domingo, 22 de marzo de 2009

Self-Promotion – The Winning Strategy

Times have been tough, and they’re getting tougher. Local film has been taking a beating since about 1999 – and that decade-long slump is threatening to continue, thanks to the machinations of Wall Street. Many people in our local film community are wondering where it’s going to end. But industry is still spending money, even if our friends and neighbors aren’t, and that’s where our paychecks come from: industry.

Recently, a small newspaper publisher mentioned to me that he wasn’t getting press releases from our advertisers, so I suggested that he take a whack at some sound advice for all you folks hard-hit by the local economic downturn.

I know it’s tough out there – I’m experiencing it myself. But the truth is that if we wanted security, we’d have gone to work for some big corporation, like Enron or WorldCom.

Ok, that’s a joke, but I’ll give you some serious advice – advice that could bring your bottom line up a bit in the coming months. One thing before we start, though. As my Granddaddy always told me, “Son, to make any money, you got to spend a little money.” So if you’re willing to take some advice and spend a bit of money, you should be able to change the story by using good promotional techniques.

I know, I know, everyone’s wyngeing about the lack of business. I’ve been in business for more years than I care to admit, and here’s what I learned long ago: when everyone else tightens their ad budgets, that’s the time to spend a bit more. Advertising, marketing and public relations are all numbers games. A certain amount of money will bring in a certain number of customers. When things get tough, companies X and Y will cut back – meaning that your ads won’t have to fight for attention in the market. So at that moment, if you push a little harder, you’re bound to catch the customers that your competitors have let slip by cutting their budgets.

I also learned that it’s all about the story. The difference between a good campaign and a lousy campaign is that the good campaign tells a great story – and it usually tells it very well. And that is what brings success: telling the story well. You can do the same, if you follow my advice.

You have something special, something that no one else is offering. Even if there are three other houses in town providing the exact same merchandise or service as yours, you can still offer something unique. Perhaps you’re willing to travel out to the set to make sure that everything runs smoothly, or perhaps you can offer certain discounts that the other houses don’t.

So figure out where you excel and what you offer that’s unique – not just different, but actually unique – then tell that story. And you tell that story by publicizing it… by email, direct mail, word-of-mouth, and by press releases.

Press Releases Get You Published
Have something to say – it’s got to be news. If you don’t have news about your company, then create some: offer a free workshop or seminar, or call for donations for a local charity to be dropped of at your business (and offer to match the donations dollar for dollar).

Keep your press release to one page. Some people send out releases that are three to five pages long – these releases probably never get read (unless they come from the Oscars or from some public official). If the story can’t be told to an editor on one page, it’s too complicated.

Always date your releases. Editors want to know that the story you give them is timely, so put a date on it.

Always include correct contact information. Include the name and phone number of a contact person, making sure it is clearly visible at the top of the release. And choose someone who can speak to the editor and who knows the story – not everyone can speak easily about it to the press.

Send to business publications. If you have an interesting story and an off-beat angle, send your release to local or national business publications. You never know when an editor will pick your story up and assign a writer to cover you. Good ideas: your local Business Times

I recommend having a pro write your releases for you – the difference will be in the acceptance rate. Amateurs tend to be ignored, while pros get published again and again. Find one to help you, and you’ll be glad you did.

Direct Mail Reaches Your Target Audience
Use your resources. You have the Reel Directory – use it! Doug and Lynetta offer very inexpensive lists of their clients, so you can pick up a list of pre-made labels, put them on an announcement postcard, and for a couple of hundred bucks you’ll reach a good-sized segment of the local market.

To reach outside the colleagues you know, you can do a little digging – using the Book of Lists. In the BOL you will find lists of contacts for companies that might need your services. BOL is available from your local Business Times. Some other ways to use Direct Mail are discussed below.

Word-of-Mouth Keeps Your Name Alive
Promote with your steady customers. You can always offer a little something to your regulars – they will like feeling appreciated, and you can get them talking to others about you. Useful office items (that stay visible on desks) are a great way to say ‘thanks.’ There are a number of promotional-product houses here and in Los Angeles, and you can find all kinds of useful and attractive items that will keep your name in play: business-card holders or wallets, letter openers, calendars.

Use unexpected resources. Got a great service? Why not tell some folks who can do you some good? Have you contacted the concierges in town? Let them know that you appreciate their interest – by offering a small commission on any work they send your way. Call them and have a frank discussion, then prepare some special cards and deliver them by hand. You’ll get to meet your newest advertising agent, shake his or her hand, and drop off the cards that could bring you business from the next production that comes to town.

Meet new contacts. There are a number of regular groups that have monthly meetings around the Bay Area. You can find them by asking a publicity professional, and then prepare a short talk to catch the attention of potential new clients. If your service is primarily for the film community, then you will want to meet people in film groups. If your service or product is more for the regular business community, then you have ways to reach out into those groups. Get some advice on how to move out into the target audience you need, and then create a strategy to show them your best side. You might write a short article (only one or two pages) on how best to use the kind of service you offer; or, you might want to give a short speech to the membership on that same topic (or blend this strategy with the one below).

Email Builds Momentum
Give good advice. People like to do business with folks they trust, with people who they know care about them and their business – especially their problems. So why not start a regular email newsletter that offers good advice or tips in your field? You could develop a set of ‘Tip Sheets’ on various tough problems, each giving a great solution that a local filmmaker needs to know. I have a file of useful data that I’ve gleaned through the years, and any or all of it can be made into tip sheets: how to ship raw stock safely, how to ship exposed film safely, how to protect gear in wet or cold weather, and how to work safely with animals, firearms, heavy machinery, speeding cars, boats, planes. Do not plagiarize, however – it doesn’t take much effort to write your own material (or to hire a good writer to do it for you).

DON’T SPAM. This is key: anyone included in your list must give you permission to email them, or you’ll create bad feelings. But professionals are always looking for better advice and new knowledge, so you shouldn’t have any trouble finding ‘subscribers’ to your newsletter. You can use your existing email database, building on it with additions from online references, from a drawing of customer business cards (winner: 15% off next order), or through any of several local professional associations.

Diversify your program. Your email campaign can be easily tied in with any – or all – of the techniques above. For instance, you might build Word-of-Mouth by offering a stack of Tip Sheets on your counter for customers to take back to their offices, or as ‘takeaway’ material at meetings or events around town. You can have each of your Tip Sheets printed on a single sheet, front and back, with your company name and phone number on it. Making them 8.5 x 11 (and formatted to that they can be punched for a binder) will make them more likely to be saved and used. Including an after-hours emergency number (or a box where you can write it in for particular customers) is a great way to develop that special ‘client relationship’ that will keep them coming back. Tip sheets can also be used as Direct Mail pieces, as a ‘takeaway’ when you you prospect at meetings, or as an additional item in the envelope when you make an offer of a new service or a special discount.

Or, you might use the Tip Sheet as the basis for an article like this one, offering it in the context of a Press Release to local trade papers or other related publications. Editors are always looking for material that will be of value and interesting to their readers, and having a publication’s audience note that you’re offering free advice will do much to keep your name recognition high.

So, there you have it – some quick and easy fixes for that woeful lack of publicity and public relations that’s been dragging down your bottom line. None of this advice is going to increase your revenues 20-30 % – very little can do that. But no one ever lost business by a concerted effort to put the company name out into the community so that people see it in the best possible light. You can find a writer to craft Tips Sheets or other newsletter items for you for a few hundred dollars, and an intern from a local school could manage your lists and delivery. Added to your budgeted advertising efforts, a small PR campaign could do your business a world of good.

David Hakim is an assistant director, producer, and publicity expert who developed campaigns for every major Hollywood studio and handled publicity for the Motion Picture Academy. Find him in the Reel Directory online:

All material copyright 2008 David Hakim and may not be duplicated - ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.

Going All the Way: Plan Early to Promote & Market Your Project

Meeting with a prospective client about promotion of a feature film, I was shocked to learn that there was no key art – and that the film wrapped the previous summer without a single publicity photo being taken. In a great articlea couple of years ago, Ken Karn listed the deliverables necessary to sell a film to a distributor – without those materials, you might wind up owing the distributor money.

What is the lesson of these two anecdotes? For successful film or video promotion, you must start early. The minute you have principals attached, start building your promotional materials. To avoid problems later, develop your list of materials before you start shooting, so you’ll have time and money available to complete them.

How do you know what to put on that list? You could start by searching online for press materials, media kits, and other promotional material from your favorite films. Every studio movie has its own website these days, so you can glean clues there. You can also call a friend who has done it before – or someone who teaches at a local school. You can pick up materials from other filmmakers at the next festival you attend. By putting in a bit of sweat equity, you’ll get great rewards later.

Your materials should stay consistent during the life of your project, so choose paper and ink colors early and avoid changing them. Hire a graphic artist (or art student) to help you match the ‘look’ of your materials to your film’s genre and theme. Use red/white/black, for instance, for a shocker or horror film (creepy monster: toxic green). For a military story, khaki/tan/green suggest the army or marines, and blue/grey suggest the navy (air force: sea-green/blue).

Your Media Kit
Every successful project uses a Media Kit. Your needs will change, and the following elements are the building blocks and template for all kits: investor’s or distributor’s kits, press kits, EPKs (electronic press kits). Fit each item to a single page, with logo and contact information. Add longer Feature material later.

Some elements will change, depending on use, but the basics are: Title, Tagline, Logo, Company Background, Story Synopsis (one page), Photos, Bios (Writer, Director, Producers, Actors, DP, Production Designer), Crewlist, and Features (including Production Notes, Historical Data, and other items of interest).

The Title
Determine your film’s title early; use it consistently – make it short and catchy, giving clues about the film. Adding your tagline creates a full picture for the audience. Consider how some titles relate to action and theme:
Saving Private Ryan
The End of the Affair
To Have and To Have Not
The Jagged Edge
My Beautiful Launderette
Million Dollar Baby
Farewell, My Lovely
House of Sand & Fog

Some titles are catchy and seductive; others are simple and straightforward. Simpler titles generally rely on the tagline or visuals for impact. Consider how the press will use your tagline – for instance, ‘A Sinking Boat’ could become this review headline: ‘A Sinking Movie’ (don’t provide a weapon to ridicule your film).

The Tagline
A short phrase communicating an essential story quality, the tagline is similar to the title, but distinct. The tagline should be a phrase or sentence, though sometimes the title serves as a tagline.

Unfortunately taglines are often overlooked in marketing. Your tagline should contain just a few words to strike the target audience on an emotional level. Determine your tagline early, then use it consistently on everything dedicated to a particular market or segment – perhaps on all printed pieces.

Some examples* are:
“A story as explosive as his blazing automatics!”
“Where Evil Lives.”
“Nobody ever grows up quite like they imagined.”
“He's having the worst day of his life... over, and over...”
“Five Criminals. One Line Up. No Coincidence.”
“He has the power to make anyone's dream come true... except his own.”
“He Rode the Fast Lane on the Road to Nowhere!”

The Logo
Not every film has a logo, but if you choose one make it simple, recognizable and related to the film. It can be incorporated into poster design, or use it as a sticker (add your website’s url to create buzz about your film).

Company Background
Keep this to a paragraph or two, giving company history simply: where and when you started, where your principals worked previously, and what motivated you to make this film, form the partnership, or start your company. List all principals involved, but avoid duplicating bio material – keep things short and sweet.

Remember: you’ll be using this element a long time (perhaps to raise funds for your next project), so make references– your hometown, your ‘adopted city,’ your college or university – that may be useful as ‘hooks’ for later stories, such as ‘Hometown Girl Makes Good.’

Bios should be short and to-the-point, giving interesting data without revealing private information. Mention hometowns but not schools (nobody cares about the school’s name anyway – they’re more interested that your star was a cheerleader or fullback). Be careful: bios live forever, and if your principals become famous you don’t want stalkers camped outside their parents’ homes.

Always end the bio with a credit list. Principals have no credits? Use school projects. Remember, brevity is important, so replace hard data with life motivation or interest in making your film. Try to print all bios two or three to a single page.

On the Crewlist, double check: all names spelled flawlessly and all credits listed accurately.

Early on, you won’t need photos in your kit. Collect photos when you’ve signed one or more actors or a well-known director – ‘well-known’ in your city, if not Hollywood or New York. You’ll eventually need key art (pictures of the film’s characters in action – NO equipment in the frame) and production shots (‘backstage,’ composed clearly: director and star, stuntman prepping a fall, etc).

Start with 5x7’s instead of the standard 8x10’s you’ll need later; ‘gang’ two 5x7’s on a single 8x10 to save money. Your pictures should be crisp, ‘contrasty,’ and in focus. Tell your photographer clearly that you want newspaper-quality (60-80 line screens – you don’t want shots requiring 150-180 lines).

Every picture should be properly lit and composed – by a professional. Amateur shots taken with a consumer camera will be useless later. The final pictures must be captioned, preferably with a concise description of action, and all persons in the picture should be identified from left to right. Remember: all names spelled correctly.

The Internet
No filmmaker can ignore the usefulness of a website. Many films succeed only because of the internet, so use it to gain credibility and reach in the marketplace. Have your graphic artist or designer work on the website – whatever you pay is worth it.

Your Media Kit elements, especially if already developed into an EPK, can translate directly to your website – each on a separate page if you want.

~ ~ ~

Principles of Success
Marketing films is essentially no different from other marketing. You’ve determined your film’s specific audience – now it’s your job to reach them, out of millions of movie-goers. Plan your campaign in advance: capture them by keeping your message clear to your audience.

Of course, summer escapist action-adventures are handled differently from intimate character-driven stories – each must be marketed to its respective audience. But in the general marketing campaign, three principles apply for small pictures and huge studio blockbusters.

Many studies reveal the success associated with these vital principles; before starting your project, it’s crucial to understand and agree with them. Successful campaigns require commitment, investment and consistency. Without these, your efforts will be short-lived and you’ll risk failure.

Without a solid commitment, there’s no reason to begin. To succeed, commit to the overall plan and campaign – specific tasks for a set period. Advertising, promotion, and publicity almost never show measurable immediate results. Be willing to stick with the plan whether or not you see definitive results. Without a firm commitment, you might ‘leave the party too early.’

View as investment any money and energy spent on marketing – investment in the future of your film and your career. Investments in the stock market or property don’t accrue large profits – even on paper – quickly. The campaign can be altered to respond to new events, but once you’ve accepted it, stick with the plan. Like growing a business, advancing your career requires realistic and decisive planning, and proper execution. This costs money, so ‘stay in for the long haul.’

Any marketing plan must be consistent with the vision of the director and producer, with prevailing market conditions, with current offerings in the marketplace, and with your ability to deliver a quality product. For a comedy about young marrieds with a new baby, your audience might be new parents – so pick the magazines, TV or radio stations that serves this target audience. Your return on investment won’t justify promoting on a shock-jock show or in the AARP newsletter. Still, there are many innovative ways to reach your audience that are lucrative, if managed correctly.

By determining your level of commitment, investment and consistency, you can devise a more realistic plan than others who ‘jump in and take their chances.’ Your advantages: planning and foresight.

It’s never too late for a great plan in marketing, advertising, PR or promotion. Hire a pro to help you ( Take a long careful look at your film, your company, your career arc – then decide what you want to say about it. Test several Taglines and Titles with friends and colleagues. Decide how to best make your statement. And remember, your success means finding the appropriate audience, discovering their needs and wants, then showing them the value and entertainment that only your film can provide.

# # #

* Taglines from The Maltese Falcon, The House, The Kid, Groundhog Day, The Usual Suspects, The Last Tycoon, Five Easy Pieces.

David Hakim is an assistant director, producer, and publicity expert who developed campaigns for every major Hollywood studio and handled publicity for the Motion Picture Academy. Find him in the Reel Directory online:

All material copyright 2008 David Hakim and may not be duplicated - ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.