It came to my attention lately when approached about my marketing and publicity services that there are as many publicists and marketing consultants with ranging strategies as there are stars in the sky. How do you know which one to choose for your film project? How do you even know if you need one? I mean, you can do it yourself, right?

My first advice is that your publicist or marketing consultant is not someone you simply hire, it is someone who is invited to be part of your team and your success. They should be one of your biggest champions! Make that the most important component in your decision making process. The person you choose must reflect your ideas to the public and the media and want to achieve your goals just as much as you do. It also helps to be personally compatible with that person.

In reference to DIY publicity and marketing, consider this: a few filmmakers successfully do their own public relations and marketing, but most do not have the time or the resources. A good publicist or marketing consultant has media lists, contacts and know-how that would probably take you months to develop. Are you a skillful copywriter for web content and press releases? Do you know the principles of marketing both traditional and online? Do you enjoy forging relationships on the phone or at industry events? Do you stay on top of the constant personnel and editorial changes at local, national and online media outlets? Do you like to sell your ideas to editors, investors and/or distributors? If you answered no to any of these questions, you can see why hiring an outside publicist or marketing consultant is a good idea.

Before meeting with potential publicists or marketing consultants, it is imperative that you have answered the the following questions:

How much do you want to spend and what measurable goals do you want to achieve? Be honest and upfront when first speaking to contractors. If your project is not large enough in scope for their interest, it is better for all involved to know at the beginning before too much time is invested on either side. As far as goals, attracting an audience to a screening or at a festival, generating reviews, creating a media buzz that will in turn lead to sales, pushing traffic to your website etc. are all achievable and measurable goals.

Who is your audience and how will you reach them? This is a big question that is often not examined enough by the filmmaker. It should be carefully established before production ever starts. The consultant should be given time to view your script or screener in order to give you ideas on how to reach the audience as well.

Do you want print, broadcast or online exposure? Or all 3? Some publicists have better connections in only one medium, others have more broad experience and connections. Some of these outlets are only good for mass appeal, so if you have a niche film and a limited budget, use accordingly.

Do you want local, regional, national or international coverage? Decide where your sales are likely to come from and that will determine where the coverage will be most important.

What PR tasks are you willing to do on your own? You may hire a publicist for only one screening or series of screenings and do other tasks yourself to save on costs.

The interview

When interviewing a publicist or a marketing consultant, ask to see results from previous projects such as press clippings, Google analytic results, video clips, sales results etc. Ask for references from past projects and follow up with them. Ask how he/she would approach your project. This answer can only be given after the candidate has had a chance to see the film or script. Do the ideas seem creative and realistic for your budget? You can’t expect a candidate to do a detailed plan “on spec,” but you should expect a free consultation of an hour or two and a rough draft outlining what might be accomplished over three months.

How much do consultants cost?

Publicists and marketing consultants generally bill their services in these three ways: retainer; flat project fee; or hourly rate. If you choose to put your consultant on a monthly retainer (anywhere from $1000 to $5000 a month), you should have an agreed-upon set of tasks or goals. Do you want pitches made to all the relevant film magazines, both print and online, along with follow-up phone calls? Do you want a detailed marketing plan with budgets and timelines? Do you want a database created of all your target organizations including contact information to use in forming affiliations for later marketing activities? If your consultant suggests a project fee, be specific in defining the project. Hourly fees range from $35 to $75 a hour. Although this arrangement works for some, especially if you want to do some of the work yourself, a retainer sends the message that the consultant is part of the team and part of a long-term effort.

The consultant’s bill should reflect time spent getting to know you and your film through interviews and research of similar films in the marketplace, researching and planning strategies and tactics, reaching out to target audience groups and organizations, developing and writing press kit copy and materials, coordinating and/or designing printed materials, compiling customized media lists and making phone calls to editors and journalists, coordinating set photography, overseeing website design and making regular updates to the site, planning a film festival strategy and overseeing submissions, maintaining a email list and sending out periodic correspondence etc. All of these activities are labor intensive, as you know if you’ve tried to do them yourself.

Evaluating results can be tricky. However, you can at least evaluate your relationship after the first month. It is important that you and your consultant continue to see eye to eye. Conflicts can make it difficult to work together and can doom your project. Allow at least 2-4 weeks for story inclusion in online publications or daily publications including relevant blogs and 6-12 weeks for results from major monthly magazines because often they are planned that far in advance. It is important to be patient. Working up a story angle that is of interest to publications and pitching it successfully is part of the process.

A good publicist or marketing consultant wants results as much as you do. However, an ethical publicist also knows that story placement or favorable reviews cannot ever be guaranteed. Be suspicious of those who make such promises and guarantees.

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