Until about a couple of years ago, there were only a few public relations companies in town which handled the arts. I guess there just wasn't that much art to deal with back then. I remember calling producers in performing arts and gallery managers/owners (in visual arts) directly for information about their upcoming shows.
Bar one marketing company - which still seasonally inundates this newspaper with requests for coverage (its client works hard in getting overseas acts to perform in Hong Kong) - life was, in general, simpler and quieter.
Things have certainly changed since. With the arrival of big international galleries, auction houses and art fairs on this city's supposedly booming commercial art scene, there are now PR companies whose brief is to get maximum (positive) exposure for their clients.
There are some advantages to this development. Information on exhibitions is now more professionally presented and packaged: press releases are better written and interviews/photo shoots with curators and artists (many from overseas) are organised with military precision. The only disadvantage is that artists with the biggest publicity machinery (in both performing and visual arts) often end up overexposed. But that says as much about the way PRs operate as it does newspapers.
Recently, a PR firm pitched the same overseas photographer to at least three sections of one newspaper. Nothing unusual in that as their job is to contact as many editors as possible. It's up to the publication to ensure there is no doubling up in its coverage. But that's the thing: in this business, it's a known fact that a) editors don't always talk to one another, and b) some would run anything to fill pages (especially on a quiet day/week). It is a "loophole" PRs are only too happy to exploit and who can blame them?
My take on this is that just because some arts companies don't have the resources to hire their own PR firm doesn't make their shows less significant or good. And given there is only limited editorial space for the arts in this town, we should try to be as fair as possible.
You would have thought publicly funded events - in museums or performing arts venues - would be well publicised with the government machinery behind them. Not necessarily - but I shall save that rant for another column.