The Fringe. You came, you saw, you conquered. But no-one reviewed you. Your triumph goes undocumented. Like the metaphorical tree in a forest, if a person performs at the Fringe and there’s no-one there to review it, does it make a sound? (The answer’s yes. You don’t need us for validation.)
But say you do want a review. You want the promotion, you want the quotes, you want the evidence for your funding bid. How should you go about it?
In case it helps, here’s an extensive list of tips based on how we at The Wee Review organise our reviewing at the Fringe. It’s only one publication’s stance, but there’s lots that will be applicable to any publication you approach. Believe me, the bad PR techniques that drive one editor screwy will more than likely drive others screwy. It’s the fastest way to the reject pile. There are things you can do to help improve your chances of getting someone in to see you, but the tl;dr summary is: keep it simple and polite and make it easy to find you if we need to.
Gimme more detail, you say? Well, first, the bad news, and it breaks my heart to say it, but:
Your chances are slim. There’s 3,000+ shows at the Fringe and only about 25 of us. In our case, we’re also covering the International Festival, Book Festival and Art Festival. Plus many of us are working full-time as well. Plus we have to have actual time to write up the reviews! We usually manage around 400; I’d love it if we could get to 500. But that’s still only a fragment. So, please don’t feel ignored or overlooked. It’s honestly no slight on you or your work.
On the plus side, there’s a lot in your favour:
We genuinely want to review your show. With infinite time, we would cover the entire Fringe brochure. No joke. Those tweets several of us send after the Fringe saying “sorry, we didn’t get to see you” are heartfelt. Personally, hand on heart, there is nothing I wouldn’t go and see if someone wants me there and I have the time.
We know how hard it is. You have our understanding. The Fringe is a slog. It’s amazing, but can be knackering and dispiriting. It’s not easy getting bums on seats. It’s not easy standing out. It costs shedloads. We as reviewers push ourselves to do as much as possible because we respect what you’re doing. If we can’t do anything for you, it’s not out of callousness or disinterest. It really is because we’re at our limit too.
We want to discover good stuff. People imagine that reviewers love putting the boot in, but it’s mainly a myth. The opposite is normally true. Imagine how much more satisfying it is to say, “I gave them their first review”, “I saw them when they were first starting out”, “They were ignored until I found them”. That’s what we’re after. You have our ear.
Other things to remember:
We have the Fringe brochure. And we know our way round it. There’s little a press release can add to that. A lot of our Fringe schedule writes itself – there’s talking point shows we must see, things we know we’ll have a particular insight or perspective on. We’re a year-round Scottish website too, so there’s a certain duty to cover the people we work with regularly or that’ll be touring here afterwards. It’s almost tempting to say “don’t call us, we’ll call you”, but that’s not in the spirit of things. We do want our attention drawn to things we might have missed. Just beware of what you’re up against.
We are overrun with e-mails. From May onwards, we are absolutely bombarded. It’s probably 8-10 per day to start with, which is already enough when we’re also managing our ordinary year round reviewing and normal life too. By the time the Fringe is underway, it’s not unusual to come out of an hour long Fringe show to find another 10-12 new press releases in the inbox. It’s beyond the laws of time and space for a human to process all this. Outwith Fringe time, I’ll try to respond to every request that comes in. Once the Fringe starts I’ll respond to none. Your best chance to get heard and replied to is in that golden period, May – July.
We’re quite a decentralised place. We co-ordinate things centrally, and we will point writers to things we know might interest them, but we don’t delegate specific reviews. The best response you can get from my fellow editors and I, unless it’s something we’re going to do ourselves, is that we’ll run it past the team.
So how should you approach us?
I’m afraid, given the volume of e-mails and time pressure, we’re looking for excuses to not respond. Absolute fastest way for this to happen is:
“While you’re in Edinburgh…” The clue is in our name and the fact that our entire website is full of Scottish arts content. We are here all year.
Other things that don’t help:
Don’t multi-channel us. We operate mainly by e-mail, and one short one will do. Exception: some individual reviewers don’t mind a tweet or a DM. But don’t start approaching us multiple ways, hunting out our personal pages on Facebook, leaving voicemails etc. Not so much for the privacy, more because it becomes impossible to track and find things. I have missed things I would otherwise have seen because I’ve not been able to remember what medium they contacted me on.
Don’t try to “sell” the show. Simple facts are enough. We can connect the dots. Introduce yourself, if we don’t know you. Point out anything that might not be immediately obvious. Reference why it might be of particular interest to us (but don’t force a tenuous connection with the site). It’s OK. If you’ve got a good idea for a show it will be immediately obvious to us and most other publications. PS: Everything is “award-winning” and an awful lot of things are “breaking the last taboo” and/or “about a really important and timely issue”.
Don’t ingratiate yourself. “We’ve read the Wee Review for years.” Well, we’ve only been the Wee Review since last year, so unless you can reference our previous name, that’s not true, is it? Honestly, we don’t need our arses kissing. It’s nice to know if you have read and appreciated the site, but we can always tell when someone’s faking.
Don’t hassle. “Did you get my e-mail?” Yes, probably, is the normal answer (see volume of e-mails above). Worst thing, and this happens every year, is when you’re on a bus between venues, in a rush, possibly writing a review on your phone, when it rings – an unknown number. “Did you get the e-mail about Client X?” (Yes, probably) It’s the poor PR intern who’s been left behind in London to do the donkey work. “They’ve been getting excellent reviews. It’s been tipped for the Comedy Award. We’d really like to get you in for tomorrow…” This doesn’t work.
Don’t tell us what other publications thought. “We’ve had five stars from the Guardian, Scotsman, New York Times, Pravda, Antarctica Gazette, Alpha Centauri Chronicle…” You don’t need any more then, do you? And an honest reviewer doesn’t like to go into something that feels pre-judged. We’d prefer to reach our own conclusions.
Things you can do, though:
Tell us your first review dates. I always try to get a few shows in before the Fringe officially starts. If you’re happy to have reviewers in then, tell us.
Make connections that aren’t obvious. If there’s a reason we in particular should be reviewing this – something I’m afraid you can only really get to know by reading the site regularly and getting a feel for who we are – then let us know.
Show an interest. We’re all in the Fringe together. Chat with us on Twitter, read our reviews, share others’ reviews. If we see your name popping up and you seem like a decent human being who’s interested in other people and performers, you seem like someone worth spending time on. There’s nothing worse than an entitled performer who thinks they can waltz into Edinburgh, sweep five stars from everyone and waltz off again.
Keep an eye out. Every year I tweet from my personal account something like, “I’ve spare time around 3pm, George Sq area, looking for solo comedian / sketch troupe”. Normally only eagle-eyed PRs get back to me. That’s what some of you pay them good money for, of course, and they earn it. But I’m looking to support the DIYers too, the ones doing it all on their own. That’s your chance.
Sound like you want a review. Seems obvious, doesn’t it? But nothing attracts a reviewer’s attention like “I’d really like to know what you think”. You have to mean it, though. And you absolutely must want an honest appraisal. Please take reviews with good grace.
Be honest. Fakery is obvious. Don’t be ashamed to say it’s your first Fringe and you don’t really know what you’re doing, or you’re struggling to get reviewers in. Don’t heap on the sob stories, X Factor style, but seeming human is no bad thing.
If you’ve read this far, well done. You deserve this final tip. This is the kind of communication it would be a joy to get. If you could produce something like this, you’d be ahead of 90% of the press releases that get sent. I can’t say all reviewers would feel the same way, I can’t guarantee I’d be able to see you, but I can say you’d have a much better chance than most. And remember, although we happily work with PR companies all the time and that works for some performers, please don’t think you’re at a disadvantage doing it yourself. Follow the basics and it’ll see you right.
I don’t know if you remember me, but we spoke at [such-and-such event].
I’m an [interesting sounding style of performer] from [ideally something that doesn’t scream the standard RADA/Footlights already halfway to a BAFTA/Radio 4 show, but it’s OK if it does, just be honest].
The show I’m doing looks at [original issue] from [original perspective], and it’s told via [original medium]. It was inspired by [interesting inspiration] and I’ve been working on it [explain a bit of background]. I have to be honest, it’s a [minor sob-story if needs be].
I appreciate you’re probably very busy but I saw your review of [comparable show] and I wondered if you or perhaps [other named reviewers] on site could give me a similarly honest appraisal of mine? I’m on at [venue and time].
I realise you’ll get lots of requests, but if you could spare any time, I’d be very grateful. I can reserve a ticket for you myself or else you can go through the venue.
Best wishes and hope you enjoy the Fringe,
PS If you need any more info, it’s on my website. You can also download pictures there.
I’ve probably set us up for dozens of cut and pastes there, but not to worry. It would still make my job easier and more pleasurable. I look forward to hearing from you! Addresses for your e-mails are here.