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How Sales People Can F*ck Up Funny. A Second City Tale.

on November 20, 2012

Years ago I wrote for Second City Communications, the corporate entertainment division of Second City. For those who don’t know, Second City is an iconic comedy theater and institution based in Chicago but with satellite theaters in areas such as Toronto and Hollywood. Many famous comic actors have graduated from Second City including Tina Fey, Jim Belushi, and Gilda Radner, just to name a few. Their roster of graduates is really a who’s who in comedy.

When I worked there, the “Communications” arm of Second City was the real money maker for the company. Corporations would pay big bucks to have Second City’s actors and writers create funny sketches for their trade shows and conferences. I remember one job we had for Motorola that was being funded by six different divisions of the company. We wrote this sketch that was first and foremost funny. It was packed with jokes and it was relevant to the audience that was coming to the conference.

The script was passed around each division that was paying to have us come to the conference. That was the first red flag as everyone needed to provide their two cents, wanted to “punch up” the script, and worst they demanded that their marketing message get into that script. Their argument was “if we’re paying for this script, we want to make sure we’re represented.”

What happened is something that happened time and time again. Sales messages infiltrated a comedy script. It was what my boss at the time called a “humorectomy.”

You could actually watch the humor slowly get extracted from the script. A simple joke where one line was the setup, and the following line was the punchline, magically became not funny with the introduction of sales messages.

“Just stick a line about our new product line in there,” said one sales person pointing right in between the setup and the punchline. In fact, all of the sales people wanted their marketing message in that very spot. It was the funniest joke in the script, so why not actually put our message right in the middle of it?

When I was done editing the script with the new marketing messages, the setup was at the top of the page and the punchline was at the bottom of the page, effectively causing a complete “humorectomy.”

Want to be effective in social media? Let content lead marketing message.

The moral of this story is that if the goal is to entertain, or become visible in search, you can’t ever lead with your marketing message. The content must always come first, and if it’s appropriate to stick in your marketing message, then fine, but most importantly don’t force it. If you force it, and cause a “humorectomy,” what you originally intended to create, something valuable or funny, is now neither. It’s also not a marketing message. It’s an attempt at interesting content marred by an ugly intrusion of your marketing message.

Here’s a video of me at a panel discussion last week at One to One Box talking about this Second City tale, how my company pulls a PR 180°, and how content must always take precedence if you want to be effective with online video.

Creative Commons photo attribution to scragz.

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