaign is a dynamic process that reacts to changes and it’s often easier to change the message. A marketing campaign can be planned and designed long in advance, especially if it hinges on advertising, whereas a PR campaign is continuous and is about ensuring fresh messages that can be adapted in response to industry news.

We really pride ourselves on loving our work. Elements of a PR campaign include: researching past press, looking into the appropriate markets, establishing the identity of the show or company, writing press releases, selling-in the story as widely as possible, organising press nights and hunting down media exposure. This all hinges on constant communication whether with the client to learn about a new development or with journalists to learn about a wider piece they’re writing that complements one of our shows.

Do you have to choose?

I don’t think it’s a question of choice. Marketing and PR often work together. Take Edinburgh for example where leafleting is a key form of marketing. But, without stars from top reviewers on those leaflets they wouldn’t get noticed by the thousands of punters strolling up and down the Royal Mile.

Those reviews are achieved by great shows and successful PR. PR lends credibility to marketing. If you read a 5 star review and then spot an advert on Exeunt’s website the combination may encourage you to book your ticket.

With the increase of digital and social media there is more cross-over than ever before between PR and marketing. Arranging competitions would previously have been the domain of a marketing team but now, with PRs speaking to blogs and websites, this is something that crosses over. Video content used to only be marketing based, e.g. creating trailers, but now there are YouTube channels with huge reach that PRs pitch to. Social media was once just a marketing tool but with the rise of sites such as Twitter it’s a good way for PRs to engage with their audiences. And it’s not just Twitter, there’s LinkedIn, Facebook, Pinterest and many more.


Photo: Anonymous Collective.




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