Hold on there partner, the question you really need to answer is what is my marketing and distribution plan? Why? Because publicity is only one aspect of the release of your film and it needs to be coordinated with all of your other marketing efforts and most importantly with the distribution of the film. If you don’t have a clue when or how the film will be distributed, hold off and figure that out first.
In the old days, say 5 years ago, either you were going to premiere your film at a festival and you might be hiring a publicist for that if it was a major media kind of festival (Sundance, Berlin, Cannes etc.) OR you were going to wait for a distribution offer and the distributor would figure out the marketing and publicity for you on their own timeline. The publicity out of festivals did aid in getting the distribution deal and it still does, but if you didn’t get in, you would be waiting. And if you have no direct distribution plan, you still will be waiting.
Now that we have access to the reading/listening public on our own either through our own efforts (our blog, Youtube, Facebook, Twitter etc.) or to journalists that we can reach without a publicist’s help (this doesn’t mean you shouldn’t hire one, it just means you don’t absolutely have to have one), we can get started reaching a fanbase very early in production. Publicity is a means to an end though, you use it to get your film seen and to make revenue. If you have no plan in place that will result in those 2 things (eyeballs and revenue), you are kind of shouting into the wind, right? A few press hits and it all dies down, which in the long run doesn’t give you the results you want.
So, after you have a definite marketing and distribution plan in place, taking into consideration your personal goals and the distinct audience target you will be going after…
A publicist should be hired:
-When you are premiering at a festival with SIGNIFICANT media coverage. If it is just a regional festival (ie. not one of the big 6), you can take care of the publicity on your own. Also note that hiring a publicist for a big festival debut could run between $5-$10K (excluding travel). Prices vary according to negotiation.
-When you are premiering your film yourself and have the theatrical release locked down. Newspapers in particular like to write about films that aren’t just playing once, they want to know there is going to be a traditional kind of theatrical release (playing in major cities for at least a week run). It is exceedingly difficult to get coverage beyond the local paper of the city where your film will be premiering if you don’t have subsequent screenings locked down. I am starting to see some publications run coverage for day and date, but it is not policy for many traditional reviewers. For a top notch publicity firm to handle the whole release of an indie, budget between $30-$50K. Again, prices vary according to negotiation.
-When your distributor has planned for your release. Usually the distributor hires this person and coordinates the release of this title (often along with other titles in their release slate). They will front the money to pay for this expense, but ultimately it comes out (with fees) of any revenue the film sees.
Part of your job before hiring a publicist is creating your own press kit which includes all the pertinent details about the film, your high quality, professionally produced publicity stills (these make a huge difference so don’t skimp here) and a solid trailer. She will use this kit in her media pitches and press releases. You should also have a good sense of what the story angles for the film will be. The fact that you made a film is NOT a story angle. Acceptance into a major festival is a given story angle. Are there notable people attached to the film? Was it shot/created in a unique way? Are you distributing it in a unique way? Really think through what a journalist might find interesting to write about for their readers. The publicist will come up with some on her own based on what she knows her contacts would be interested in, but it helps to know some of this yourself when you are inquiring about publicity help.
As I said before, publicity is only one tool you will be using in the release of your film. You will also use some advertising, embedding in social media communities, and grassroots/partnership outreach to interested organizations and influencers. The most successful films to rise above the constant barrage of noise in today’s media landscape use a multipronged approach.
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