Applying stand up-comedy in PR!

It is easy to like someone, or something, that makes you laugh. 

No group is more acutely aware of this simple truth than those who trade in laughter, stand-up comedians, and they have many skills which apply to the broader world, and especially PR and advertising.

We all like to be liked. We want ourselves, our brand, or our business to be well thought of. Comedy is a top tool for ensuring this happens since laughter is the social glue that helps us form and strengthen relationships. Researchers have long suspected that laughter evolved as a social mechanism in humans and apes.

Joking aside

A well-placed joke can break the ice in a high-stakes business pitch meeting and, in any kind of public speaking, just the right amount of wit sprinkled in with your key points can make you a much more memorable speaker.

One of the great tropes of stand-up comedy is to open with your best joke and close with your second best. There is a solid logic in this advice. The audience wants to like the comedian, they came to be entertained, and they certainly wish to avoid the real-time awkwardness of a performer tanking.

First things first

That first joke carries a special weight. The successful performer will immediately convince the audience that they know what they are doing, release much tension and have an easier ride for the rest of the gig.

Or. The first gag falls short, the tensions increase, the stakes escalate, and the rest of the performance will be that much more difficult.

Leaving the crowd with a successful second-best gag is a simple sop to short-term memory. If the final taste was a big sweet dose of funny, it permeates the audience memory that the whole set was just that good. Regardless of the actual truth.

If the first gag doesn’t fly the odds are that the closer won’t either. Everything in between can be, shall we say, challenging, for act and audience alike.

Close big

Open on a high, close big. Solid advice that every new comedian learns quickly. There are few things more soul-crushing than shuffling off stage to disinterested silence, rather than the rapturous applause that was dreamed of.

Fundamentally, comedians establish swift rapport with a client (the audience), quickly convince them of their professional competence (get a laugh) and then continue to impress them with their polished and innovative takes (jokes).

PR power

PROs also need to establish swift rapport with an audience (prospective/current client), to quickly convince them of their professional competence (succinctly explain a fresh creative idea) and then continue to impress them with their polished and innovative takes (describing how the brilliant ideas would be delivered).

Demonstration of crisp original concepts, entertaining approaches, is what the audience wishes to experience. So much the better if the pitches can make them laugh. That audible, visceral, flash of happiness and approval is both powerful and desirable. It’s hard not to like somebody who’s made you laugh.

If a comedian/brand can be associated with the feeling of laughter, that micro-burst of compelling joy, then most often, the job is a good one.

Create a bond

Comedians are masters of creating a bond with the audience, holding attention, addressing an issue from an authentic and under-explored position, then communicating ideas and observations with an entertainingly precise choice of words, imagery and timing. Sounds a lot like advertising.

The skills overlap between comedy and Public Relations is considerable. In the simplest terms, pitching and tapping into appealing aspects of creativity. Done well, everyone gets the pleasure of enjoying their work, and their audience, in a way that is impossible when laughter is absent.

The good news is that there are classic comedy tools and techniques on how to approach a premise and mine it creatively. Certain comedic techniques can be taught, with students enjoying their own laughs while learning how to generate laughter. It’s a win-win because it feels good to laugh, however, it feels wonderful to be the one that created the laughter in the first place.

So, I will close with a significant and compelling question.

How many creative directors does it take to change a light bulb?

Written by Mal Wharton, managing director of The Humour Works