Caimh McDonnell

Caimh McDonnell

Why I'm bribing journalists

By Fringe comedian Caimh McDonnell

This year, as Chortle has previously reported, I’m giving £100 to Macmillan Cancer Support for every press review of my Edinburgh show, regardless of whether it’s a favourable review or not.

It’s my own humble addition to the glorious history of promotional shenanigans that range from Tim Vine’s sublime billboard announcing he won’t be performing at the Fringe to the 100 per cent inaccurately named Comedy Terrorist hopping the walls of Windsor Castle dressed as the world’s most wanted man.

Is this a cynical ploy on my behalf to get some publicity? Absolutely. Although I’d argue, how is it any more cynical than paying for PR? My idea has already garnered a considerable amount of both praise and criticism in the press.

Let’s compare and contrast that to the reaction to my last solo stand-up show at the Fringe in 2007… oh wait, we can’t – there wasn’t any.

That’s in no way a dig at the press, that’s just an acknowledgement that I’ve experienced the reality of one of the greatest fears of all performers bringing shows to the Fringe – being totally ignored. There are thousands of shows at the Fringe and only so many reviewers and reviews that will be written.

Of course, all these shows are there primarily to be performed to the public but, especially after the first week, punters quite sensibly rely mainly on reviews to decide what to go and see. It’s hard to explain how the experience of being utterly ignored feels – to quote Nietzsche after his unsuccessful Fringe run: ‘When you stare into the abyss, the abyss stares back… but it won’t take your flyer if it hasn’t got any white pieces of paper stapled to it.’

In the interest of full disclosure, a few years before that show, I was involved in a show that had PR and indeed, I seriously considered engaging a publicist this year to avoid a repeat of 2007.

Undeniably, when it comes to getting reviewed, PR works. It may not always work as well as you’d like, and I don’t believe it gets anyone a better review than they’d have received anyway, but in terms of getting journalists in, the evidence is there for everybody to see.

PR is a bit like nuclear weapons, once somebody has it, everybody else feels like they have to get it in order to compete. It can cost anywhere from £1,000 to £3,000 and beyond and it’s a significant issue for everyone bringing up a show. Do you spend even more money on top of the several thousand pounds you’re already spending on venue, accommodation and advertising or risk having the show you’ve poured your heart and soul into, being totally ignored?

My charity bribery scheme has an upper limit of £3000, so isn’t going to cost me any more than many people will be spending on PR. I’ve just found what I hope is a more fun way of spending the money, albeit as a one-off gimmick that isn’t going work anywhere near as effectively if I, or anyone else, try it again next year.

Still though, in an ideal world – wouldn’t it be nice if performers didn’t feel compelled to spend yet more money? The Fringe is very expensive for both performers and punters, a fact which should be of great concern to all of us. There is one sentence that Nica Burns could utter that’d change the economics of the Fringe for good, here it is: ‘Any show paying for PR is ineligible to receive the Edinburgh Comedy Award.’

Taking PR out of the equation for most comedy shows would drive costs down, a saving that could be partially passed on to the long-suffering Fringe punters through a reduction in ticket prices.

Maybe it is a terrible idea but isn’t it at least worthy of a serious debate? I’d love to hear the views of journalists, PR professionals and other performers about it. I should also point out that I’ve no problem with PR in general, it plays a vital role for touring shows, DVD releases etc. I’m not trying to make anyone into the big bad wolf here, I just think if we’re serious about making the festival a more affordable aspiration for all performers, then perhaps it’s time we took a serious look at how exactly it is working?

Of course, people will say you don’t have to pay for PR – and you don’t. I would however, ask those people to stand on a rain-soaked Royal Mile for four hours on August 20t, handing out flyers with none of the tell-tale white pieces of paper on them that indicate reviews and see how they feel about it after that.

  • Caimh McDonnell’s show The Art of Conversation is on at The Tron at 6:20pm and details of his charity bribery scheme are

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Published: 11 Jul 2012

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