This post was originally published on The Film Collaborative blog on August 29, 2012
It is a question I was thinking deeply about because I encounter filmmakers and industry players all the time who say that they put up a Facebook page, opened a Twitter account, started a Youtube channel, but the people didn’t come, views didn’t go up and the sales didn’t happen. So what’s the point? It doesn’t work, clearly. I know they opened those accounts because it is “the thing to do” and besides it was free which is totally budget friendly, but just opening up accounts with no time, commitment, team, strategy, budget to maintain and grow them and truly utilize what they are best at is not going to work and I recommend to go ahead and close them. Seriously!
Yes, social media is the newest communication tool (really it isn’t that new, but some still think it is) and Americans in particular spend almost 80% of their time on the internet (30% are online globally), with 22% of their time on social networking sites and 21% of their time in internet searches (there are over a billion search queries on Google every day!). I’m sure you can find another way to communicate with these people though, perhaps visiting door to door or cold calling or throwing obscene amounts of money into advertising all over the place and crossing your fingers (works for Hollywood). You’ve got that kind of time and money, yes? Honestly, start now thinking about what tools you will be using instead.
Once I look at what is being done with these sites, I am hardly surprised that it isn’t working. Most artists do not have a commitment to building up strong ties with an audience, they do not use social tools for “listening” and researching what audiences respond to, they do not post regularly except for “please make it happen for us on Indiegogo,” “Vote for my film on (name some film contest site),” or “my film is now available on iTunes.” Basically the chatter is all “do something for me” which is really tedious to read (I would say every day, but they don’t usually post regularly). For many publicists, this is how the channels are used as well; here’s a press kit, write about my client except that instead of only reaching writers, they are broadcasting to everyone and rarely listening at all.
I wrote some time back about how Facebook wasn’t a good sales medium and I still stand by that post though there have been changes at Facebook that affect showing up in a newsfeed and the use of landing pages. Facebook, of course, would have you believe that it is a good sales tool, after all they have the most to gain from perpetuating that idea in the business community.
If all you are using social media for is sales, STOP. I release you from feeling the burden of using auto tweeting and sending that same message through all of your profiles. No longer should you hire outside companies to do it for you either and pretending to be you. If you have done this, you already know it doesn’t work. Stop paying companies to send 5 prewritten tweets a day about your film to their 60K+ followers. You will not find that it makes much difference if that is the only effort you are making. Stop making inquiries for “some of that social media stuff” so your trailer will “go viral.”
Here is what the tool is very best used for; name/brand recognition, trust and loyalty building, sustained interest, long term sales and that most indescribable feeling of connection that begins to permeate. This is really an emotional space and it is something I would think independent artists would understand, you express ideas and emotions in your own work, right? And you hope to convey that to other people and elicit some kind of emotion from them. I know you don’t usually start from “I’m making a product that’s going to sell” point of view so why do you use social sites that way?
I say indescribable because you can’t point to that one “campaign” that brought your work to someone’s attention, it is an ongoing process that sinks deeper than “a message” or tagline and begins to spread and lasts far longer because little pieces of your thoughts, your connections and projects leave footprints behind online; not just on Twitter and Facebook, but everywhere on the internet globally. Someone who stumbles across your efforts, even years later, can find you and evidence of your work. No ad campaign or newspaper clipping is going to allow for that. Many people point to Twitter streams and Facebook newsfeeds as being fleeting and they are, but you can make more, endlessly. Can you do that for little money with an ad in the Times (pick a city) or a magazine cover story? While you may feel like you reach more people in a short amount of time, there’s a new cover story tomorrow or next month about someone else. There are only so many covers to fill, only so many talk shows to be on, only so much space in the newspaper or magazine for ads. Should you ever use traditional media? Should you ever use advertising? Yes, of course, but now you can have one more tool to use that is available to anyone, anywhere. You can choose to use it or not, but make sure you understand how to use it correctly and commit to doing it, every day. Also come to terms with the fact that if you are choosing not to use it, you are totally dependent on having third parties promote your work. New artists emerge every day and very few companies [and consumers!] are truly committed to anyone.
Without a commitment to developing a community of supporters by using social media, save your time and possibly money and find another tool. You won’t be successful here.
A statement I hear a lot in work requests. Usually the filmmaker wants it to happen tomorrow. First question that pops into my mind is what’s buzz worthy about your film? Does it have a celebrity? A notable name with their own following? Do you as a filmmaker have your own following? Did it just get into a major festival or win one? These are things the press would be interested in for coverage and things that will get people talking. Or do you have a very large budget to partake in saturation marketing (otherwise known as excessive media buys intended to make people think there is a buzz going on and in turn leads to a buzz going on)? There’s no magic pixie dust that can be sprinkled on a project and instantly give it hype.
What does buzz building really mean? Buzz is an intense and short lived public interest in a person, topic or product. It is very rarely the result of a last minute campaign but a well organized and an effort planned well in advance to garner maximum attention around an event. This attention is ideally used to help sell something though there are cases where unplanned viral videos have gained massive interest, were not planned around an event and didn’t sell anything. I realize this is not your goal. Also, whereas Hollywood might do all this buzz building just before releasing a film to the theater, and then do it again (usually to a lesser degree) when it releases to home video, this is probably not the best course of action for your film if you have an extremely limited budget. You need a sustained effort that keeps paying off for a while. A gradual trickle of interest over a sustained length of time rather than a total bombardment and then silence.
Here are a few tips you might think about when trying to build buzz around your film:
1)A publicity stunt-not my favorite but one used by many high profile celebrities. Think Lady Gaga and the meat dress. If you are largely unknown, this will probably mean doing something illegal or close to it for maximum media exposure or something very altruistic if local exposure will do. Plan to glom onto a major holiday and personify it with an action (Easter is coming up!) that will get a photographer interested or find a local charity you can partner with to make a grand gesture. The more you can tie it in to the subject of your film, the more it will benefit your sales.
2)Smaller outlets to larger ones-a good campaign will be a sustained effort. If you have started your promotion efforts from the beginning (don’t get me started), there will be a gradual increase in coverage starting with small community coverage (forums, individual blog sites)usually taking place in the production phase through to coverage on sites that reach a large percentage of your target audience. In order to get repeat coverage, plan to have many different story angles to cover and if given enough notice (and a relationship) many writers will be open to multi story coverage.
3)Buzz is word of mouth-and it needs to be authentic. Barring a budget where you can buy bloggers to write about your film (and what kind of audience do they really have long term?), the best thing you can do is find and connect with influential people who really do love your work. Yes, reviews help and the more influential the writer/publication, the more it helps if they give you a good one. However, try to solicit reviews from sites that understand your film. Since almost all writing is published to the internet, potential audience will come across all kinds of reviews about your film. Be careful about who you invite to review it. Bear in mind, anyone these days is a reviewer, you can’t control what someone writes but you can minimize bad reviews by gauging the right fit.
4)Be ready for the onslaught-I continue to be appalled by filmmakers who want publicity, but don’t even have a website or social media pages set up. Where do you think people will go to find out more info after they hear about you? Yeah, a website and a damn good one. Let’s look professional here. Still this year, there were films who had submitted and were accepted into Sundance who did not have a website up. Seriously? The biggest break your film will probably ever get publicity-wise and you didn’t think about a website? Or you just have a placeholder page? C’mon guys, no more last century thinking. Websites take time to build (good ones do anyway) so get cracking early.
5)Releasing a film is NOT news-unless you are JJ Abrams or some other industry celeb. You actually have to have something or do something newsworthy. Think impact, prominence, timeliness and oddity. If you can think of story angles around these, the more likely you are to be covered.
And finally, “buzz” (or what I like to call awareness) is not built only using one tool and no budget. It is a combination of long term social media commitment, publicity, smart media buys and live events (screenings and speaking opportunities) that all get people talking and then buying.
I am going to take off my publicist’s hat today and put on my writer’s hat instead. You probably know that I write for Microfilmmaker Magazine on a regular basis. Almost every month, I write an article for that publication specific to the microbudget filmmaking world. Microbudget being under $50K in the case of that publication. The type of story pitch to interest me would involved productions that fall under that budget restriction. You know what I dislike? Being sent a press release for a film that doesn’t meet that criteria. It is a total waste of my inbox space, my time to read and it annoys me that the person who sent it did not take an ounce of time to check what types of stories I cover.
You know who is the WORST about spamming me with press releases? Big name publicity firms representing films at festivals. In fact, most of their pitch is “look at all the films we are representing at ___ festival. If you want to talk to any of these people or see their films let us know” and a synopsis of each film. For some publications, the draw of a celebrity name mentioned will lead to coverage. Otherwise, no explanation is given to why a publication should cover the film. THAT is a pitch and obviously more work is involved.
There is a good article on the IndieGoGo blog about pitching media. Mostly it addresses pitching publications to get coverage for your crowdfunding initiative, but the tips they give could be applied to any type of story. If you aren’t hiring a PR firm to arrange publicity for your film, you would do well to check out the IndieGoGo post. Key to attracting coverage? WIIFM (what’s in it for me). The writer will always consider what advantage their publication will receive from covering your story. You should consider it too when you write a pitch letter. If you can’t think of anything, don’t send a generic release. Generic releases are ok to put on wire services. No doubt, article farm sites just pick up releases and publish them verbatim and you get Google rankings on them, but don’t send these to your targeted publications. If you want a feature story written (and you should aim for that), really craft a unique letter that tells the writer or publication why you think your story merits coverage and how it fits into their audience interests.
We could all do with a little less noise and spam in the world. When you send generic eblast press releases, it might look like you are accomplishing something, but really you are just adding to overcrowded world of spam. Practice providing value in all the work that you do and for all the people you encounter. The results will be far better.
PS: I want to add that festivals always ask journalists during the press credential application to list what kinds of stories they will be covering. It would be super awesome if festivals included that information on the press list circulated to the publicists so that spammy mass mailings don’t happen.
Whatever subject matter and themes you are tackling in your film, chances are pretty good there are prominent (and not so prominent) bloggers already writing about these topics and targeting folks who will care about your film.
Unlike the traditional mainstream press, you don’t need an expensive publicist to reach them….just find their contact info on their blogs and reach out directly with a nice personal note that includes your synopsis, your web links, and your offer to send them a screener or trailer if they want one. None of this is brain surgery. Within a few days of google research you should be able to identify most of the major players in your niche.
Theme and topic aside, there are also of course many bloggers out there just writing about quality independent film, so remember to reach out to those folks as well.
One additional hint — find a way to INCENTIVIZE the blogger to write about your film! A contest to give away a way a few free DVDS of your film is often the best. It gives the blogger a prize to offer his or her readers and gets you the free viral press you need!
I have been asked many times if I am planning to write a book about my knowledge of social networking and independent film marketing in today’s distribution landscape. I think that book has been written already and that’s why I work to support it. Since I hammer home the idea of starting this marketing process as early in production as possible, I thought I would make a little checklist of things you should remember when organizing your marketing plan. The list is primarily targeted toward new PMD’s or filmmakers handling their own marketing. The checklist is to be followed AFTER you have identified your target audience. The timeframes are rough estimates for completion.
Pre-Production (two-four week timeframe)
-Breakdown script for publicity shot opportunities on set-source a photographer and set schedule for those days
-Draft a synopsis – paragraph, 3 lines and one line versions for festival submissions, website/social media sites, media inclusions
-Brainstorm creative ideas for film branding, partner with graphic designer and manage production of all branded media/materials
-Set up IMDB and production listings management
-Publicity – draft early press release to the trades announcing principal photography
-Start research and outreach (if haven’t already) to “influencers,” bloggers, and grassroots organizations
-If interested in product placement/branded entertainment opportunities, pitch these to companies, also ask for cross promotion
-Start the process of website development for the film’s official site-source a web designer and flesh out all elements to be included
-Choose email database program to maintain a fan contact list
-Think about any additional media (some call it transmedia) that could be created for additional interest/revenue streams
Production (six week timeframe)
-Write content for website and digital press kit
-Key art and one-sheet creation
-Design website and manage website design firm
-Publicity – coordinate with local press for coverage on the set
-Create digital press kit -trailer plus content for the website including hi-res downloadable/reproducible key art and publicity stills used for traditional press, bloggers, organizations, social networking sites, festivals and future distributors
-EPK/stills photography shoot with actors/producers on set for use as content on website, social networks, on the DVD, media coverage
-Start researching appropriate festivals
-Complete and launch website
-Set up social networking sites-these will need continuous maintenance and responses to feedback from fans
-Set up and start utilizing Director’s/Production blog of what is happening on set, respond quickly to questions and feedback
-Keep influencers, organizations and bloggers updated with regard to the film
-Set up Google Alerts, or other clipping services like Metro Monitor or Burrelles Luce, and respond in comments to anyone who mentions your film
-Set up Twitter alerts, columns in TweetDeck etc. to monitor conversations about your film and respond to them
Post Production (five to seven week timeframe)
-Choose final publicity stills from the library of photos taken, mix of scene shots and a few behind the scenes
-Edit EPK. Multiple clips needed for various online media and website/social networking sites as well as DVD content
-Edit the most gripping trailer anyone has ever seen. Put it everywhere
-Finalize one-sheet layout. Print the sheets, business cards, postcards
-Update IMDB/productions listings with photos, content
-Submit applications to festivals
-Complete website and launch
-Set up digital press kit on a site such as drop.io-you will continually add clippings as they come in
-Coordinate test screenings if applicable
-Identify possible affiliates for DVD sales if doing this through your own site
-Continue to monitor online conversations about your film and media write ups. Respond appropriately
-Prepare press release copy for festival acceptances, this can be altered as needed
-Set up database, or access previous one, of all publications and editors to contact for press opportunities