Michael Grebb

It can be hard to separate organic social media activity from that orchestrated by corporations. Check out the satirical “Condescending Corporate Brand Page” on Facebook to understand the wrath that can befall those who try to pull a fast one. This is just as true when it comes to promoting TV shows. You really can’t force people to tweet. You can’t manufacture buzz. It needs to bubble up on its own. It needs to breathe. But that doesn’t mean TV nets can’t pump in a little bit of oxygen to help respiration.

That’s exactly what L.A.-based PR firm Beck Media did last week when it arranged a sorta-kinda press event at a bar on Melrose Avenue to generate buzz for premiering ABC sit-com “Family Tools.” The invite—on behalf of the show’s honcho producer Mark Gordon (“Grey’s Anatomy,” “Criminal Minds,” etc)—was interesting in that it specified that the organizers weren’t necessarily looking for any traditional “coverage” by the trade journos, consumer press, freelance TV writers and TV bloggers who got invited. Instead, it specified “more of a ‘let’s have a drink and maybe tweet a bit’” kind of affair. Note to PR folks: Mentioning drinks in any invite to the press NEVER fails. Ever. But I digress…
The set-up was pretty basic. It was just a bar, and a rather small one at that. Organizers set up flatscreens all over the place and tuned them to ABC. Free drinks flowed. When the show premiered, people half-watched while socializing with each other. And yes, people tweeted furiously throughout the show using the suggested #familytools hashtag. Meanwhile, publicists led around the cast, including Leah Remini, Danielle Nicolet and Edi Gathegi, to meet reporters and in some cases pose for pics that, of course, got immediately uploaded to Twitter. Producers also made the rounds, schmoozing as if the buzz from the premiere episode might just make or break the series—which of course it could. Best of all, no one ever tried to quiet down the room for a quick speech or to introduce the talent—a tactic that fails miserably about 95% of the time. Instead, this felt more like a structured happy hour, complete with noisy bar banter, TVs running in the background and, yes… a lot of people ignoring their friends just long enough to tweet something out to the world.
So will the social media activity produced by this little shindig be worth it? Hard to say. Ratings for the Family Tools premiere last week were less than stellar. But if Family Tools survives the brutal broadcast chopping block over the next few weeks, it will likely be because a cult following got really loud on social media. The jury’s still out on whether that will ultimately happen, but hosting happy hour so that a bunch of TV writers will tweet about the premiere certainly can’t hurt.
(Michael Grebb is executive editor of CableFAX. You can follow him on Twitter at @michaelgrebb).

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