Should you use jokes in press releases and pitches?
Updated: Feb 16
I’m going to reticently advise against joking.
I’m reticent because I work with a lot of humour. Plus, journalists, at their best, are quick-witted and hilarious. I absolutely loved the camaraderie of the newsroom. I can meet up with colleagues, who’ve become life-long friends, we recall some absurdity or surprise we experienced together 15 years ago and we’re both crying with laughter.
As a media relations consultant, one of the most fun times I had creating a press release with a client was entirely based on a joke. We stuck to the press release format but translated the whole thing into Klingon and sent it off to the client’s top target, The Telegraph. The journalist, in turn, called us up straight away, laughing down the phone, said he’d stuck it up behind his desk as his Favourite Press Release Ever. It was one of my most joyful days in media relations and we got immediate reaction and engagement from the journalist but …
We didn’t get coverage. The story was too ‘niche’ for the Telegraph. The journalist couldn’t pitch it to his editor which I had feared. It was why we had attempted the Klingon approach to see if we could use novelty and creativity to, well, hide the fact that the story was effectively promotion of a product which would only appeal to a miniscule number of their readers.
In those circumstances we did the best we could. I’d already managed client expectations that getting the Telegraph was very unlikely but the Klingon release went down a storm with journalists on other outlets who wanted ‘niche’. So, we hadn’t wasted anybody’s time in creating it. We got coverage, product sales went up by targeting media read by the people most likely to buy, and we built good relations with The Telegraph journalist. We gained a quicker route in for future releases, ultimately meeting the client’s consistent desire to prioritise the Telegraph.
However, I would highlight here that this whole joke approach was taken in an attempt to compensate for a story which wasn’t a good fit. And if you find yourself wanting to use jokes then I would urge you to be honest with yourself. Have you got your story and journalist fit right? Have you got a story? Is this all a good use of your time? Because EVEN if you do somehow squeeze your story past a journalist, it’s then going to have to go via an editor and news meeting. And even if it does make it onto a page or a running order (for radio or tv) it’s very vulnerable to getting dropped if something better comes along.
A much more efficient use of time is to create a story which is directly connected to your core business AND which impacts a large number of your target media’s audience. Then write it straight to let the facts shine out.