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The art of getting attention, by jo mcleish

WebinArt mentor Jo McLeish gives us an introduction to her upcoming webinar for members and collaborators. Founder and creator of The Media Room, Jo is an established Press & PR professional with over 15 years experience. She has worked with a range of print, broadcast and press teams including - ITN, Channel 4 News, BBC Radio 4, The Guardian, Daily Express, The Big Issue, The Stage, Third Sector magazine, Lottery Good Causes and BBC Children in Need. 

So what? Who cares? That is the question I ask every time I write a press release, every time I invite a journalist to an event or to review an exhibition, a theatre performance, or a dance show.

For over 15 years I have been working in the creative industries, promoting organisations, galleries, theatres, and individuals and producing theatre myself.

I’ve been lucky enough to promote some fantastic regional work, including theatre shows such as the UK tour of ‘The Kite Runner’ and Shakespeare’s ‘Richard III’ to more innovative and state of the nation pieces of work, including ‘Kings’- a ground breaking show about life in a homeless hostel in Nottingham and ‘All the Little Lights’ a show about child sexual exploitation.

I work across the UK but in more recent years I have been lucky enough to work more locally, with organisations such as Nottingham Playhouse, Derby Theatre, The Harley Gallery and Contemporary Visual Arts East Midlands. Working with these organisations has given me a real insight into the skill and talent that we have on our doorstep.

Image: 'In Another Place' a regional arts project that Jo promoted for Contemporary Visual Arts East Midlands.

My passion is working with organisations who reach out to those who are furthest removed from the Arts - children living in poverty, refugees and asylum seekers, people living in the most disadvantaged areas of the UK. Why? Because this is where I see the Arts making a difference- providing a creative platform to those who are ordinarily silenced. I have seen first-hand the impact that the creative industries can have on marginalised people. I have worked on projects where refugees (who are stereotyped by the press) have had the opportunity to tell their own authentic stories alongside 700 British children in a live street performance and projects where children who are at risk of being excluded from school have found an emotional outlet through music and theatre, and whose lives have then been changed forever because of it.

Image: A still shot of George, a little boy who Jo produced and directed a film about, highlighting the impact that theatre and music has had on his life.

But so what? Who cares? Who cares about my passion projects?

The ‘Arts’ operate in a very crowded market-place, with every creative maker vying for attention. So how do you stand out from the crowd? How do you make people take an interest in your work, your passions, and your creative talents? How do you find your voice?

We still live in a polarised society, the lion’s share of press and media attention is still concentrated in London, it is beyond difficult tempting and pleading with national reviewers to leave the London metropolis and head up to the frozen lands of the East Midlands, because God forbid that we actually have an Arts offering up here!

In more recent times, cities like Liverpool and Manchester whose creative output can often rival London have developed better links with the national and industry press, helped enormously by Liverpool still enjoying the legacy of once being European City of Culture, and Manchester benefitting from huge investment in creative spaces and a new multi-million pound venue that will be home to the Manchester International Festival in the near future.

Image: Dissent and Displacement- an exhibition by Artist Monica Petzal, New Walk Gallery. Jo managed the press and PR for this exhibition.

But where does this leave the East Midlands? Where does this leave Leicestershire and Leicester? Can we still get attention from the media by not expecting them to hop on a train? Is national press attention still that important? Should we look closer to home? After all, 80% of the population still read a local newspaper (or online version), as opposed to a national paper.

And the question is this? Will a 4* review in the Guardian make John from Glasgow travel all the way down to Leicester to see your work? Probably not… But will an interview on your local radio or tv station gain you a higher profile and a bigger audience?

We know that there are some incredible artists in our region, producing innovative and ground breaking work, but how do you move that on from the chosen few knowing about what you do, to a wider audience, and who can help you achieve that?

Artists have different objectives for wanting a higher profile-commercial, (selling work), reviews, a wider audience engagement, ‘bums on seat’s, ticket sales… but regardless, having a higher profile transcends all these motivations.

Image: Jo McLeish interviewing Mubarak Azzlo Ahmed, a refugee from Sudan for a documentary and live street performance that she produced.

My webinar for WebinArt on the 7th of July looks at the ‘tricks of the trade’ and how to create stand out digital comms and PR. Gone are the days of sending out a press release in the post and waiting for coverage. In a world of digital communication platforms to promote your content, this webinar looks at best practices of engaging with a range of audiences and raising your profile online, but, importantly not losing sight of building relationships with the press and media and understanding how they tick- be that print, broadcast or digital. It will also take into account our new world order- how can we adapt and change our artistic offerings online. 

We’ll also be looking at the elephant in the room… times have changed and will continue to do so for the near future. As I write this, we have no idea when our artistic buildings and spaces will open to the public once again, so how do we capitalise on people spending more time online and seeking out their artistic fix in other ways? Virtual tours and virtual shows may be the new normal for a long time to come…

Oh, and we will be testing out the ‘so what’, who cares? along the way!

You can see more of what Jo does here -


As part of the WebinArt programme, Jo will be presenting a webinar on July 7th at 10am - How to: Create Stand-Out Digital Comms + PR. This event is for WebinArt members and collaborators only.


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