CableFAXIES PR Team of the Year: Showtime Networks

Everyone knows the importance of a first impression when meeting new people. Showtime’s PR team has extended that axiom to apply to its work.

That’s why Showtime spends so much time creating its press materials, VP Stuart Zakim says. The result is that journalists’ first touch of a Showtime series often includes an entertaining press kit. And sometimes it’s literally touch that’s involved. Showtime’s Inside the NFL press kit featured a page that felt like pigskin, complete with football laces.

Other times it’s wordplay. Introducing the series Secret Diary of a Call Girl and pushing another season of Weeds, the series about a marijuana-selling momma, a dual press kit featured the female stars of the series (Mary-Louise Parker and Billie Piper) smiling suggestively below a tag line that read: It’s a Business Doing Pleasure With You.

"We want to present our case, but we also want it to be fun," Zakim says. Fun, indeed; for the final season of lesbian-centered series The L Word, press kits were adorned with a shot of the cast in erotic poses. The tagline: Going Down in History.

The press kits are part of a larger PR strategy that includes coordinating Web sites, marketing stunts and ad creative. This is why every Showtime series has a brand identity and a color palette. For Californication the theme was water; the color palette was aqua blue. The press kit actually contained water. For serial-killer series Dexter, a blood-red motif reigned. And rained. Showtime arranged for fountains in major cities to spew blood instead of water (they did this for select urinals, too). It also put dead guys on select streets and placed body parts in butchers’ display windows. To emphasize Dexter’s day job as a crime scene specialist, the press kit arrived in an evidence bag with yellow "Do Not Cross" police tape.

Even Showtime’s holiday gift was integrated. A huge box contained cookies branded to each of Showtime’s programs.

But Showtime is not our PR Team of the Year for its creativity alone. Its press materials and Web site for United States of Tara, a dramedy about a woman with multiple personalities, included a lengthy Q&A with a doctor who advised the network about dissociative identity disorder, the new name for multiple personalities. But there was still a bit of fun. The press kit featured a holographic image of star Toni Collette that shifts between Tara’s four personalities.

This mix of creativity and good sense is embodied in the team’s leader, EVP Richard Licata, who is credited with attracting top Hollywood talent to the network. But his work outside Hollywood is important, too. Last year Licata developed what’s been called the first Green Emmy campaign. Instead of sending mounds of for-your-consideration tapes to Emmy voters, Licata urged voters to access that material on a password-protected Web site. The vast majority did, Showtime says. Oh, and Showtime received a record 21 Emmy nominations last year. A coincidence? We think not.

View the electronic version of CableFAX: The Magazine's 2009 CableFAXIES Awards issue.

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