Preparing to contact your niche

May 21, 2012
posted by sheric

When preparing to directly contact your niche, it is imperative that you know more than a little bit about them. I usually tell filmmakers that it will be easier and work faster if they are already embedded in the community of the niche audience because the trust factor will already be there. You won’t be a stranger coming out of nowhere spamming an established group because you are already a member of that group.

If you don’t have this kind of trust built up, you would be better off to hire or work through someone who does have this trust. In this instance, I am not solely talking about hiring “agencies” as they usually do not have a trust factor built up either. A spammer is a spammer whether you do it yourself or whether you hire someone else to do it. Ideally when contact is made, it is done through mutual respect and a genuine sense that what you have to say is going to be something they absolutely want to know about. We all start as strangers at first meeting until we work out whether there is a common interest that will continue to bring us together. This recognition and trust takes time to build so you can’t wait to do this at the moment when you have something to sell; the moment when you need “butts in seats.” Start early, at least 6-8 months before you want them to take action.

In the case of the Joffrey project, I am not embedded in the ballet community any longer, but I did study the art for 16 years. I felt like I had a handle on what that community cares about and I also have a love for the subject covered in the film. Those attributes have helped me make a credible connection to the audience even though I am no longer a dancer. As I said in the last post, I also read and researched further on the subject to gain the knowledge I would need to speak to this audience directly.

I also knew from past experience that when I started the outreach, people who were interested would want to know when they could see the film. Here is where I reshape my earlier statements on building audience at script stage. I think at script stage you do need to have a very clear audience identified and know how you will reach them, what tools you will use, what delivery method is going to work best for this audience and a budget to accomplish this, but until you can give a fairly definite date that the film will be ready for viewing, hold off on the direct outreach until you have a premiere date. This doesn’t mean that you won’t have a website. I think everyone should have one from the production company to the writer, the director, the cinematographer…everyone benefits from having their own place on the internet from which to reach an audience for their art, no matter what that art is. But you won’t see a lot of momentum with an audience for your film if your project is very far from being released or its release date is completely unclear. Ideally, you will know when that date will be around 6-8 months from release.

For us, we only had 4 months before premiere so everything was developed at warp speed! We set about getting a website designed, key art developed and a trailer edited ASAP. Why? When starting to contact people directly, you need something to show them. Something that proves the project is real and information can be found about it online.  Part of my work involved considering website navigation and the kind of functionality I wanted the site to have from the “pull” perspective. Instead of pushing our messages out, we hoped to PULL people back to the site again and again and that means keeping a constant flow of new material there. We also needed an identity for the film, the image that would be instantly recognizable as our film. This is the key artwork. But it takes a while to get just the right look and we couldn’t postpone the launch of the website. We were literally starting with NOTHING, but the film. We needed a compelling trailer and I needed a link to a website to show the alumni I was contacting, otherwise it just wouldn’t look like a “real” project, something about to premiere.  We decided on some temporary art design and launched a blog platform as soon as possible and I had to start coming up with content for it.

The initial website and trailer came together within about 3 weeks and I started contacting alumni to tell them about the film. I sent them a link to the initial trailer and told them about what we had planned for the world premiere.  That was it initially, no call to action, just information. Some responded immediately, some took a little while, some never came back at all. It isn’t worth spending time to continually contact those who don’t respond, they have shown you their interest by the lack of response and sometimes it will take a word from someone close to them that they trust in order to see a response. Concentrate on the ones who do respond. Same philosophy when you are contacting organizations who don’t know you; concentrate on the most enthusiastic and they can help you reach the ones who didn’t respond. The more I talked to alumni, the more I got referrals to other alumni. The contact list expanded. Once they had responded favorably, I invited them to join our mailing list and social channels so that they could be kept informed of the film’s progress and how to attend the premiere.

Remember, once you start down this path, you are forming a relationship with these people and that is a heavy responsibility. Great rewards can come from it, but they should not be viewed as disposable. That is probably the biggest misconception about this work. Audience building is relationship building and it is delicate work, not something to be turned over to heavy handed agencies or temporary interns, both largely see everything as disposable. Once you are touching people directly, it changes the whole dynamic of what audience awareness means. It used to mean faceless entities who reached an audience through a medium. You didn’t know them really and they didn’t know you really. Now, we can be in much more intimate contact and it can last much longer than just one “campaign.” This is a good thing for a filmmaker who plans to make more than one film in her career and who has limited means to reach an audience.

Next post: using social channels and content marketing to keep up the audience attention

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