Advice To Publicists: Avoid Comedic Press Releases

In public relations as in journalism, April Fools’ jokes should be avoided at all cost.

It was one of the basic lessons I absorbed back in journalism school, and every newspaper I subsequently worked for followed the same rule: Don’t write April Fools’ Day stories and headlines, because these kinds of things have a way of accidentally finding their way into print even when you think you have been careful to prevent this from happening.

Strictly speaking, the writers of press releases should follow the same rule. To the best of your ability, stick to the facts. From time to time, however, evidence surfaces that this message has not been fully absorbed by every working professional in the press release-writing business.

Although we are nowhere near April Fools’ Day on the calendar, the publicists at TBS wrote and issued a nonsense press release this week that may have been very entertaining for them, but vexatious for a journalist who was then taxed to make sense of it. I am referring to myself, but this release may have been confusing for others as well



It is not that we fun-loving journos on the TV beat do not get the joke or otherwise lack a sense of humor. On the contrary, you have to have a sense of humor to do this for a living. But what we don’t have is time to scratch our heads and try to separate facts from frivolity in a press release whose meaning should have been readily understood. After all, this is the era of instant deadlines and we have plenty of news stories every day to digest, rewrite and then post without one of them presenting a needless challenge to comprehending it.

The press release in question was about an upcoming show on TBS called “Angie Tribeca,” starring Rashida Jones. Instead of just telling us what the show is -- using simple words such as “it’s a half-hour comedy,” for example -- the writers of this release decided they would take a stab at comedy writing of their own. So they wrote a comedic press release about this show -- and in so doing, neglected to identify it explicitly as a comedy or specify the length of its episodes, among other factual omissions.

I later extrapolated the length from other bits of information I was able to glean from rereading this press release multiple times, but here again, a press release should not be a math problem. It should be a simple rendering of facts that help a journalist do his job -- and then in the context of the story he produces, present the facts about this new show in the best possible light so that readers will understand what the show is about, who’s in it, how long it is and when it’s on.

It’s a pretty simple equation that takes a news announcement from a network’s publicity department to the writing and editing process undertaken by journalists and editors, and then on to the eyes of end users -- i.e., readers who the publicity department presumably hopes will then sample the TV show.

In this case, however, the road to understanding was strewn with roadblocks. From what I can determine, the press release was trying to tell me how the show would be launched. I think it is to be launched in one fell swoop in a 25-hour marathon starting on Jan. 17 in which the show’s 10 half-hour episodes comprising its first season will air consecutively five times -- an unusual launch method to say the least. It then went on to talk about subsequent “seasons,” each lasting one episode or some such. Sorry, TBS, but I don’t have time for puzzles.

In the second paragraph of this news release, we learn that “Angie Tribeca” is being produced by Steve Carell and his wife, Nancy – one of several clues that the show is supposed to be a comedy.

“The series follows a squad of committed LAPD detectives who investigate the most serious cases, from the murder of a ventriloquist to a rash of baker suicides,” the press release says at one point in an attempt at sarcasm. “Not involved with the series is Martin Scorsese,” it says later in another waste of time, effort and space.

Here’s the thing: If this press release is not comprehensible, either in part or in its entirety, to at least some of the journalists who will receive it, then TBS’s efforts to get the word out about this new show to the greatest possible number of people would seem to be automatically handicapped from the get-go. That’s a disservice to the show, since one can assume that, as with any new TV show, a lot is riding on its success or failure.

My advice would be this: Even when writing about a comedy show, a news release should be deadly serious.

4 comments about "Advice To Publicists: Avoid Comedic Press Releases".
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  1. Ted Faraone from Faraone Communications, November 6, 2015 at 12:54 p.m.

    Very good one, Adam.  Should be taught in school.  Cheers, Ted.

  2. Roy Moskowitz from Reciprocal Results, November 6, 2015 at 12:55 p.m.

    "Funny Thing", now I want to see the show.

  3. Adam Buckman from MediaPost replied, November 6, 2015 at 3:04 p.m.

    Thanks, Ted - I am flattered you read today's TV Blog and left a comment here today.

  4. Adam Buckman from MediaPost replied, November 6, 2015 at 3:11 p.m.

    To Roy Moskowitz:

    I enjoyed your reaction to today's blog post. Your reaction is a valid one -- a show with a funny press release might be funny enough to sample in its own right.  It does make a certain amount of sense.

    However, I have sometimes found that when these kinds of "creative" approaches are taken in the creation of press materials, they sometimes mask deficiencies rather than reflect the good qualities, if any, of the show they're publicizing. Let's hope that is not the case with "Angie Tribeca."

    Thank you for reading. -- ABuckman

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