Learn story framing from Top Gun publicity playbook

I had this ready to go the week before Memorial Day, but decided to hold off because it has some spoilers. But now you’ve had enough time to see Top Gun: Maverick, so here we go . . .

I’ve gathered examples of the non-obvious story angles that publicists used to earn coverage for the film. Let’s be real – as soon as you saw Tom Cruise’s real head jerk back when he took off in a real plane from a real aircraft carrier in the first trailer way back before COVID, you knew this movie would be big, with or without media coverage.

But let’s have fun learning story frames that we can apply to our next product launch or new initiative. Bear in mind these go deeper than the simple “Tom Cruise is back, this time flying in real planes” angle that was plenty good enough for the first round of coverage. These round out the playbook for week two, week three and beyond.

Capture the social media energy: Years ago an entertainment editor tweeted that if they ever made a Top Gun sequel, he’d eat a shoe. Fans saved receipts and kept the wager alive. Clever Paramount publicists then mailed him a shoe made out of cake. Some of your big ideas and launches generate organic energy on social, even if it’s among a small group of devoted fans. Coax that energy into a definable story and pitch the grassroots action behind your official launch.

Process story – partner point of view: Closer to the release, publicists pitched that story from the U.S. Navy’s point of view. How did they work with the filmmakers and actors to make that happen? You can follow the same pattern – your partners in your new initiative aren’t the initial story, but how you worked with them can be a follow-up.

Localize the story to different markets: Here’s a piece about the Navy base where they filmed some of the movie – typical movie promo pitch. But here’s one about the factory where they built a plane – no, not the planes the actors flew in – a plane that filmed the actors flying in other planes. That’s a stretch, but it worked. What other markets, besides your home base, does your initiative touch?

Process – innovations that enabled the new product: Okay, here’s the spoiler – the trailer showed a photo of Val Kilmer in character as Iceman. But we all knew he’s suffering from throat cancer and can’t speak. But then Iceman shows up in the movie (with throat cancer as well), and he speaks! The company that created the AI engine that simulated his voice was later sold to Spotify. What new developments did your organization create that enabled your new initiative?

Process – how you’re marketing the initiative: You know you’re doing a great job pitching your launch when all the outlets have left to cover is . . . how you’re pitching your launch.

May you have the creativity and persistence to use as many angles as we’ve seen here on your next big launch, even if it’s not one of the biggest movies in history.

P.S. Yes, this is the second time I’ve written about a Tom Cruise movie. The guy knows how to get attention.

This article was originally published on August 10, 2022

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