The emerging skills needed by film publicists

May 3, 2012
posted by sheric

Now that there is some form of distribution available to every project made, whether it is working with a service company to theatrically release or uploading the project online for free and enabling perpetual viewing, it is time to acknowledge that new mindsets and skills are needed not just for filmmakers, but also for film promotion. Traditionally, a publicist’s role  was to leverage the relationships she had formed with editors and journalists (the media) to ensure story placement in publications and she strived to convey a cohesive message about a film. She endeavored to control the message and those who were allowed to carry it. The prominence of social channels has torn this process apart. Now, the media aren’t the only ones talking about a film and it is getting increasingly difficult to control the message. It is becoming more prevalent to create the dialog instead.

Whether you choose to take on the promotional role yourself as a microbudget filmmaker or you are looking to start working in film promotion, the skills now needed go well beyond writing a good press release and having a good database of personal contacts ( but you still need those too). Here is a look at some emerging skills with the knowledge that it is nearly impossible to find strong abilities for all of these in one person.

-Storytelling and curation. Writing skills still play a vital role in film publicity, but there’s more writing now than ever. As social tools enable a production to reach an audience directly and wherever they congregate online, something besides a “message” must be written. Stories that are memorable, relatable and “sticky” will pull people to you and keep them coming back and the stories aren’t only written by a journalist; not when one has a blog, a newsletter, a Tumblr page, a Facebook page, a Twitter account, Pinterest boards and possibly participating in forums. We’re now talking to the audience, not through third party media. Many more tools, many more skills needed to understand how each one works and how to get the most from them. A visual sense of storytelling is needed as well because many of the social posts that get the most interactions and shared are photos/videos/infographics. In order to develop stories that resonate, one must spend much more time getting to know the audience as people with definite tastes and interests, not as faceless, broad demographics. Also, time must be spent finding great information and sharing it which is just as important (perhaps MORE important) as creating it. Tools that help aggregate useful information and inspire self published content will need to be found and this has become a standard duty in the work day.

-Technical skills. The ability to code, photo and video edit and format, graphic design, link building and SEO,  as well as keeping up with every little trick Facebook settings can throw at you will become increasingly useful. In order to use the new tools effectively and keep to a modest budget, personal training should be undertaken to develop a good understanding and at least a basic level of performance.

-Observation and monitoring. Learning to listen first is without a doubt a very useful skill in the online world. Too many times we are pushed to “sell” “convert” “promote” with no real understanding of who we are talking to and what they care about. Indeed, previously it was difficult to know what “they” care about because “we” didn’t really talk to “them”, but this isn’t the case anymore. Sharing opinions, recommendations, emotions, interests, locations, and personal details abound on the internet and there is no longer an excuse to guess about the needs and wishes of the audience. They are talking online every day, so listen. Monitoring conversations, picking out trending topics, predicting what is likely to spark interest, and THEN actively participating in those communities in an authentic way is how to get the information and interest flowing.

-Measurement. This is now the world of big data and making sense of everything that can be tracked (because lots can be accurately tracked) is increasingly needed. Analytical skills to evaluate trends, outcomes,  and correctly interpret and apply data are skills that enable communicators to turn data into actionable work and measure return on investment. Also, turning data into visual interpretations for management (charts, graphs, statistics) helps show the impact of your work or where things need to be adjusted.

-Fundraising and organizational outreach. Not a week passes that I am not asked about advice on a crowdfunding initiative. Crowdfunding is not only about raising money, but also raising a profile, creating attention, building mutually beneficial partnerships and gathering an audience for a project that may just be starting. Understanding the needs and motivations of a particular group of people sounds quite psychological and it is. Communicators have always needed to be aware of psychological triggers that cause people to care about the message, but in the online space where one isn’t face to face and many decisions hinge on long earned trust, it takes a different mindset and skillset than writing out a good prospectus or pitch letter.   Continual research and outreach to influencers and organizations helps to build up the long term trust that can enable one to call on help when it is needed, whether it is financial help, spreading the word on a project or collaborating together by submitting material (crowdsourcing) in order to give the project a richer life than one the production could create on their own.

-Constant adaptation. Most of the above skills are a catalog of communication demands that didn’t exist 5-10 years ago. Nothing is constant in life but change, right? You can be sure that as new technology and platforms emerge and information gets even thicker and faster, the ability to learn something that wasn’t around even last year will serve you well. Spend time every day learning, reading, and practicing for improvement. A Google search engine is a wonderful thing and nearly everything can be researched and learned for nearly free online. Failing to understand when the shiny new tool becomes THE necessary tool in the pack could marginalize you. Keep up with the trends and adapt accordingly.

I will be participating in a half day workshop in Los Angeles on May 26, 2012 with The Film Collaborative’s Orly Ravid and Jeffrey Winter. This will be an intensive session filled with tools and strategies you should know regarding building an audience with online tools, utilizing film festivals and how to plan your distribution with particular emphasis on digital distribution. This workshop is for filmmakers who are ready to accept the new challenges of film marketing and distribution and not intended for those only seeking a traditional, all rights scenario. Tickets are more than affordable ($20 for TFC members, $50 for non members) and are on sale now.

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