Category Archives: Marketing

April Fools jokes can rebound on jokers

I am doubtful I would make a good woman.

It is April 1st today and yesterday I thought about planting a story I was changing gender and wanted, from now on, to be known as Jean Fleming.

But, frankly, I couldn’t be bothered setting it all up believably and the self-publicity was not necessarily all positive.

April Fool jokes can turn and bite the begetter.

As I write this, it is 09.30am and already April 1st stories have appeared, a couple good, one bad.

At 00.25am this morning, comedy club-runner Martin Besserman posted a Facebook message saying:

An excellent idea, because it is just about believable, especially at 00.25am in the morning. I almost fell for it, because Martin is an increasingly prestigious man, or so he tells me. In any case, what you remember longer-term is Monkey Business being associated with some sort of up-market area.

That man in the white suit on the left is a hologram. Or not.

When I woke up an hour ago, I had a Facebook message from Dan Berg of go-getting comedy streaming company NextUp saying:

Hey John, Hope all’s well! I remember you sat in the front row for our gigs so thought you might like this – a lil bit of NextUp technology which launched today so the front row is never too far away… http://lologram.co.uk

It was touting a new concept in which you can project video holograms of comedians in any location.

Exactly the sort of thing he and NextUp might do and it projected a PR image of a futuristic forward-thinking company. A comedy hologram called Lologram sounds like a great name. Good PR for NextUp.

Detailed but backfiring?

I also received an email from the Edinburgh Fringe which announced that they are building a roof to cover the area of the Royal Mile sponsored by Virgin Money… and they want you to fork out money to crowdfund it… So they have a financial sponsor (Virgin Money) and they want punters to help finance the financial sponsor.

A good April Fools joke – maybe – but one which rebounds as bad PR for the Fringe, given that it makes you wonder yet again what Virgin is actually sponsoring. Not the Fringe Programme, where a 40-word entry costs £300-£400 for 40 words and costs an arm-and-a-leg for a quarter page ad.

The seed is also planted in your brain (even though you know it is not true) that Virgin Money are calling themselves sponsors but do not have enough money and are asking ordinary people for crowdfunding to make what they do seem better.

April Fools jokes should be jolly, but not leave a funny PR taste in the mouth or egg on the face.

3 Comments

Filed under Humor, Humour, Marketing, PR

Off-stage theatrical marketing and knowing what not to write in a script

Last night. I saw Kyle Riabko‘s stage musical Close to You: Burt Bacharach ReImagined at the Criterion Theatre on Piccadilly Circus in London. (It was previously staged in New York and at Londons Menier Chocolate Factory as What’s It All About: Burt Bacharach ReImagined.) It was very good. But what impressed me as much as the production itself was that, when we came out of the theatre after the show. the cast had already legged-it outside and were performing with a busker by the statue of Eros.

I presume they do this every night and it is a (very successful) attempt to add street cred to the ‘relaxed’ production. It succeeded as a marketing idea because loads of audience members (like me) would see this and talk about it to other people, spreading good word-of-mouth.

In that sense, what was done separate from the production was almost as important as what was in the production itself.

I was saying this to someone on Friday – and also that I thought writing was a bit like the old John West tinned salmon ad on TV years ago. The tagline of that ad was “It’s the salmon that John West rejects that makes John West the best”.

It is easy to write lots of fluent words, but it is what you choose to exclude that has as much or more impact than what you include.

Sicario poster

This afternoon, I saw the movie Sicario, which must surely be in line for multiple Oscar nominations.

I had been slightly worried by things I had read about mutilated bodies and gore et al (it is about the Mexican drug cartels) – but (although these shots are briefly and effectively in there) what impressed me was the restraint of the direction and the extreme restraint of the script – words only bunged in when necessary.

It is what the audience is not told and what is not explained that makes Sicario so effective. For example, it is only about 90 minutes into the 121 minute film that it is fully confirmed what is actually happening… Plus I do not think the title word is ever actually mentioned in the movie and it is only towards the very end that it becomes obvious why the movie has the very specific title Sicario.

So that’s today’s trite message: the effect of a production on an audience can often be more than you see on stage or on screen.

1 Comment

Filed under Marketing, Movies, Music, Theatre, Writing

Sex with comedian Giada Garofalo. Miss Behave tries to get money for dogging.

Giada Garofalo - not a woman to mess with

Giada Garofalo – maybe don’t mess with her

’Tis the season for jolly comedy performers to be previewing and thinking of ways to promote their Edinburgh Fringe shows next month.

Last night, I went to Soho in London to see Edinburgh preview shows by Giada Garofalo and Oli Bettesworth.

In his very funny show about depression – Sunshine and Lollipops (and a Creeping Sense of Existential Terror) – the very English Oli is seemingly making a fair bid for the loudest show on the Fringe. I cannot see his voice lasting out beyond the first week.

The very Sicilian Giada – with Live in the Staff Room! (Sex, Fairy Tales, Serial Killers & other Stuff) – is making a strong bid for the most autobiographically sexual show on the Fringe – the sex even permeates the fairy tale section which dumps Disney for Edgar Allan Poe.

Before the two previews, I had tea with Miss Behave, who is promoting her Edinburgh shows with the help of crowdfunding via a Kickstarter appeal.

“How much did you appeal for?” I asked.

“£397 – and I made it in six hours. So, I have decided to take it bigger and better.

Miss Behave’s successful appeal on Kickstarter

Miss Behave’s very successful first appeal on Kickstarter

“I did start off wanting camels, because I thought it would be a great way to launch my show(s) at the Fringe – to actually parade through a pedestrian area, flyering on camels.”

“And…?” I asked.

“Just try and get a fucking camel to Edinburgh,” said Miss Behave. “So then I thought: Donkeys.”

“You bet your ass,” I said.

Miss Behave ignored me.

“Or cows,” she continued. “But apparently cows have a tendency to charge at crowds of people, so that felt too dangerous. So then I was riffing with this person who is an animal wrangler. A Scottish animal wrangler.”

“For films?” I asked.

“Yeah. So I said: What about 50 chihuahuas? She thought about it overnight, called me back the next day and said: Right. I’ve sorted it. I’ve got a guy, who is also an animal wrangler, who has 20 chihuahua Jack Russell puppy mixes, so they’ll get on. If I just got 50 random dogs, there would be a dog fight.”

“These are,” I checked, “an interbreeding of chihuahuas and Jack Russells?”

“Yeah. Pretty cute. Chihuahuas are a bit too scary but, if you throw a bit of Jack Russell into the mix, that’s cute-tastic. It’s got a special name – a Jahuahua or JackChi or Jackhuahua or something.”

Jacksie?” I asked.

“JackChi,” said Miss Behave.

Miss Behave under the weather in Soho yesterday

Miss Behave under the weather in Soho yesterday afternoon

“You know,” I told her, “that there are dogs which are a cross between shih tzus and poodles?’

“What are they called?”

“Not what you’d think,” I said. “Which is a pity.”

“Anyway,” said Miss Behave, “the animal wrangler also found me a Newfoundland dog. The idea was that the Newfoundland would pull a cart with me sitting on it and all the chihuahua Jack Russell puppies would be around it and we would do a parade – again, flyering. Which was fine. But then the dude just went silent. Just dropped off the face of the earth. disappeared. I thought What am I going to do? I am not known for the ‘cute’ area, but I wanted it to be cute and silly.”

“Cute?” I asked. “You started with a herd of camels!”

“Yeah, but then I’d got into puppies. So I thought: Never work with children or animals. Well, alright, how about kids? I could get a lot of kid dancers. I could have six different children’s dance companies, all with the same music, but each doing different routines. Kids are cute. I am not – and I don’t really like children. So that’s funny.

Cute or not? Miss Behave.

Cute or not? Miss Behave.

“I thought: I can co-ordinate it all but, with the cost of actually doing Edinburgh this year, I can’t also afford £300 worth of helium balloons and all the other stuff for the kids. So I costed it all up and I had been wanting to try a Kickstarter for a while. £397 is not a massive amount of money to ask for. Give it a go!

“And it’s been real fun. It took me six hours to raise £397 and now, at the point I’m talking to you,  it’s been just over 24 hours. I have 25 days left and I’ve got £708 already pledged. I thought: If I get more, let’s see how large a production number we can give ‘em. That could potentially mean more helium balloons, confetti cannons.”

“It could,” I suggested, “mean the return of the camels and the chihuahuas.”

“Or a drone camera,” mused Miss Behave. “With £708, I’ve got enough to buy a cheap little remote controlled helicopter, strap a GoPro camera onto it and that could be a drone. I think it’s going to be a laugh and there’s no ‘wrong’ in it. If the worst thing that happens is a bunch of kids show up dressed in cardboard boxes with a load of helium balloons, that’s fine. At the moment, I have four different dance schools and one majorette school.”

“What,” I asked, “are they actually promoting?”

 Miss Behave and her lovely Gameshow assistant Harriet

Miss Behave and her lovely Gameshow assistant Harriet

“I’m taking my gameshow up to the Fringe – the large version I did in a Spiegeltent in London.”

“Are you appearing in any major Edinburgh comedy awards shows?” I asked.

“Well, I’m going to run in late and make a spectacular entrance into the increasingly prestigious Malcolm Hardee Comedy Awards Show, but don’t tell the organiser, because he thinks I’m actually hosting it with Janey Godley.”

“Chaos is always welcome,” I said. “It is good to live in interesting times.”

Leave a comment

Filed under Comedy, Marketing

Can you over-preview comedy shows?

Kate Copstick overcome during the podcast

Kate Copstick (bottom) was overcome during the podcast

Yesterday, comedy critic Kate Copstick and I recorded our weekly Grouchy Club podcast. Topics ranged from Copstick getting drunk and buying vibrators from Poundland to what comedy writer Barry Cryer says when he goes into a pub and why Sean Penn’s hair in Carlito’s Way lost Copstick a job on BBC TV’s Good Morning with Anne and Nick.

But our chat also roamed into talking about Edinburgh Fringe comedy show previews and putting press quotes and stars on Fringe posters. This is a short extract.


JOHN
You absolutely have to do previews for Edinburgh, don’t you, because it’s so important and it’s an hour long?

COPSTICK
Do you, John? Do you?

JOHN
Well, when people do the circuit, it’s 20 minutes or half an hour at most, whereas an Edinburgh hour is about 55 minutes – and to do twice as long is actually more than twice as hard, isn’t it? – To actually get a structure to it.

COPSTICK
I believe that people frequently over-preview. You see people in January saying: It’s an Edinburgh preview!

JOHN
Can you over-preview?

COPSTICK
I think you can over-preview.

JOHN
You become too slick?

COPSTICK
You go to the Fringe, I like to think, to get close to comedy, to see a bit red in tooth and claw and frequently I like to see things, if you’ll pardon the expression, a little loose.

JOHN
What happens if you do over-rehearse it or over-preview? Does it just become…

COPSTICK
I think it becomes stale. I think you (the performer) become stale. As a stand-up, if you’re not interested in and excited by and entertained by and hopefully amused by your own show, then why the hell should anyone else be?

The full Grouchy Club Podcast is in audio at PODOMATIC and iTUNES
and in video at YOUTUBE.

1 Comment

Filed under Comedy, Marketing

How to promote an Edinburgh Fringe show – plus some Cowgatehead irony

Kate Copstick, ploughing through the press releases

Kate Copstick assesses the very worst of Fringe press releases

Yesterday ended surreally with (after his show ended) a member of the audience asking marriage advice from Lewis Schaffer.

This is a bit like Peter Buckley Hill (the PBH of PBH Free Fringe) giving advice to a comedian on how to develop and handle a PR strategy at the Edinburgh Fringe.

Earlier in the day, I had gone round to comedy critic Kate Copstick’s home to record our weekly Grouchy Club podcast. Sometimes we record this not just in audio but on video for YouTube and/or we stream it live on Periscope.

Yesterday… no visuals, because of her face.

“I woke up this morning,” she told me, “a horrible puce. Normally I don’t look in mirrors, ever. They crack, of course. Either that or there’s no reflection to see. But this time it was an horrific sight. Massively puffy. Eyes like currants in a dumpling. But a red dumpling.”

So no pictures of her from yesterday.

But we did, in the course of the 39 minute podcast, get round to discussing her job reviewing comedy shows for The Scotsman newspaper during the Edinburgh Fringe and to PR strategies for Fringe comedy shows…


COPSTICK
There is a kind of firewall – which I think is tragic – of paid PRs who can all get to the editors, who can get to the journalists, who have a budget to take them out to lunch or whatever and who, in some cases, have the tenacity of a moray eel once it bites into your leg: it’s just not going to let go.

JOHN
We’ve all been there.

COPSTICK
And it’s hard… I always give out my personal email because I’m happy for anyone to contact me. A lot of reviewers don’t. But I find myself drifting off if I start reading one of these standard It’s all marvellous! – Whoa! – One of London’s top… No! You’re not. If people up here (in Edinburgh) haven’t really heard of you, you’re not one of London’s top anything.

I much prefer – as I’ve had – a few little emails saying: I’m bricking it, terrified, blah blah blah… That is much more likely to appeal. That shows the right attitude. It shows – No 1 – a respect for the Edinburgh Fringe, which is a monumental entity in the comedy industry now… and an acceptance that life – much less the Fringe – much less the press – owes you nothing at all. It is what you make of it.

So, if you’re an individual, some corny pro-forma press release with all the usual buzz words in it is not going to work. A direct e-mail – for me – is much more likely to work. Not a press release, just an e-mail.

Then, once you get up to Edinburgh, play your little heart out, paper your show, just get people in to see it. If you’re on the free Fringe, just try and get as many people in as possible. Because, if you are any good, every single one of these people is a human flyer and you are sending them out there. They are a talking, walking, smiling, reminiscing, sadly often joke-quoting flyer. And they will do you more good than bits of paper.


Much, much more in the online podcast, including Copstick’s e-mail address and one of 21 things you did not know about pornography.

See? Marketing is all about teasing.

Meanwhile, to round off this blog – which started with a humorous suggestion of Peter Buckley Hill giving advice to a comedian on how to develop a PR strategy at the Edinburgh Fringe…

In the continuing saga of one of the worst examples of Fringe PR in recent years, the Cowgatehead saga trundles on. New readers will have to refer to previous blogs, as I am not going to plough through the whole sorry mess of a background again.

Suffice it to say that I have been contacted by an act performing at the PBH Free Fringe “probably for the last time ever, because of the way the Cowgatehead debacle was handled”.

The latest e-mail received by this act from Peter Buckley Hill apparently ends with:

“Here’s to an excellent Free Fringe 2015. The more co-operation there is between shows, the more excellent it will be.”

The act tells me: “I find that kinda ironic.”

1 Comment

Filed under Comedy, Edinburgh, Marketing, PR

The real truth about UK magician Paul Zenon’s plot to kidnap David Blaine using scantily-clad girls and sausages

(A version of this piece was also published on the Indian news site WSN)

Sporting my new Berlusconi style yesterday

Sporting my sexy new Silvio Berlusconi hairstyle yesterday

In my blog yesterday morning, I wrote about the tragedy of my forehead and slaphead – both burned at the World Egg Throwing Championships last Sunday and, by yesterday, flaking skin like a politician sheds promises after an election.

Yesterday, my eternally-un-named friend decided she had the cure and covered the top of my head with Rhassoul Mud.

This remained on my head, slowly drying for an hour, so I looked like I shared Italian politician Silvio Berlusconi’s dodgy hairstyle.

And it had no effect.

My skin is still flaking.

While my head was still caking, I received an e-mail from ace UK magician Paul Zenon, who appeared in last year’s increasingly prestigious Malcolm Hardee Comedy Awards Show at the Edinburgh Fringe. (Useful tip No 217: If you have a daily blog, relentlessly plug your own product.)

Janey Godley was under David Blaine in 2003

Janey Godley under David Blaine in 2003

In my blog three days ago, I mentioned that Malcolm Hardee had abandoned the idea of a stunt linked to American entertainer David Blaine‘s ‘sittting in a glass box suspended by the River Thames for days on end’ stunt.

I wrote that Malcolm lost interest after several plans fell through and the final nail-in-the-coffin was when “an intrepid British magician whom Malcolm knew (not Jerry Sadowitz) phoned him up wanting to borrow Malcolm’s boat because he wanted to kidnap Blaine (financed by a national paper) on 28th September 2003”

This detail – like a few of Malcolm’s other stories (but not the ones in his autobiography) – appears to have grown in the telling.

The UK magician I did not name three days ago was Paul Zenon and, when I asked him about the 2003 David Blaine kidnap plot yesterday, he told me:

“That wasn’t quite the plan. Originally, I was going to borrow Malcolm’s boat and hire in some giant inflatable (bouncy castle-style) food – burgers, sausage and chips, etc.

Paul in 2003 thinking outside the box

Paul Z in 2003 – thinking outside the box

“Then I was going to moor as close as we could get to David Blaine’s box, with me sat on a toilet in the middle of it, reading a newspaper – and with a scantily-clad girl band playing live.

“In other words, we would remind David Blaine of all the stuff he was abstaining from with his vainglorious stunt. We had interest from an alcohol company and a newspaper for sponsorship but sadly neither bit.”

Oh well… It’s still a good story.

When in doubt, I always say print the legend.

You read it first here.

THERE WAS A 2003 PLOT TO KIDNAP DAVID BLAINE USING SCANTILY-CLAD GIRLS AND SAUSAGES…

It may not be true. But it brightens up Britain without hurting anyone or risking sunburn.

1 Comment

Filed under Comedy, Humor, Humour, Magic, Marketing, PR

A spectacular Lions party in Kiev with sword fights and Red Hot Chilli Pipers

(This piece was also published on the Indian news site WSN)

Honestly! I had to have breakfast in Kiev to hear about the current protection rackets of Glasgow gangsters and Glasgow Council officers. Other people’s lives!

Stuart McKenzie - master of spectacular events in the Ukraine

Stuart McKenzie – master of highly spectacular events in the Ukraine

But, really, I was in Kiev to attend the annual Burns Night celebration which, it seems, is never held anywhere near Burns Night in the calendar.

The only thing I can say about it is that Stuart McKenzie (stepson of the late Scots comedian Jimmy Logan) sure knows how to throw a charity party. I was at last year’s celebration, which was wonderful, but this year he has outdone himself.

Iconic Scots TV presenter Dougie Donnelly flew over to present 11 acts, 55 entertainers, multi-lingual addresses to the Haggis and genuine sword-fighting.

The Lions Club in Kiev is the biggest in Eastern Europe and, judging from last night, no wonder they manage to raise around $300,000 every year for charity, with this annual event contributing mightily.

The Red Hot Chilli Pipers playing in Kiev last night

Red Hot Chilli Pipers left Kiev reeling & rocking last night

Classical music, bagpiping, the aforementioned swordfighting by The Clann, Dutch singer Mark Enthoven and the extraordinary Red Hot Chilli Pipers.

Plus 38 ‘silent’ auctions in which people bid for everything from a $500 Muhammed Ali autograph to a $3,000 two-day training prize for up to 15 people… plus ten ‘live’ auctions which started with an $11,000 bid and ended with the auction of a $23,000 holiday-for-two in the Seychelles (all money going to charity).

The various holiday auction prizes included two separate Seychelles holidays, two Kenyan holidays and a $7,000 London holiday all put together by Fred Finn, the Guinness Book of Records’ title holder as ‘most travelled person’.

Zap, the magician, mystifying a glamorous guest last night

Zap, the magician, mystifying a glamorous guest last night

Fred had also arranged for the magician Zap to perform table magic during the show. I am ashamed to say I had never seen Zap before but, as a close-up magician, he is flawless. One trick involves taking a low-value note given to him by a punter and changing it into a high-value note ‘before your very eyes’.

Fred told me: “I took Zap to Kenya where he changed low bills into high ones and some of the guys there got a bit rough and took him outside to make him do it for all their money. And then there was the occasion with the UK celebrity where he turned £5 into £50 and the celebrity just walked off with the £50…”

Andrei Trilev got into the Chilli Piping spirit of last night’s event

Profile of publisher Andrei Trilev air guitaring

The six hour long but astonishingly fast-moving Burns Night event yesterday evening was quite something.

I was on an interesting table with, among others, Andrei Trilev, founder of the ultra-glossy Profiles magazine. He is a man unafraid to join in the fun.

And let’s not even mention the Scots croft in the foyer, the Scots castle set on stage or the live sheep.

Not surprisingly, Stuart McKenzie co-owns Ukrainian events company Pulse.

He has been in Kiev since 1994 and his company interests now include entertainment, events, logistics, marketing, property, research and training and his attitude is far from that of the cliché dour Scot.

His view is:

“The best marketers are in the game early and are always on the lookout for the next selling opportunity, the latest trend, the next unmet need. It’s enough to keep you awake at night – but from excitement, rather than from fear.

Some of The Clann members fighting during last night’s show

Some of The Clann members fighting during last night’s show

“My crystal ball has been in the repair shop for a long time. I have absolutely no inkling of what the future holds. Don’t ask me what the trends will be in 2015. I do not have a clue. I can say this, though, with absolute certainty: the future will be glorious for the optimists; the creative marketers who will set the trends and stand to profit from the opportunities that they represent!”

It was announced that, after 18 years of being involved in organising this annual Burns Night celebration in Kiev, it may be Stuart McKenzie’s last. If so, Kiev social life and local charities will be poorer for it.

Leave a comment

Filed under Charity, Entertainment, Marketing, Ukraine