PUBLICITY 101: The First Three Lines

With the third year of our blog still finding its footing, we thought now would be as good a time as any to introduce our latest guest contributor. Rey Roldan has lead an incredible career in music PR that now spans multiple decades, and in the coming months he will be sharing some of his vast industry knowledge with us through his very own bi-weekly column. Enjoy!

As the pool of publicists gets more and more crowded with journalists and bloggers trying their hand at hacking away at artists’ campaigns, a direct result of this influx is the flooding of inboxes with massive amounts of press releases and pitches.  Many of the higher-tiered journalists can get pummeled with over 500 pitches a day – some even more than that!  Each morning, writers, bloggers, producers and editors weed out their emails, deleting hundreds of them without even knowing exactly what the pitches are selling.

So how does a publicist cut through the clutter and get a journalists’ attention?

“Well, I think it’s a fairly simple answer: if you can’t make a really compelling case in the first paragraph, chances are, your press release or pitch will either go unnoticed, or will simply get deleted,” answers Regina Joskow, Director of Publicity for the Rounder Label Group.  “It’s kind of like an audition when a performer gets to sing 16 bars, and that’s what determines whether they get a call-back or not. These days, people are inundated from all sides with email messages, text messages, social media posts and messages, instant messages – it’s completely overwhelming. People’s attention spans aren’t what they used to be.”

And she’s right.  The secret to getting a journalist’s attention isn’t flooding them with information, bio material and too much text that they didn’t ask for… It’s about getting right to the point.  An old editor friend of mine, Gus Pena of the amazing but unfortunately now defunct Chord Magazine, once said, “It’s about the first three lines.  If I don’t know what your point is by then, you’ve already lost me.”

“To me, the first paragraph is very crucial,” agrees Gil Macias, Editorial Coordinator atPlayboy and contributing editor of Inked Magazine.  “An accurate description of the band’s sound makes or breaks whether or not I want to listen to something…. and comparing the band or musician to other bands that sound similar also peaks my interest.”

“For me, the first line of a press release is very important,” says Lori Majewski, longtime music editor, writer, and author of Mad World: An Oral History of New Wave Artists and Songs That Defined the 1980s. “If I don’t read anything there that appeals to me, I’m not going to go any further.”

While it’s always nice to start off with a pleasant “Lovely day, innit” type of greeting, being rather direct can save everyone a lot of time.  “The first paragraph is mission critical in my opinion, this stems from my journalism training,” explains Heather West of Western Publicity. “Writers sometimes want to get ‘creative’ and bury their lede in a morass of descriptors that obscure the key elements, which are who, what, when, where and why. Journalists, in my experience, find this irritating. So it’s best to get right to the point.”

Some journalists might be so busy that if they don’t like what they immediately see, they might not even get to the first line of your pitch.  “Actually, even more important than the first line of a press release is the subject line of the email,” adds Majewski. “Journalists are inundated with so many emails daily, you have to stand out somehow, someway, or it never even being opened.”

“I read every press release I get, and as important as the subject line is, the opening paragraph is equally – if not more – important,” counters Chuck Armstrong, Editor-in-Chief of Diffuser. “I want the story. I want to know why this band or this song or this video is important to me and, potentially, to our readers. If you can sum that up in the beginning, you have my attention.”

So it boils down to subject line and the first three sentences… Capturing your audience’s attention lies within a short window of words and can turn a writer’s apathy into intrigue that forces them to read your pitches.  Armstrong adds the parting shot, “The only time I don’t open an email is if it’s from Rey Roldan. I delete that shit before it infects my computer with his well-known publicity viruses.” #shotsfired

James Shotwell

James Shotwell is the Director of Customer Engagement at Haulix and host of the company's podcast, Inside Music. He is also a public speaker known for promoting careers in the entertainment industry, as well as an entertainment journalist with over a decade of experience. His bylines include Rolling Stone, Alternative Press, Substream Magazine, Nu Sound, and Under The Gun Review, among other popular outlets.