The Publicity Spreadsheet

Posted on 27 March 2012

If you are starting out as a comedian, you may have a minimal budget for your first big show. As such the best way to get the word out about your comedy is publicity.

Publicity is when the media reports on your show as a news item. Not only is this method cheap, it creates a more authentic rapport with your audience and raises your credibility. People may like your poster, but if they enjoy hearing you chat on the radio, they feel thay have a better idea of what you are like and whether or not they will enjoy your humour.

The Business of Publicity

Of course getting publicity takes a lot of work even in the best of conditions. The Melbourne International Comedy Festival is not the best. You are competing with at least 300 other shows and 1000 other comedians. You will have to send out hundreds of releases, each one with a few personal touches so that individual editors feel special, then not mind that only a few respond. This is why in publishing houses and the like, parts of publicity are passed onto the entry level drudges. If you can get a friend to help you with this, do.

However, when someone does respond and you are asked to pose for the local newspaper or talk on community radio, those moments are sweet. You feel validated. You feel like a star. Someone is taking you seriously enough to want to know more about you and your show.

The Spreadsheet

If you are serious about publicity, you need to put together a spreadsheet. That spreadsheet will ensure you hit up on all the right people at the right media at the right time and in the right way. You will want to keep that spreadsheet for future shows, because over time you will build a relationship with some editors and media, and you will immediately know who is most likely to put you in the spotlight.

You will note that the title to this section is also a link. On the other side of that link you will find a sample spreadsheet in html. I created that spreadsheet originally in LibreOffice Calc. If you don’t already have spreadsheet software on your computer, Calc can be downloaded for free and used on Mac, Windows, or Linux. You will want to copy, if not all, at least the majority of the headers of my sample spreadsheet into your own.

Media Outlets

Your first task will be to put together a substantial media list to whom you will be sending your press releases. You will include on this list newspapers, magazines, websites/blogs, radio, television, student media, mailing lists, and venues where you might be asked to speak. You will of course want to include the big media on the off chance someone picks you up, but your biggest supporters are likely to be community and niche media.

So, do send things to The Age, to the producers of The Ant and Becks Show on Mix FM, to The Circle on Nine, etc. I just wouldn’t suggest focusing a lot of energy on these places until you become better known as a comedian. Much better bets would be places like Inner or Eastern FM, Leader newspapers, and student media such as SYN FM. My show Strange Blessings involved a lot of poetry, so I was able to get publicity from Writers Victoria in both their print publication and their electronic mailing list.

Blogs are still an under-utilised resource in this country and yet can reap big rewards. If you can get a number of blogs to write about you, then your name will come up closer to the top of a Google search. People also trust reviews from their favourite bloggers. I actually think these are more influential than a review in the big newspapers, because they stick around longer and generate more word-of-mouth.

The saddest truth is that a number of outlets that should be supporting their community have decided that comedy season is a cash cow, and will only run articles or listings of people who have advertised with them. Let’s say you are bald and approach a magazine for people who are bald. They then tell you that if you want their attention, you have to buy a full-page advertisement. If you don’t have the means, you are overlooked in favour of comedians with a full head of hair and big budgets. I feel that certain media needs to be taken to task for such shenanigans.

Contact Information

You will have to check that your information on how to contact a media outlet is correct EVERY year. Make sure you know the name of the current editor or producer for the particular outlet, make sure you have their correct spelling, and that you have their correct title. Nothing turns off an editor more than to have something sent with a wrong or incorrectly spelled name and not being given the respect of having their title attached. This is a matter of pride and can cause your release to sink or swim before anyone even bothers to read it.

You will want both an editor/producer’s email and snail mail addresses. Also find out whether they prefer electronic or paper submissions. Most want the electronic form, but the odd hold out are exceptionally pleased when you bother to post them something, and are then kindly disposed toward mentioning you. This is why I include on the spreadsheet a “release format” section.

Sending Stuff

You will be sending to the media outlets:

  1. A cover letter
  2. A press release
  3. A poster and/or press image
  4. Possibly tickets

Either the cover letter or the press release need to be personalised to each particular editor and outlet. Yes, it’s a lot of extra work, but it makes a difference. The “notes” section is there to describe what particularly interests an editor, such as wine or water skiing, then if you can fit that into the cover letter or release, you are more likely to get their attention. Don’t push this too hard, but if you can find a natural fit…go for it.

You will of course need to keep track of the tickets you give away to whom and for which night. This will be crucial, if you are having people pick up tickets at the door. Tickets are a more reasonable bribe for inclusion in a media outlet. When you send review tickets, it’s understood that the media is allowed to speak their mind about your show. Ticket give-aways promote both you and the media. I would strongly suggest making give-aways a part of some competition. Earning a ticket causes people to respect the gift more and they are more likely to turn up at your show.

The Dates

One of the boring, but important, parts of the spreadsheet is where you keep track of dates. You need to keep track of when releases are and should be sent. Magazines have a longer lead time than newspapers. If you hear nothing from an outlet, you can give them one well-placed poke to get your information into their media. I also keep track of the date when I can safely give that poke (about two weeks) and whether or not I have done it.

The glory date, the one you need to celebrate, is when someone finally does put you in their newspaper, magazine, radio, television show, etc. Woohoo! You did it! Keeping that information gives you an idea of what a media outlet’s timing is like. You may also feel more confident about sending the same person information about a future show.

Publicity can be a gruelling quest for attention, but stick with it. You can get quite far in putting bums on seats this way. The motto here is: do your best, hope for the best.

Peace and kindness,

Katherine


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