At the heart of word of mouth marketing is the audience’s willingness, even excitement, to share your work. The problem with relying on that as your main marketing (or sole marketing) tool is your work really has to be remarkable, as in worth remarking on. Or you have to create or curate a bunch of online content that will make them want to share it. The problem with the lionshare of indie films is they just aren’t that remarkable and word of mouth will never work as the sole marketing tool for those films.
Doing “grassroots outreach” with a trailer that is sub par is not going to work.
Putting behind the scenes video clips that aren’t funny or don’t feature notable actors or crew that have a following willing to share it is not going to work.
Getting an aggregator to put your film on every well trafficked digital platform and expect that it will sell itself is not going to work.
Making every post on social media only about your film is not going to work. Word of mouth does not mean only you talking about yourself. If no one else is amplifying for your film, especially if it has been seen at a festival or it has made a few sales on digital platforms, there’s a problem with the film that no marketing is going to fix. Either commit to fixing the film or move on to another project.
But let’s say that your film isn’t yet available, though you have been populating social channels regularly with, ideally, content that your audience should find valuable to their lives (it is informative, entertaining, thought provoking, evokes emotion etc) and they still don’t respond….this video explains why populating your own social media channels cannot be your only tool for marketing. Maybe your audience is made up of social media lurkers. People who listen, but do not respond or share. Lurkers make up the vast majority of the internet. Just because they don’t share doesn’t mean they aren’t being influenced by what you and others share. And sometimes those influences come from many places that aren’t social media, like traditional publicity, advertising, festivals and events, and search engines. If links to your work show up in many places online (not just the ones you put there), it helps in your search ranking and it helps reinforce that your work is something to pay attention to. It is all of these tools working together that provide a tipping point to sales.
If you think social media will do the job all by itself, you probably need to give more thought to your marketing strategy.
Here’s more about how to set up a cycle of influence that could lead to better WOM and sales.
Ever wonder how those big budget film trailers explode onto the internet with millions of views seemingly in hours? Is it really because the trailer is spectacular and everyone happens to be talking about it or is there something else at work?
I recently contacted Erick Brownstein of Media Needle who offer video seeding via their partner company, YTM, to find out more about how these types of services work. You may think that videos simply “go viral” on Youtube, that compelling content just attracts viewers who then happily share it. But with over 72 hours of video uploaded to Youtube EVERY MINUTE, it is highly unlikely that your video is going attract significant organic views with no help whatsoever. Every major film studio and most big brands use these seeding services to provide a high volume of views for their video campaigns for trailers and branded content.
The way YTM works is essentially via an advertising network that is connected to around 5000 premium, highly trafficked websites with advertising spaces to sell. You tell YTM what audience or category you are targeting, and they use a proprietary system called ViewIQ to calculate about how many views you could get in a short space of time that may catapult you into trending topics (more on that in a minute). While a minimum number of views is guaranteed, your video “ad” will also benefit from organic views (those aren’t subject to additional charges) simply by being prominently featured on these sites. They also optimize the keywords in your video’s description for search engines so it will be highly placed in organic internet searches.
One thing that YTM has perfected is the ability not only to guarantee a minimum number of views, but to work within the algorithm that calculates a Youtube trending video. Videos that make it into trending topics, which are featured on the homepage of Youtube, attract the attention of nearly 15 million additional viewers looking for what’s hot on the site. Part of Youtube’s algorithm that chooses which videos to highlight takes into account a short time frame from first upload and the variety and legitimacy of the source of the viewing traffic. It then determines a “what’s hot” list. Videos on this list usually only enjoy a 2-4 day run before they are pushed off by other new videos, though hot videos can enjoy a long run at the top of Google search pages. However, there is no guarantee that your video will make it onto this list. It really depends on what other videos you are competing with at the time.
In other words, the seeding gets your video noticed and then organic views take over after that which can boost your view count into the millions.
Your video content is embedded with a unique code that keeps track of the number of views and where the traffic came from. This is via a proprietary system called ShareIQ. The video is then distributed to the existing network websites, targeted to the campaign’s specifications based on geography/demographics/interest of the audience you are trying to reach. The campaign is 100% viewer initiated click, meaning one can’t just scroll over the video and it counts as a view nor does the video play automatically on a loop. The wider those audience specifications are, the more economical the price per view. The narrower the specifications, the more expensive the price per view. Views are calculated by the amount of time watched because Youtube policy dictates that a view is counted only after 15-20% of the video has played.
Now the nitty gritty, cost. YTM charges $.10-$.15 per view. In order to reach trending topics to get the organic view “kick” that really propels your video into the “viral” territory, it would cost about $50,000 (500,000 views x $.10 per view) for a campaign reaching a relatively wide audience in a short space of time. Campaigns that spend over $50,000 also benefit from additional blogger outreach by the YTM team, meaning they not only place your video on their network of sites, but they also pitch bloggers to write articles about it. You have probably read these articles on many entertainment sites about how such and such trailer for a movie is “viral” and these are the result of having a seeded campaign. There is definitely a PR benefit to having your video in the trending video list.
For a campaign more interested in reaching a highly specific audience, the cost per view is more because you are decreasing the amount of sites the video will be placed upon in order to reach a certain viewing goal. My guess is YTM makes most of its money in reaching high volume sites with general audiences that easily reach say, 500k views. If your campaign is so restrictive in its focus that it will only be applicable to say 50 sites in its network, there won’t be much margin in only charging $.10 per view since you may only hit 30,000 views so they charge a higher price per view. But let’s face it, hitting 30,000 views is not newsworthy and it won’t get your video to cut through the noise that is Youtube and its trending videos list. You could probably reach 30K through your own efforts so a video seeding service may not even be right for your work if you are satisfied with reaching this level of view count.
Having compelling content naturally attracts a potential viewer to click on your video and pass it around. Ideal length for these videos is between 2-3 minutes. Campaigns that received the biggest amount of traffic usually reach people emotionally, either through humor or compassion. Some of YTMs examples are
This one for the 20th Century Fox film Planet of the Apes-current view count 25,367,423
This one for travel company Expedia and their Find Yours campaign- current view count 2,295,966
This one for children’s animation film Dino Time-current view count 794,084
Now, I know what you are thinking…online tools were supposed to provide a FREE way to reach mass, global audiences! While it is theoretically possible to reach a mass audience for free, more often payment is needed to rise above all the others who also believe they can reach out for free. Payment also tends to expedite the process. Video seeding is not something they talk about in the Youtube Creator Playbook though, is it?
Whether you are trying to attract “buzz” for your film’s premiere (and make a big distribution deal, say at a festival like Sundance), get more people to watch your webseries or transmedia project, or sell more cinema tickets, you might want to build some significant video seeding money into your budget. It is still cheaper than TV spots and with the ability to place well in search results, it may be a smarter and longer lasting advertising spend.
To find out more on how Media Needle and YTM can help you, contact Erick Brownstein Erick@medianeedle.com
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.
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.
My friend and founder of Techdirt and Floor64, Mike Masnick, has started a new venture called Step 2, a community brainstorming platform for asking about, suggesting, creating, and building models for success meant to be a place for sharing ideas, knowledge and real results of experiments from artists in the digital landscape. According to their website, “it’s not just about the ‘business’ model, but the overall ‘success’ model. How do you create that connection with the marketplace? How do you offer something worth buying? Step2 is here to help.”
I’m really proud and inspired by what he is trying to do with this. Rather than spending time focusing on what went wrong, more legislation, tighter controls, and whining, Mike and his team want to show and hear about what is going right, what experiments are happening and their outcomes (good and bad), and provide a forum where questions can be asked, ideas can be shared, and knowledge based on fact (instead of speculation and theory) can be found.
In order to spur the conversation, Step 2 is running a contest for the next 15 days for a chance to win $1,000 ($10,000 to be given away total). Here is what they are looking for according to Techdirt:
We’re looking for case studies from content creators in music, movies, books and video games and will award $1,000 to each of the top two vote getters who qualify in each of those categories. Separately, we’re also looking for fan case studies of how artists in any of those fields connected with you. Again, the top two vote getters will get $1,000 each.
The kinds of case studies we’d love to see:
- Done an interesting/different/unique promotion? Tell us about it and share the results in as much detail as possible
- Tried an email marketing campaign? What worked and what didn’t? Any key metrics?
- Attempted crowdfunding? How did you set the rewards? What did people like/not like?
- Used new or different platforms or technologies? What kind of results did you see? What could be improved?
- Attempted something different — like a house concert tour? ebook-only release? letting fans take part? releasing unfinished works? What worked, what didn’t, what did you learn?
- Experimented with “name your own price?” How did it work? What prices worked well? What efforts did you make to trigger certain price points?
- Set up a tiered pricing model? How did you choose the tiers? What worked? What did you learn?
- How are you connecting with fans? Facebook, Twitter, Podcasts? Google Plus? What works, what doesn’t? What really seems to energize fans? What doesn’t? Any empirical data that shows how your fans reacted?
- Surprise us!
If you’re a content creator in any of the qualifying categories, please consider taking part. Some creators are always afraid to share too many details of their “secret sauce,” but many who have done so have found that the transparency itself leads to greater connection with fans and — perhaps more importantly — getting detailed info out there will help inspire others to do cool things too. Step2 is about learning and helping each other succeed in a rapidly changing world.
We are thinking about submitting a case study on Selling Your Film Without Selling Your Soul, if for no other reason but to share what we’ve learned through self publishing, sponsorship, giving away free copies etc. Of course, we won’t turn down an additional grand!
Even if you don’t submit, keep an eye on the site and add to the discussions. I would like to see people who have constructive things to say contribute, but there is quite a lot of fear in the film community and the most fearful are unfortunately the ones who just want to criticize and ridicule with comments on these sites. Prove me wrong, guys.
A Seth Godin-ism that I recently heard on the radioLitopia site in an interview on the new face of publishing. In Seth’s view, this isn’t a bad thing, it just means roles will be redefined, responsibilities will be greater on creators (authors, musicians, filmmakers, artists in general). Nothing you haven’t been hearing me say to you for a while now. You can of course listen to the whole 30 minute interview, or you can just read these highlights I pulled out. Though he is talking about book publishing, there are many parallels with film.
-The internet has expanded the amount of content created and consumed, but it destroyed the industry In his view, we won’t create and consume less, but for the bureaucratic and scarcity driven business models that once dominated the industry, the end is near. He even recounted conversations he has had in boardrooms of publishing houses where management seems content that they will retire long before the new models are figured out. WHAT?? He thinks publishers (and I will add distributors) are woefully unprepared for their new role as connector, curator and partner to creators. Few have invested in the platforms and dialogs with consumers that will drive the new economy.
-Don’t fear price, fear clutter He sees a divide in pricing structures for books and I can see it for films as well. As more and more titles flood the market, the price you can charge becomes directly related to how similar your story is to others and how much of a following you have as an artist. Recent ebook success stories from authors Joe Konrath and Amanda Hocking show the pricing divide. While you may not have heard of either of these authors, they are cranking the $.99 ebook to six figure incomes. Higher paid authors and higher priced books come from only the very tippy top of the traditional publishing world as does comparable filmmakers and studio films. The more similar the films you are making to others already in existence, the more difficulty you will have making money. Are you telling stories anyone could tell? If so, you’d better make them cheaply because the value to the consumer is low, maybe worthless.
-The film is just the center of a conversation He said a book here, but you get what I mean. The fans need a work to be the short hand for a group of like minded people, the “in” people, the cool people. Enable your work to become the entry point to a larger conversation with you and among others. If one hasn’t seen the movie (read the book), one can’t easily join the conversation. In this way, your work spreads.
He also touched on the need for publishers to adopt a whole new way of looking at their client relationships. If an author/creator has built their own audience, created a sense of loyalty, sourced a means of distribution directly and tells one of a kind stories, what do they need a third party (publisher, distributor) for? In order to sustain and remain relevant, publishers/distributors should also be in direct contact with an interest driven audience that can be serviced by partnerships with author/creators rather than staying focused on the retail market relationship. In other words, instead of insisting authors/creators use social media to building audience relationships, they should try doing more of it themselves.
“Keeping up with a blog can be a pain in the a**.” I hear this all the time from my clients who would like me to take over this job for them. I hear ya buddy. I have trouble keeping up with my own when I have an abundance of work to do for other people. So, this is my attempt to get back to posting even though I am neck deep in promoting the LA Shorts Fest. It is a long post.
If you are a filmmaker taking part in this festival (or any film festival for that matter), you may be wondering what is the point of putting your film in a festival. It is an expense, especially if you are traveling to attend, and it doesn’t seem like you are getting much in return. If you have read my other posts, you will know that this expense should have been part of your marketing budget.
Some time ago, filmmakers used film festivals to build anticipation for a theatrical run or for a DVD release, collecting “Official Selection” accolades and “Winner” awards along the way. Film festivals served to elevate work worthy of special attention and, hopefully, attract sales agents’ and distributors’ interest. Making a sale moved the work from artistic expression into paying commercial dividends.
Today, that rarely happens to a festival film, especially a low budget one with no recognizable talent attached. With the closing of several high profile indie distribution companies and the scarcity of securing a lucrative deal with the remaining ones, film festivals often provide the only theatrical run a film might see. They serve as a platform release mechanism without the filmmaker making the investment of securing a theatrical screen for the minimum amount of time required by the cinema (often $1K-$4K per screening for a minimum one week run!).
The cost and time spent submitting the film, preparing and distributing promotional materials, duplication of prints in the required format and shipping them, travel and expenses add up. But does it equal or exceed the cost of only one screening in a local cineplex? How many people will be viewing your film if you ran it alone in a cinema rather than running it in tandem with similar films in a festival program? Plus you have the marketing might of the festival running print and radio advertising, garnering online and traditional media attention , gathering sponsors etc. to help attract the audiences. Granted, they are not focused only on your film, but you can get proactive and turn some of that spotlight on your project by contacting the media outlets yourself and offering interviews and publicity materials for them to use. That will only cost your time or the time of a consultant handling it for you.
Festivals also serve as a networking event, a chance to meet writers, directors, producers and actors useful for future collaboration and possibly industry executives involved in roundtable discussions or informal chats. Business cards are a must if you want to be taken seriously as a professional. Parties and receptions are not just a time to let loose and have fun. Work the room and meet as many people as you can. You never know who might come in handy in the future for projects.
Utilize the festival’s social media outlets as well as your own. I have been encouraging the filmmakers involved in LA Shorts to do this, but so far only a handful are taking advantage. Maybe it is because marketing is not on the forefront of their mind when it comes to their film. It should be. Actively seek out people in the communities where your film is screening. It will take a bit of online research on Facebook, Twitter etc. to find these people, but reach out to them and let them know about your film and when and where it is screening. Many online search tools are great for finding your target audience in a certain locale.
You must have a trailer or a clip to showcase. It is not a requirement, but a strong suggestion. I don’t care if your film is only two minutes long, have a 10 second clip that you can spread around the internet. If your film is two minutes long, do not load it in its entirety on the internet while you are on the festival circuit. What is the point of screening it in a festival if audiences can see it for free on the internet? Plus, nomination requirements for certain awards (like the Oscars) forbid you to make your entire film viewable on the internet.
While I am doing my best to pass along publicity opportunities to all of the participants, do not count on this happening at other festivals. They just don’t have the resources and energy to do this. Bigger festivals offer a press room journalists covering the event will stop into and pick up media kits prepared by the filmmaker. Don’t go crazy on the expenses of this activity. For the most part, these fancy folders go in the trash. Contacting local journalists and bloggers covering the festival directly will better attract their attention than your creatively designed press kit.
Be sure to include your film’s website address and contact information in all of your promotional materials. This is especially important if you are self distributing or attempting a hybrid distribution approach. Sales from your website are likely your only method of making money from your festival exposure. If the festival will let you sell physical DVD’s on site at your screenings, use the opportunity and bring plenty to sell. Ask the organizers if this is possible though, don’t just assume it. Perhaps you can offer special pricing to festival attendees or reduced pricing codes for buying off of your website.
Since filmmakers do not have a say on when their screenings will occur during the festival, a midday screening on a weekday will need more of your promotional effort attention than a screening at night, or on opening night. Think of what incentives you can offer to audiences who attend your screenings. When devising your budget from the start, factor in this expense. It will inevitably happen.
If you are asked to participate in Q&A opportunities, panel or roundtable discussions or to introduce a film block, do it. Exposure for yourself as well as your film will help solidify your position in the filmmaking community and sharpen your public speaking skills (always useful for pitches!).