Marketing 101 for Comedians: Press Release

Posted on 07 April 2011

When you are an up-and-coming to midlist comedian one of the most important things you can do for yourself is create a publicity campaign.

What is Publicity?

Publicity is a part of marketing and promotion. Advertising raises people’s awareness of your show. Publicity is a way to generate good word of mouth.

Publicity is free. Not much money is handed around to comedians until they reach headline to MC status. To reach that status people have to be aware of you and know your name. Advertising can do a lot for you, if you have the dollars. But, I would say that publicity actually draws more audience while being easier on the hip pocket.

Publicity is where people bring you onto their television, radio, or podcast show or interview you for their newspaper, magazine, or blog in order to create interesting material for their audience. You are an important part of their work. You may not get any money for these appearances (though some A-listers are paid an appearance fee). However, your presence in these media gives you credibility in the eyes of their audience. The audience also gets a taste of your humour. This will feel like a more genuine experience of what you have to offer than an advertisement.

Writing the Press Release

Once you have a show the first step to getting publicity is to write a press release.

Much like a pitch, a press release is a highly condensed form of writing. You have to get a lot of crucial information across to editors and producers in only one page. As such it will never fully and fairly represent what you have to offer. You will just have to accept this. Nevertheless, it should titillate WITHOUT the use of hype.

It is important to understand that a press release cannot solely be a show description or a resume. Re-using any advertising copy is out of the question. What is crucial is creating an interesting story about yourself and your show. Yes, you are doing the journalists’s work for them, but the more directly they use your words, the more you can get your message across.

As a starting exercise I recommend putting together a list of interesting points about your show, and another list of interesting points about yourself that are relevant to the show.

Now I want you to take the list of points about the show and mark-off one item that is less important than the others. Ouch! I know that hurts. Don’t worry, it still exists in the show even if it has been removed from the press release. Now do this a second and third time, then continue the process until you are down to three rock-solid, over-the-moon-cool points. Follow this process again with the points about yourself.

In journalism people are taught about the six “w”s: who, what, where, when, why, and how. Yes, “how” starts with an “h”, but it does have a “w” in it. You will need to address these six “w”s in your article while telling your story. And go ahead and think of your story as “Once upon a time…” and give it all the drama of a fairytale. Editors are looking for “hooks”, things that will excite their audience.

So here is how you will place your “w” information:

First Paragraph: Who and What.

“Once upon a time a fair-haired prince by the name of Egbert Krackers was held captive in a fashion salon…” Always emphasize yourself first. The show will come and go, and you do want to sell the show, but more important is building up your name so that people see ALL your shows. Next give a pithy description of your show: “it’s about the importance of hair products…” Here is where you will be using some of your over-the-moon-cool points.

Second Paragraph: Why and How.

Why this show? Why now? What inspired this show and how are you uniquely qualified to perform it? We are looking for motivations and the challenges you had to face to create your show. “While trapped in a hair salon I suddenly realised…styling is the window to the soul. So, I tried a hundred different hairstyles in a year to see which best expressed my soul. Little did I know I would have to overcome an evil hairdresser.” By now you should have used up all your over-the-moon-cool points about the show.

Third Paragragh: The Bio

Here is where you can go into a little more depth about yourself—pointing out awards, training, experience. “Krackers won the Hairy Award for funniest hairdressing. He has a PhD from the Advanced Hair Institute. He also toured to the Just for Faffs Festival where he was nominated for a Faffing About Award.” These should be the three over-the-moon-cool points about yourself.

Fourth Paragraph: Where and When

Outline where your show is happening and at what times. If you have special prices some nights, mention that. Also include who and how to contact you for more details. “The show will be at The Duck & Castle Hotel Tue-Sat 10pm Sun 9pm. For more details contact: Ogg Gruntheimer mobile…email…smoke signal.”

As odd as it feels, you will be referring to yourself in the third person. Unless you are very well known, after initially giving your entire name, it’s best to use your last name when starting a sentence. Drop all titles unless they are part of your stage name. No “Mr”, “Mrs”, “Ms”, “Professor”, “Rabbi”, etc. Avoid superlatives: best, greatest, most amazing… Use short sentences.

The Cover Letter

It’s all right to have an all purpose press release, provided you tailor the cover letter to each particular editor and producer to whom you send it. This will require some research.

First make a list of all the media who appeal to your show’s demographic. If your show is meant for Gen-X accountants, then make a list of media aimed at fifty year-olds and media aimed at accountants. Take a quick look at the different magazines, newspapers, blogs, radio, television, and podcast shows. Get a feel for their style and track down specific people to whom you should be speaking.

Find an angle that each editor or producer would find intriguing. I recently sent a press release with cover letter to a journalist who not only was regularly assigned to comedy reviews, but also did wine-tastings. So, I found a way to work wine-tasting as an angle into my cover letter. Be sure to demonstrate a little of your humour. You are meant to be funny.

With the cover letter send a PROFESSIONAL photograph of you representing your show. This should be done by a photographer who understands the demands of print media. Cheap paper has been the death of good photographs, but an experienced photographer can ensure the best looking picture regardless of publication technology. You want to control your image and repeatedly send the same image in order to have it stick in people’s minds. If you send a shoddy picture, the media will be less interested in you and, if they still bother to interview you, will want to take their own photographs.

Finally, keep track of where you have sent your press releases and whether or not they were used. This will give you an idea of who your best people are for future publicity. You are allowed to call once after a couple weeks, in order to see if an editor has received your release. AND DON’T FORGET THE BLOGS! I’m not saying this to promote my own site (well, maybe a little), but people do Google for reviews before buying tickets. The more places that have positive articles about you, the better. It gives you respectability.

Peace and kindness,


4 responses to Marketing 101 for Comedians: Press Release

  • Ben says:

    Hi Katherine,

    I’m about to start writing my first press release for a stand-up showcase I’m putting on in mid-November. I am in the show as well as being the promoter/booker. How much info about the other five comics should I include in the press release? Or should I keep it mostly about myself and how I came about putting the show together?

    Thank you,

    • Katherine says:

      It really depends upon who is your biggest drawcard. I always feel uncomfortable putting myself forward over my other performers. However, if I’m the biggest name on my own event then I need to at least make myself a little prominent in my press releases. I best serve the other people by ensuring they have a large and appreciative audience. If someone else in my line-up is better known, then I need to heavily promote their presence.

      This absolutely sucks lemons because it keeps relative unknowns, unknown. However, news sources want news not promotion, and are therefore more interested in the people their readers want to hear about.

      • Ben says:

        Thank you for your response, Katherine.

        All six of us are of about the same level of talent and experience, and we’re all doing the same amount of stage time. A couple of the guys are more well-known locally, whereas I have a larger social media following. So I was thinking of including the others in the first paragraph, mentioning them again briefly in the fourth, and keeping the second and third paragraphs about me and how I came up with the show. Does that sound fair?

        Thanks again,

        • Katherine says:

          What is “fair” is making an effective press release that news media will pay attention to, and thereby write stories that will bring people to your event. If you try too hard to be “fair”, you may sabotage your efforts to give everyone a chance to be seen and heard on stage. People at least appearing at an event gives your unknowns a chance to win them over and get word of mouth. Eventually, they will be the ones you want to emphasize on your press release.

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