Reboot PR Campaigns: Part 1 of 2

From Roseanne to Sherlock, Eight Strategies to Make Audiences Fall in Love Over and Over Again
in All Your Upcoming Reboot PR Campaigns

With all the TV remakes, revivals and spin-offs exploding right now, it’s the perfect time to talk about how to create and launch effective reboot PR campaigns. Undoubtedly there’s already a built-in audience for these series—otherwise why would networks and streaming services be reviving them—so promoting the shows may seem like a no-brainer.

But that’s not always the case. Why do some, like Will & Grace, Hawaii Five-O and Fuller House, succeed where others, such as Ironsides, Charlie’s Angels, and Knight Rider, fail? For this particular piece, let’s define “success” as returning for more than one season. It doesn’t necessarily mean they received glowing reviews or survived unscathed from fan backlash—it just means they captured enough of an audience to warrant multiple seasons.

Obviously, publicists cannot control the creative direction of a TV series. The remarkable chemistry between Eric McCormack, Debra Messing, Sean Hayes and Megan Mullally may have been all that was necessary for the Will & Grace revival to take off. That said, publicists can control the awareness and positioning through strategic reboot PR campaigns that keep fan expectations in check while driving and sustaining tune-in for the long-haul.

With that in mind, below are the first four (of eight total) tips to consider when developing your own reboot PR campaigns.

  1. Remember, It’s More than Semantics

Creators often try to stand out by describing their projects in fresh, innovative terms, given the fierce competition in the TV industry.  While this is a valid strategy for a brand new TV concept, it can be confusing when it comes to PR for a reboot. So be as clear as possible by using the right definition from day one.

Then there are the spin-offs, such as CBS’ Young Sheldon, the critic’s darling based on Jim Parsons’ beloved character from The Big Bang Theory. Other relatively new iteration terms, which seem to purposely fall into grayer areas, are the reboot, which I’ve used to play it safe in this article, and my new personal favorite, the “reimagining” of a previous television program.

  1. Seek the Blessing of the Original Cast/Creators

Dealing with talent is always tricky, but try to avoid a situation like the one the CW encountered with Holly Marie Combs when they announced their Charmed remake.  Combs, who played one of the three main sister-witch characters in the original 1998-2008 version, apparently was caught off guard by the news and took to Twitter to blast the project. Of course, only Combs can answer this question, but perhaps her rants could have been averted if she had been tipped off in advance.

So whether your show involves the original cast and creators or not, it’s essential to get them behind any planned reboot PR campaigns because they will talk about it—either proactively as Combs did or when asked about it by reporters and fans.

One last suggestion on this topic: check to see if any of the classic networks (TV Land anyone?) or streaming services are airing reruns of the original series. If so, be sure to emphasize that fact, along with glowing mentions of the first cast in the appropriate reboot press materials. Maybe even consider a marketing collaboration of some kind with the network/streaming service.

  1. Embrace Fans Disguised as Journalists

Let me repeat myself. Networks would not air a reimagined TV program unless there was a previous fan base of some kind for it. As objective as journalists try to be, that original show probably had some editorial fans rooting for it. There could be hundreds of them as in the case of Seinfeld, which Jerry just announced on Ellen might return in the near future. Or if it’s a true cult, like Fox’s 2001-2002 sitcom Undeclared from Judd Apatow, there could be only a handful of them.

For obvious reasons, you want these reporter-fans on your side; they should be an integral part of your reboot PR campaigns. Create a comprehensive list of these folks on day one and then aim to establish an ongoing rapport with them.

Be aware that some may be purists, who are opposed to the very thought of a reboot of their favorite classic, especially if the original creator is not involved. You may never be able to win over these people, so steer clear of them if you can.

However, if they seem open to giving the new version a fair assessment, make them a top priority in all your media outreach.

  1. Announce It Before the Aficionados Do It For You

There are no secrets in Hollywood. Once the producers of the reboot start pitching their take on the series, the rumors will start to fly and it’s only a matter of time before a fan site writes a potentially inaccurate blog post about it.

To avoid fan hysteria, not to mention the serious possibility that the inaccurate info will continue to circulate in both the blogosphere and the mainstream press, be proactive and announce the potential reboot as soon as feasibly possible.

One way to do this is to leak the story yourself to an outlet willing to collaborate on the messaging and positioning of your announcement. You don’t have to give away all the particulars in this initial story, of course—just enough to nip the rumors in the bud, create buzz, build anticipation and satisfy the fans’ appetites.

However, if you learn a story is running before you’re ready to announce it, it’s best to contact the reporter as soon as possible to either confirm the facts or convince them to hold their piece by offering them some type of exclusive if they do.

In a worse-case scenario, an item could run without advance knowledge. When this happens, contact the reporter, and if necessary, ask for corrections. In addition, try to establish a mutually-beneficial relationship to prevent future stories from running without your input. If this doesn’t work, give an updated version of the story to a different, bigger outlet to squelch the initial leak.

The bottom line is that maintaining control is essential in all reboot PR campaigns, so don’t just sit back and do nothing while the gossip continues to spread—sometimes beyond repair.

To be continued next week…