Television Turns to Public Relations: Old Advertising Methods May Not Work for Some TV Shows Today

by cindybrugge

In today’s media market, it seems a mystery what makes a successful show. For years, many networks relied upon commercial promos to alert the audience of a new upcoming show. However, that isn’t the case anymore. Some of TV’s most successful shows aren’t on major networks and aren’t best promoted during the commercial break. Many shows are having to turn to the creativity of public relations to broadcast their message.

For example, during my weekly dose of Grey’s Anatomy, I’ve been catching glimpses of the new show Black Box coming to ABC next Thursday. They’re lucky that I’ve caught those shots though. With the option to fast-forward through commercials, it’s not likely that I’m going to see much in between the Seattle Grace Hospital’s drama.


However, networks have gotten creative and put their series previews as the first or last commercial of the break with especially catching images at the beginning and end. Let me tell you, the first time I saw the last few seconds of the Black Box promo, I had to rewind and watch the whole thing. And I watch the commercial every time it comes on now. So, as you might have predicted, I will be starting the new show next week. However, this tactic doesn’t work with every show on every station. Plus, not everyone is a television addict like I am. (I really should be on some sort of 12-step program.)

Furthermore, commercial breaks don’t budget enough time to repeatedly promote TV shows, during new series peaks. Many networks release 8-10 new shows in the fall. In fact, next fall we are looking at 75 new shows coming out. It’s difficult to sufficiently promote all of these shows whenever few great shows hold the audiences attention during the summer months. With no one, sitting down to catch the latest Grey’s, ABC is strapped for time and without a steady audience. They’re left simply shit out of luck.

Most networks recognize this problem, which is likely why they are premiering Black Box now. My best guess is that the show will run through August before the fall shows pick back up. This could be smart. But, let’s face it: summer shows are uncommon because they usually don’t do as well, especially for major networks.

While AMC and HBO have been known to ruin our hopes and dreams with Breaking Bad and Game of Thrones summer seasons, Pretty Little Liars and other ABC Family shows step up to steal our hearts and discard our minds for a little trashy stupid teenage drama. It’s these smaller networks turn out quality shows for their intended audiences. Their following is devoted to these summer dramas, while for some reason the major networks turn to competitive reality shows for the summer. These hot months have traditionally been home to So You Think You Can Dance and Master Chef. When viewership is scattered and inconsistent during summer months, stations have to turn to other methods to promote new and returning shows.

One show that scares me every year is Parenthood. A highly rated show by critics and viewers alike, this show is always on the chopping block for cancellation. Most people that have seen the show agree that it’s fabulous. The acting is incredible. The storyline is believable and relatable. Plus, the family lives the life that you have/want to have. Personally, I feel that watching this show is like coming home to my other family.


However, despite its dedicated fan base is, Parenthood’s storyline simply doesn’t acquire enough traction with people unfamiliar with the show. It’s hard to convince people that everyday problems, such as your child receiving a bad grade, is going to make good TV. However, it’s hard to argue whether it does, once you’ve watched an episode. For this reason, the show is rarely promoted during commercial breaks and the network has turned to other methods of promotion. Parenthood draws off of a social media base by reaching out to viewers through Facebook and Twitter.

Pretty Little Liars has found success with this tactic, as well. The teen drama is known for dropping spoilers on social media as soon as it happens, which usually sucks but also draws in new viewers.

Networks have also used other interactive methods. In Lifetime’s new show last fall, the Lottery, viewers entered a contest online before the premiere and found out if they won by seeing their number on a ball in the bottom of the screen during the premiere. Other shows have tried a more physical attempt at interaction. For example, Fox premiered an early showing of the new show Sleep Hollow at L.A.’s Hollywood Forever Cemetery. 

These creative attempts to gain viewership remind me that public relations is an ever-growing industry. As the traditional media landscape shifts, it’s important to stay creative an utilize new methods to get your message out. It’s this creative thinking that highlights successful public relations professionals.