FB is Not PR

In this article published last year on Sydney Arts Guide, independent arts publicist GEOFF SIRMAI explains why social media is not ‘publicity’.

How often have I seen it? A theatre producer arrives at the foyer for opening night, visits the box office, checks out the bookings, then goes pale.

Panicked, he or she opens their smart phone, looks at their Facebook page, checks the ‘event’, checks the ‘group’ then looks back at the bookings.

Then they do a very theatrical double-take.

Finally, in tragic tones of Shakespearean dimensions (and shaking their fist at the heavens – or is it the virtual ether above?), they shout “But they all said they were coming on Facebook!”                     

And there’s the rub.

As the Bard himself might have said: “A Facebook ‘like’ doth not a ticket sale make.”

In the rush to embrace do-it-yourself communication, perhaps cut corners, cut costs and convince themselves that they have it all under control, too many theatre-makers have succumbed to the myth that social media is everything. That simply collecting countless ‘friends’ who (hopefully) themselves have countless ‘friends’ will guarantee a paying audience for their shows.

Sadly, it’s not that simple. And it was never going to be. As my many years in consumer affairs and the media taught me, something that seems too good to be true is – invariably – just that.

Let’s debunk the myth right now and learn some savvy lessons that might just save you and your next show from disaster. Here’s the honest truth.  

  • Your FB ‘friends’ are not really your friends.

Ask yourself: do I know all these people? Lovely as they are and deeply as I respect them all… (“love your work – mwah, mwah dahling”) can I really expect them all to come to my latest show?

And what about their friends? Will they share the invitation, spread the word? And will those ‘friends’ of ‘friends’ be interested? And what about your real friends and family? Have you pushed them too far, too often?

Most crucially, for all the ‘liking’ and ‘accepting’ and ‘joining’, will any of these people actually buy a ticket?

  • Most artists’ FB friends are other artists.

How many requests, invitations, plugs and promos do you receive per day via social media? Now, be honest: how many do you respond to? How many do you act upon? Many of your social media network are probably interested – even supportive. But you really can’t expect them to always vote with their feet – much less with their wallets. Clicking and ticking is not ticketing. Voting with mice is nice… but talk is cheap. Until they actually buy a ticket, they are chickens you can’t count on. And as for eggs and baskets… more below!

  • Social Networking is just that – no more.

Don’t mistake social media for publicity. It ain’t. Yes, it’s a powerful means of reaching other people who are one – maybe even two or three – degrees of separation away. But it won’t reach new audience like media publicity will or target specific potential audiences like advertising. So don’t count on it to do more than it was designed for. And if you use it for promotion, it is still – transparently – self-promotion.

  • Promoting a show properly requires using Marketing, Publicity and Social Media. All three. There’s no way around it.

The strategy of marketing and promotions is a specialised area and economising on one of the three key ‘pillars of promotion’ is false economy. Here’s why:

Marketing is promotion direct to consumers via advertising, flyers, posters and much more. It costs you money but you control the message, as well as when and how it appears. You’re blowing your own trumpet, but at least it’s loud. It can be expensive… but not always. How you spend your marketing dollar is a matter of careful strategy, well worth professional advice.

Publicity is the promotion of your show via the media. Free editorial via journalists and editors. Newspapers, magazines, radio, TV, speciality websites and other new media. It doesn’t cost you and it carries the weight of 3rd-party endorsement, the cache of editorial behind it, not just your own tub-thumping. You can’t control it completely but in the hands of a skilled publicist and their close relationships with comprehensive, targeted contacts, you can reach many, many new readers, listeners and viewers. Plus reviewers, VIP industry guests and more. The benefits are obvious – especially for companies whose budget may not stretch to expensive advertising! Again, it’s worth paying a professional to do this properly for you.

And remember PR is not just about bums on seats.

Media publicity delivers credible public profile to your creative team which rewards them for their efforts and gains them wider professional recognition. It enhances your company reputation and reinforces your ‘brand’. That’s an additional investment in longer-term gains.

Social Media use the tools we all have at our fingertips to reach out to other individuals. Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Pinterest and more. You may be tempted to ‘go it alone’ here too. However, if you’re serious about promoting your professional show professionally, it’s worth getting expert advice about how to make the most of these powerful tools. Don’t put all your eggs in this one basket… but, by the same token, don’t cook your golden goose to make thin soup! It won’t go very far. Break a leg!

Geoff Sirmai is the director of Sirmai Arts Marketing and author of both You and Your Publicist and The Confident Consumer (Allen & Unwin)


Lights Up After Lockdown – Reclaiming the Spotlight with PR in a Post-Covid World

Lights up after Lockdown
Reclaiming the Spotlight as the Stage Re-opens
(Post Covid PR and the 3 Pillars of Promotion)

By Geoff Sirmai

It’s been a train wreck.
In March 2020, most performing arts companies and venues shut down almost overnight. Huge upheaval, financial, social, family and creative trauma all round.

Then ingenuity and imagination brought work to life by online means: first to a select group of other artists; later , tentatively – and eventually more confidently – to a wider audience.

Now it’s Spring… and little green shoots of theatre, music, comedy and more are pushing up through the soil and reaching for the light. The sunlight first… then… the spotlight!

Hopefully you’re planning for the relaunch of your performances soon or in the new year – maybe you’re even mid-rehearsals already. Covid-safe, of course. But with the prospect of living, breathing live audiences to smile, laugh, applaud and cheer your efforts. ‘Spaced out’ they may be… but believe it: they’re ravenous for live performance!

Now is the time to do the vital work of promoting your shows, your concerts AND your brand. It’s been a long time and you can’t leave anything to chance: you need to let the world know you’re back by exploiting the three pillars of promotion: marketing, social media AND publicity.

No matter how loyal your pre-Covid audience, how big your database is, how wide your social media network, you’re going to need to reach new audience AND reclaim your old one. Don’t take them for granted… keep them in the loop. Let them know you’re relaunching, invite them to the ‘party’ – whether real or virtual. Make a splash!

Some important facts to remember:
1. Social media reaches a few degrees of separation at best. It’s your existing network but doesn’t reach potential new audience. And most of your ‘friends’ are probably other artists who are being bombarded with promos already. For all the good will in the world you can’t depend on them to buy tickets – especially in a post-Covid world when stepping out into the light will take a little extra courage! Social media – especially in the last 9 months – has been exactly that: social. Don’t depend on it to sell tickets. Remember, as the Bard might have said: a Facebook ‘like’ doth not a ticket sale make!

2. Advertising, e-marketing and other direct promotion (like social media posts) are transparently self-promotion. You can control where ads appear (and pay for the privilege), but you can’t control the seriousness with which they are received (or the objectivity with which they are perceived!).

3. Publicity – editorial coverage in the media, such as news articles, TV and radio interviews, online features and more – carries the weight of 3rd party endorsement, the cache of editorial support AND it reaches an audience far beyond your own network of contacts.

In the hands of a skilled publicist with regular media relationships (not just cold-call contacts!), you can reach the right editors, journalists, presenters and producers with eye-catching material that will win you critical media profile, valuable reviews and gain you bums on seats. You’ll regain the public spotlight for your ‘brand’ and gain much appreciated acknowledgement for your hard-working creative team.

You and all your creative team will pour blood, sweat and tears, time and money into getting back on stage. Don’t spray unfocussed material into the vast, virtual beyond. Be savvy, be promo-smart while covering all bases. You can’t afford not to.

Geoff Sirmai is the director of Sirmai Arts Marketing and author of both You and Your Publicist and The Confident Consumer (Allen & Unwin)

Special festival PR deals continue…


Sirmai Arts Marketing – long-standing Australian specialist ‘indie’ arts publicity specialists – have reaffirmed their commitment to supporting the performing arts with great value discount PR packages for short-run festival seasons, such as Sydney Fringe and Comedy festivals.

The highly visible, widely respected company’s slogan “Publicity Plus” well describes Sirmai’s promotional support for clients across all media. It is also well known for its uniquely hands-on knowledge and experience in both the media AND the performing arts.

Publicity, after all, is a kind of ‘match-making’ between the artist and the media. Principal Geoff Sirmai has a 20-year background as a nationally known multi-media journalist, editor, reporter and presenter as well as a life-long professional performing arts profile. His media network is both comprehensive and close – based as it is on regular, warm relationships with hundreds of journalists, editors and arts reviewers.

For a number of years he has offered special PR packages for festival clients who may only have a short run of performances in small venues and whose budgets naturally might not extend to normal industry fees – or even Sirmai’s already heavily discounted ‘indie’ and ‘community’ rates.

“While it’s true that it’s the same amount of work covering all possible bases for each client,” says Geoff, “we recognise that festival participants – often self-funded or crowd-funded – can’t normally compete with the big companies for media profile or ‘bums on seats’.

“But it’s a vicious cycle: without professional publicity, there’s little hope of getting their heads above the crowd or being ‘heard above the noise’ – especially in busy festivals and an already highly competitive arts scene. That makes it difficult to grow and prosper.

Sirmai says it’s his business taking the hard work and specialist knowledge of PR off the hands of already stretched indie artists and producers, leaving them free to get on with the other demanding aspects of their own business: that’s show business!

“We want to make sure every ambitious, talented company has an equal shot at making a splash: it’s our mission – and our pleasure – to help make that happen.”

To find out more, visit www.sirmai.com.au  or contact Geoff at Sirmai Arts Marketing (02) 9345 0360  m: 0412 669 272  e: geoff@sirmai.com.au

Arts PR – a passionate life!



I’m re-posting this excellent article by Arts Hub’s Richard Watts about careers in Arts publicity. It interviews myself and two wonderful colleagues in other cities.

Like my booklet, You and Your Publicist, it demystifies PR too. Well worth a read!



Why PR?

Why would you ‘do’ PR?

In the words of Maria in The Sound of Music… let’s start at the very beginning (a very good place to start!)

Professional Public Relations (or ‘PR’) are an essential part of the promotional ‘mix’ in gaining profile for your event and getting ‘bums on seats’.

Just as marketing and social media reach different target audiences, the free editorial coverage that PR or Publicity provides is essential to getting your event known in a crowded arts and media world.

Marketing is ‘above-the-line’ promotion direct to the general public and mostly costs money: advertising, posters, flyers and direct mail – both hard copy and electronic. It can be targeted, timed and placed exactly how and where you want it. But it can also be costly – especially if you want prominent placement. And it’s often hard to evaluate its success… Remember the old joke: “I know half of my advertising is effective… I just don’t know which half!”  I’ll look at how to evaluate your promotions in a future blog right here.

Social media promotion (Facebook, Twitter etc) is no less important in using your team’s existing networks to spread the word. It’s relatively cost-free but only reaches – at most – a few ‘degrees of separation’. And, like marketing, it carries the whiff of self-promotion – “blowing your own trumpet” – that may not be so effective in moving those beyond your closest friends and ‘fans’ to buy tickets. It’s also notoriously overdone at times… to the point of turning off potential audience. I’ll look at the pros and cons of Facebook promotion in a future blog too… so watch this space!

On the other hand, media publicity involves essentially ‘free’ editorial – press, online and on-air articles, listings and reviews that hold much more sway than ads. It carries the weight of editorial endorsement, not just the apparent ‘self-promotion’ of marketing and social media that can more easily be dismissed. The challenge here, though, is that editors and journalists ultimately make the decisions about what is newsworthy to their readers, listeners and viewers. So, making your pitch hit the right note and stand out above the rest is crucial! And that’s where skilled PR makes all the difference.

A publicist arranges press articles and features, radio and TV interviews, key “what’s on” listings in the press and on the ‘net as well as reviews. The benefits are obvious – especially for groups whose budget will not stretch to expensive advertising!

Performers and the rest of your creative team also appreciate coverage – which rewards them for their efforts and gains them wider professional recognition. It enhances your company’s reputation and reinforces your ‘brand’. All of which is not easily done without the skills, the contacts, the dedicated time – and the regular media relationships – that a professional publicist offers.

Publicists may also have extensive audience and artist databases, subscription e-news and groups to boost your campaign with effective direct e-marketing. This kind of ‘below-the-line’ promotion is essentially cost-free and adds thousands of new contacts to your own network.

They can also advise about photography, handle your opening night invitations and attract reviewers, casting agents and VIPs to help you make a ‘splash’.

Many independent arts producers make the mistake of trying to handle the promotion of their event themselves; most invariably fall short of being able to commit the necessary attention to the task while handling their other jobs. It is an area where expertise and contacts really come into play, taking the hard work – and guess-work – of PR off your hands. That leaves you the time and space to get on with your main business… that’s show business!

In the end, audiences will judge your show’s success. But don’t leave a stone unturned to make certain you get as many of them there as you can. Whomever and however you choose to handle your publicity, don’t forget about it…

Remember, putting on a show without PR is like winking at someone cute in the dark: you know what you’re doing… but no one else does!

Break a leg!


Sharing the love… Arts PR

Working on publicity in the arts world is a rare joy for me: I get to meet amazing artists – writers, actors, directors, musicians… artists of all kinds – and help bring their wonderful light out from under a bushell. ‘Sharing the love’ is a special privilege – sometimes a challenge – but always an art in itself!

On this blog you’ll begin to see tips and tales, articles, links and a good number of treats too! So visit again soon and feel free to feed back…  It’s all to the good.

Cheers, chookas… and see you ’round the traps!