Live Active Cultures

Some PR rules hold true, whether you’re a billion-dollar corporation or a shoestring theater company

Have you noticed a low rumble radiating from the southwest side of town in recent weeks? If so, relax; it isn’t a slow-motion earthquake. That’s just the sound of the marketing machines at Orlando’s theme parks spinning up to full steam.

Things had been quiet on the attraction announcement front since the opening of Walt Disney World’s new Fantasyland late last year. But now that the locust-like hordes of spring break tourists have taken off, the local amusements are beginning to beat the drums for attractions arriving this summer and beyond.

SeaWorld, which usually lags behind in these seasonal advertising wars, fired the first shot this year, revealing a May 24 opening date for their Antarctica: Empire of the Penguin expansion and releasing a steady stream of web videos teasing its trackless dark-ride vehicles and icy aquatic aviary. Also keeping Shamu’s keeper in the headlines was an initial public offering, which led to the strange-bedfellows situation of PETA now being an (infinitesimal) part-owner of the chain. As a result of all the publicity, park junkies (like me) who usually jump straight to SeaWorld’s coasters are jonesing to explore the park’s largest-ever addition, which appears to be on a scale similar to its larger competitors’ best work.

Disney, never one to let its littler neighbors stand in the spotlight for long, launched a new PR blitz last week with a flurry of minor pronouncements and construction tours for media (not like me). Taken individually, WDW’s new announcements were underwhelming – a long-overdue replacement for Magic Kingdom’s aging daytime parade, a cruise ship refurbishment – and some, like learning that Fantasyland’s Seven Dwarfs Mine Train won’t open until spring 2014, were downright disappointing. Mickey even stuck his white-gloved finger in SeaWorld’s eye by scheduling an all-night party at the Magic Kingdom on May 24, upstaging Antarctica’s opening. Still, Disney’s junket was effective in deflecting Internet attention away from its rivals, at least briefly.

Meanwhile, Universal has kept its head down and quietly continued breakneck construction on more massive projects than the other two resorts put together. Transformers is scheduled for a summer debut, but the 3-D simulator should start testing with employees any day now, with soft openings soon to follow. The new Simpsons mini-land (anchored by Krusty Burger and Moe’s Tavern) is racing toward completion, even though Universal hasn’t officially acknowledged its existence; ditto for Harry Potter’s Diagon Alley (rising rapidly on the former real estate of the Jaws ride) and the Hogwarts Express train connecting both parks.

These three public relations philosophies – smart and steady, sound and fury, slow and silent – all have merits; which one wins out will ultimately be determined by turnstile clicks in the coming year. You may think the competition among multibillion-dollar corporations has little in common with low-budget local theater. But digging through a deluge of press releases for May’s Orlando International Fringe Theatre Festival, it dawned on me that some independent artists could stand to take lessons from their theme park brethren.

While the scale and style is obviously different, there are some universal (no pun intended) marketing dos and don’ts that can help make even first-time producers look like seasoned pros. Though this advice is inspired by the upcoming theater extravaganza, it is equally applicable to artists, musicians, community event planners or anyone who wants to harness the power of the press – still potent, even in the Facebook age – to promote their product:

l DO email your press release to the relevant recipients (especially [email protected] and [email protected]) about three weeks prior with your event name and date in the subject line.
l DON’T expose email addresses in your email’s To: field (that’s what BCC: is for) or use simply “Press release” or “For immediate release” as the subject.
l DO proofread everything and check dates twice before sending.
l DO include all your important info in the body of the email. DON’T leave the body blank and attach a text file or PDF if you want it to be read.
l DO share reviews you receive on social media. DON’T selectively edit bad reviews to make them look laudatory; ellipsifakes will kill your credibility.
l DO thank the critic for their review, positive or negative. DON’T post on Facebook complaining about what the reviewer did (or didn’t) say.

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