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The struggle for arts PRs to get coverage

An annual survey for arts PRs shows how it must explore new avenues to counter challenges

In arts PR, the truism runs that when breaking news happens, culture coverage is always the first to be dropped. So it’s hardly a surprise to anyone working in the industry that as papers get thinner and as local radio suffers from more and more cuts, the arts coverage is shrinking dramatically.

Digital shift

Mobius Industries is a PR and marketing agency promoting live performance in London, at the Edinburgh Fringe and across the UK for the past 20 years and we’ve seen our media landscape shift to digital in the way everyone else’s has. For years, we’ve watched arts pages in national publications shrink as journalists face greater pressure for click throughs, but the sudden acceleration of this in local media has been alarming. For the second year running, we’ve run a survey for our fellow agency workers as well as freelancers and in-house venue staff; for the second year running, shrinking regional coverage was identified as one of the biggest concerns we face for the year ahead.

For theatres up and down the country it’s a huge concern; to some smaller venues, the local paper has been the only reliable form of coverage. Every time local BBC Radio increases syndication across stations to counteract cost cutting measures, there’s less space for the local theatre to get a mention. Every time local radios become less local, every time its patch grows and its audience becomes more geographically spread out, the less relevant the small arts venue or village hall becomes to them. When I started arts PR a decade ago, I used to boast that I knew the name of the arts editor at every major regional paper. Now, I can only think of a handful of regional journalists that have ‘arts’ in their title in any way at all.

Budget pressures

The arts are filled with creative people, and my peers are finding creative solutions. Several regional venues said in our survey that they’re working more with influencers, some said they’re making their approaches to media more and more specific and targeted to give every pitch a better chance of landing. But of course, these things take time to implement, and as well as shrinking media coverage we’re also facing a cost of living crisis, inflation, and cuts to funding. Beyond the publishers themselves, councils are slashing culture budgets in cost saving measures, with some like Nottingham City Council and Suffolk County Council proposing to cut 100% of their arts investment. The result? As everything becomes more expensive we have less budget to spend, as press coverage becomes harder and more time consuming we have less time and fewer people to try to achieve it.

Celebrity casting

With shrinking space in both regional and national media, it’s small wonder that we’ve seen such a boom in celebrity casting in theatres over the last decade. Programmers don’t just need the name recognition to attract audiences, they need them to attract media as well. To those outside the arts industry who think it doesn’t affect them that the arts aren’t supporting emerging talent in the way that they used to, I would give them some names: Phoebe Waller Bridge. Michaela Cole. Sam Mendes. Taskmaster. Six the Musical. They didn’t emerge fully formed.

We know that the industry we work in is full of the most creative and resourceful people around - our challenge is to continue to match that.

Article written by Emma Berge, head of press at Mobius Industries

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