Martin Waxman

Publicity Confessions: Things I Learned from Trash TV

By: Martin Waxman | September 30, 2013 | 

publicity confessionsBy Martin Waxman

I never watched much trash TV or tabloid talk shows.

You know the ones, broadcast in the afternoons and hosted by the likes of Jerry Springer, Jenny Jones, or Montel Williams, with people who rant, yell, cuss, punch, and otherwise expose themselves (often literally).

And that’s just the audience! But one time…

Publicity Confessions

I was doing entertainment publicity for Yuk Yuk’s, Canada’s premier chain of comedy clubs, and I was invited to a meeting with some comics I didn’t know.

Turned out they’d perpetrated a hoax on one of trash TV’s biggest stars.

It started because two of them didn’t believe the people they were watching on the show were real, and they wanted to prove it to the world. Related: Comedians have a lot of spare time.

So they called the program with a concocted situation and were selected to come on the show.

The Hoax

They flew to Chicago pretending to be a husband, wife, babysitter, and her boyfriend. In the scenario, the fictional husband and babysitter were fooling around, and felt the best place to confess their sins was on daytime TV. They were very talented and did a convincing job.

The comedians told me they wanted to go public with their hoax. I thought it was a fun prank – something that could reinforce my client’s positioning as an edgy club and build some awareness for the young comedians. So I took it on, wrote a news release, and we waited till it aired.

And when it did, I unleashed my news.

Did I blast it out to all and sundry? Not by a long shot. I had a strategy. I would send it to two journalists – one, who I knew liked to stir up trouble and the second who had ties to a wire service that could amplify the story.

What Happened?

Within a few hours, my phones (work, cell, and home) started ringing and by the time the story broke, they didn’t stop ringing for two full days. There were requests for interviews, comments, columns, TV, and radio appearances – and two long messages from the show’s executive producer who went ballistic and hurled obscenities and threats at me.

The story went viral in the sense that it was picked up across North America. And it was big news for two days. And then, as quickly as it happened, it faded away.

Media Relations Lessons

Here’s what I learned:

Fire breeds fire: When a story’s hot, it fans its own flames and continues to get amplified. That’s the same with social media. I didn’t create the virality, but by knowing who to reach out to and engage with, I was able to spark the story and help it grow.

It’s all about timing: Those two days were the busiest of my life. But day three? Everything went back to normal. The media had moved on and the comedians and I had to, too. Lesson? Every story has its natural end – and some are over sooner than others. Communicators need to know how to frame their news and make it timely. And they have to understand when to stop flogging it. The secret of PR is the same as the secret of comedy: Timing.

Do you have the right goal? What happened to the comedians? Not much. They were big news for a short period of time. They exposed the show and got some attention for that. But they didn’t have an idea for a second act so it became a blip that didn’t propel their career. It demonstrates again that output as in coverage isn’t enough, you should be aiming for an outcome that can take you to the next level.

And me? I learned how to juggle three phones at the same time, and ignore a belligerent American TV producer.

Have you been involved in a PR prank? How did it turn out? And would you do it again?

About Martin Waxman

Martin Waxman is president of Martin Waxman Communications and conducts digital and social media training workshops. He’s a and LinkedIn Learning author, one of the hosts of the Inside PR podcast, and past-chair of PRSA Counselors Academy. Martin teaches social media at UToronto SCS and Seneca College and regularly speaks at conferences and events across North America. Find him on Twitter @martinwaxman.

  • How have I never heard this story?! This is fantastic!! Next time we talk, I want to hear about the actual show, what went down, and why the producer was so angry.

    • ginidietrich Thanks Gini. I’m happy to share it. It was an unbelievable two days when it happened. I learned a lot about how stories spread and then just fade to black quickly. And it showed me that unless there’s a real outcome, all the clips in the world don’t amount to a hill of beans …

      • martinwaxman Amen!

        • ginidietrich martinwaxman I actually remember hearing about this!

        • RebeccaTodd ginidietrich martinwaxman Our collective memory sometimes goes back longer than yesterday’s tweet…

  • martinwaxman

    eveypistorio kassscarlett amabaie KeepUpWeb ginidietrich SpinSucks Thanks! Who knew they could be such a good source for PR lessons?

  • Nuk3dawg

    ginidietrich …martinwaxman this martinwaxman that martin martin martin we need more SpinSucks lola

  • Love the advice to have an end goal in mind. I was sort of thinking that as I read your story — what are the comedians going to get out of this in the long run? How can they capitalize on this exposure? Example: Miley Cyrus’s current marketing machine. She is STILL working that VMA performance *and* has the #1 album. I’m not sure who I’m more angry with — her for brilliantly working the American public or myself for actually singing along to her music…

    • TaraGeissinger Thanks! That’s a great example, Tara. I think the trick is treading that fine line between being the kind of huckster that turns people off to creatively setting the stage with a publicity stunt.

  • Great story, @martinwaxman! I have done no pranks. I’m the world’s worst April Fooler. But I do like to watch and learn. I had a client in the NBC building in Chicago where several of those shows were taped, including Springer. It was certainly an interesting cavalcade of humanity that would queue up in the lobby there.

    • RobBiesenbach Thanks Rob! When you’re working with comedians they come up a fair bit. But unless it’s in a brand’s DNA (i.e. they’re edgy and like to push things to the limit), I wouldn’t recommend it as a way to get publicity. That lobby must have been something to see.

  • Sustainability or the walk off home run; only now your one hit wonder is more like 15 minutes only. 
    That’s pretty much the reason I don’t watch any of those shows because I think they are all ‘staged’ to a certain degree. 
    Pretty good prank though, I don’t have any noteworthy ones but do know a guy who pulled the winning lottery ticket on his brother the day after the numbers were announced. It got ugly……:).

    • bdorman264 Thanks. Good point about the one-hit wonder being more like a one-play wonder. That’s one thing that’s always bothered me about reality TV – the fact that there’s less and less reality. It’s entertaining though – if it could just add a bit of transparency. 
      And when you work with comedians, you do have a lot of material for jokes and pranks and people seem to accept them more.

  • martinwaxman

    thornley Thanks for sharing it, Joe. ginidietrich

  • I love this post Mr. Waxman.
    i forget the 4 types of content that go viral. Babies. Pets. People being dumb and getting hurt. There is a 4th from the ‘positive side’. Usually it takes outrage or superior content. Recently the Rattlifer got a lot of press from their interview on Fox News. So I checked out their music. Not bad considering I am a music snob. But not Black Sabbath or Led Zeppelin. 
    With smarts you can get noticed. But I say this all the time about advertising. All I can do is get someone to try your product. If it sucks nothing I can do can bring them back. If those comedians were truly hilarious they would of sustained or at last launched beyond the incident. But they obviously had more smarts than talent. And if I had been them I would of parlayed that into a sitcom role.

    • Howie Goldfarb Rattlifer Thanks  (and it’s Martin :)). You’re right on the mark about what we do, which is, in essence, pulling away the curtain and saying here’s something you may like.  After that, it’s up to the product/performer/service to do what it says it does, surprise and dazzle the people who try it. It’s good to remember that.

  • Great post Martin! All three of your lessons are solid, but here is the bit that resonates with me- “But they didn’t have an idea for a second act so it became a blip that didn’t propel their career.” There is a lot of “social for social’s sake” going on, and I don’t see a lot of strategy behind it. Your strategy of connecting with a few and letting it spread was gold!

    • RebeccaTodd Thank you, Rebecca! I think that’s something you see a lot with startups – they’re so anxious for awareness that they don’t think longer term and how it’s going to help their business. It kind of goes back to the old parental warning, ‘there’s a time and place for everything’…

  • martinwaxman

    RebeccaAmyTodd Thank you so much!

  • RoastedKeyboard

    martinwaxman SpinSucks nice one!

    • martinwaxman

      RoastedKeyboard SpinSucks Thank you for saying that.

  • Great story, fun post. martinwaxman . I was in the session that you were leading at Blissdom  Canada this past weekend. Great job! Thank you.

    • LSSocialEngage Thanks – on both counts! If you have any questions from things we covered in the session, please let me know!

      • martinwaxman Absolutely Martin. I will take you up on your offer and email you. Thanks!