Behind the Scenes: the crazy world of press conference planning

The first in our new series, Behind the Scenes, a first hand insight into the workings of an art gallery. Have you always been interested in how Press and Marketing offices function in the arts sector? Are you a recent arts management or communications graduate who is keen to gain some work experience? Then this is the perfect time to apply and join Dulwich Picture Gallery’s Communications team which is on the lookout for a new intern. Dulwich OnView caught up with Madeline Adeane, responsible for the press relations within the Gallery’s young and dynamic team, for a behind the scenes insight into coordinating the Gallery’s annual press conference.

Ian Dejardin, Sackler Director of Dulwich Picture Gallery, announces the exhibition programme for 2013

An art gallery Communications Office is a busy place at the best of times, but from late summer attentions become fully focused on the year ahead’s programme of exhibitions and education. It seems crazy to be thinking about creating press materials for an exhibition that’s a whole 12 months away, but Dulwich Picture Gallery’s annual press launch is a prime opportunity to get the media excited about what lies ahead and helps to cultivate long term interest in the Gallery’s programme.

December 2010 saw Dulwich Picture Gallery’s first solo Press Launch, having collaborated with the Courtauld Gallery and the Wallace Collection in previous years. It was held at the Savoy on the Strand and despite the snow we were very impressed by the turn out – over 70 journalists braved the elements and public transport chaos to hear what Dulwich Picture Gallery had planned for 2011. The event was well timed as it was a month before the Gallery’s Big Bang event, kick-starting Dulwich Picture Gallery’s bicentenary year.

The very first look at the exhibition image sheets

Having coordinated three Press Launches at the Gallery, Ellie (Communications Manager) and I were feeling much more on top of everything than in previous years! The 2010 launch was very fraught at times with late nights in the office and difficulties getting home with all the snowy public transport. The night before the event we were waiting for the 100 press packs to be delivered to the Gallery and then when we spoke to the printers they said that the courier’s bike had skidded in the snow and that our press packs were now scattered all over central London! Fortunately there was none of that this year.

There is a seemingly endless task list at the start of press launch planning: potential dates need to be ascertained along with key people’s availability (the Gallery Directors, the curators of each of the 3 temporary exhibitions, the Chairman of the Trustees); a venue needs to be secured for the chosen date (which normally involves a couple of recce trips to gauge the layout and consider the logistics), the press packs need to be prepared, an invitation list created and invitations designed and sent out a month ahead of the event, an e-version created for the weeks leading up to the big day, a power point presentation to accompany the speakers’ presentations along with speaking and briefing notes for all involved.

Ellie Manwell, Communications Manager, Madeline Adeane, Press Officer and Edward Stone, Communications Intern at the press conference

The Press Pack itself features ‘backgrounder’ documents on each of the three temporary exhibitions, which involves a fair amount of research and drafts being sent backwards and forwards between Communications, Curatorial and the relevant exhibition curator, whether they’re internal or external. One of the biggest tasks is obtaining images of the exhibition works from the lending galleries and collections and also clearing them for press usage. This can be quite tricky for the exhibitions happening later in the year, as in some cases not all the loans have even been confirmed.

This is all on top of the normal day to day work that goes on in the office, so you can imagine how swamped we can feel at times. Fortunately we have been working with Sutton PR for the second year running, which means we have help with the biggest

First journalistic thoughts…

tasks such as mailing out invitations to hundreds of journalists as well as receiving further opinion on press materials and other factors crucial to the event’s success.

The day itself involves getting to the venue (last year and this year at the Lanesborough Hotel on Hyde Park Corner) a good 2 hours before the start time of 9ish in order to make sure everything is perfect – checking the PowerPoint presentation and microphones work, laying out the press packs and registration book as well as being prepared for journalists turning up early. Fortunately this year went extremely smoothly and with a cracking year of exhibitions and education programmes ahead, 2013 is looking to be another great year for Dulwich Picture Gallery!

The Lanesborough put on a lovely breakfast spread. As per previous years we had opted for 6 round tables of Beautifully dressed tables10, rather than proper cabaret style or conference seating, which gives a much more convivial atmosphere as guests can mingle, converse and sit more comfortably. This also means if a journalist has to scurry back to the office they don’t have to squeeze past loads of people sitting in a line.

As with all events that require months of planning, the day itself was over so quickly! Luckily the wonderful press coverage that appeared over the following days will endure and raise even more interest in the Gallery’s exciting programme of exhibitions in 2013.

Communications Internship opportunities at Dulwich Picture Gallery

The Gallery recruits an intern every three months. Please check the Gallery’s vacancies page for the latest application details.

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