This past week I’ve witnessed filmmakers fail publicly without knowing it. Several have attempted to raise funds without first establishing PR guideline and others have attempted to release their films without priming the PR pump. The one thing these filmmakers have in common is that they were disappointed in their results and had no clue why they failed.
In this new age of Internet, seven necessary steps have risen above all others that protect a filmmaker from PR failure. Due to the speed of information today, filmmakers are unable to rise above the noise and get their message heard without these seven steps. The mathematics on these steps is straightforward and filmmakers that adhere to them will watch their visibility grow.
Here are the 7 steps needed to succeed:
1. Start with Niche Market: I recently coached a filmmaker to get verbal commitments from donors in advance of raising his funds on Kickstarter in hopes of sparking interest from others on the first day of the campaign. He emailed his friends and family, but didn’t ask for any commitments. The end results were zero funds raised.
Everyone wants national exposure and the best way to get it starts with communicating locally, then regionally, nationally, and finally globally. Independent films use this same standard by releasing in a specific region, gain press and buzz, then move to more screens nationally. These same standards are used to increase PR.
If the product can’t be established “locally”, it can be established in an affinity community or niche market. Once the buzz rises, moving to the regional equivalent is easier due to the existing groundswell of PR in the niche market – It only takes one retweet from the right person to take the message to millions.
2. Timing is Everything: I was excited by a buzz that increased last summer over a drama I wanted to see. By thanksgiving I gave up on the movie, as it still hadn’t released. Ten months have past and it still isn’t out, yet I continually see sporadic promotions about it coming soon. Frankly, I’m so tired of hearing about this film that there is no way it can ever live up to its long hype cycle. The filmmakers will be lucky to get a real audience or even attract distribution at this point.
To achieve that one retweet that puts a message into the hands of millions of people at just the right time, the campaign needs to start 3-6 months ahead of schedule to create the buzz and groundswell. Perfectly timed messages can give a product an increase in sales by 10X or 20X. However, a poorly timed message can undermine everything done to date.
I recall a conversation with Ken Taylor of Tyndale House Publishers. He said that sales of his paraphrased Bible amounted to a couple copies a day, which his son Mark packed and shipped, with supplies and Bibles he kept under his bed. After Amy Grant mentioned how great the Living Bible was at one of her concerts, the daily volume jumped into the thousands and the family moved Bible distribution into a large warehouse. Amy’s simple comment drove Mark Taylor to become the president of one of the largest independent publishers in America. I can only imagine what a single tweet might do from the right person.
3. Plan and Schedule: One rock star shared with me last week the 7-8 “off the cuff” publicity stunts he was a part of that generated significant press for his band and other co-promoted artists. He gave several examples that MTV, the king of impromptu press, took months to prepare.
It takes a lot of work to prepare specific messages to specific audiences and have it come off in an impromptu manner. To accomplish the sizeable buzz that impromptu events create, everything must be reduced to writing and scheduled 6-12 months in advance.
Many filmmakers try to handle all the press themselves, but for it to work properly, the PR person has to develop professional relationships with all of the press sources that reach the artist’s niche and expansion markets. The press needs far more information to publish than they have available, which allows the relationship to help both parties involved.
4. Differentiate the Artist/Product: A filmmaker complained to me last week that his product tanked and he didn’t understand why. I asked him what he had done to brand his product and he said that it wasn’t necessary because it was just like… Then he named a product that I had already seen. So, I asked, “Since I already saw the original product, why would I want to see your version?” He had no answer, which explains why no one wanted to see it.
Media sources do not promote “also” films. They don’t have to because they can promote the “real one”. The only way around this situation is to differentiate your film and promote its uniqueness. The press and the audience need to know what makes your film different. They need to understand why they have to see it.
The majority of all independent films are some form of a knock off, which gains little audience. The few films that take off typically have something so unique about it that people are drawn to see it. That uniqueness must come out in the press for enough coverage to draw a large audience. Without it, the film will fail.
5. Be On Message: I recently watched three clips of a filmmaker being interviewed on TV for his latest release. Since I had previewed the film, I knew his exact three points that would drive the audience to see his film or buy it on video. I was amazed that he didn’t mention any of those three points. During one segment, the host started out excited about the film and quickly lost his energy when the filmmaker rambled about meaningless things. The interviewer had nowhere to go and the audience was convinced not to see the film.
Every film has a message that needs to get out, and every audience needs to hear about the message in a particular way for them to spend money on the film. Developing the message is critical and making sure everyone interviewed is on message is important.
Putting together a guideline of key phrases and context or communication will strengthen the over all message and point the audience in the same direction regardless of the PR opportunity. Deviating from the message will create noise that is indiscernible and will not drive box office or video sales.
6. Tweet and Retweet: Last week a PR expert who handles several big names told me that her number one tool to generate a lot of press is Twitter. She pointed out how all of her press sources follow her and her artists. Each tweet she sends lands on 10MM cell phones within two minutes through retweeting. The last three concerts she promoted sold out within 10 minutes after her tweeted announcement. They didn’t advertise any of those concerts and saved $25MM in advertising.
Most filmmakers are on Twitter, but don’t know how to use the tool. Having a PR person on staff can help develop the message and increase the number of followers. Some filmmakers have just started to follow as many people as they could find that are interested in the genre they produce. However, recent studies show that following more people than follow you will not increase your readership.
Tweeting is all about finding the people who are interested in your product. Following people who might be interested, is very different than finding those who are interested. Once you have 500K people who are true fans, you’ll be able to generate serious sales every time you tweet your latest product.
7. Learn from Madonna: I recently watched an interview with one of the top People magazine reporters. He was talking about how he gets story ideas from Twitter and why he avoids certain stories and takes others. When he summarized his suggestions for getting more press, he said that anyone who wants to get serious about PR should pay attention to Madonna, the queen of PR.
Controversy is one of Madonna’s tools, but it isn’t the most important one. Any time she releases information about a new concert, video or book, she first stimulates the market with things that prompt discussion – She gets everyone talking about her regardless of it being good or bad.
The key to her promotion is making sure that the buzz is always directly related to her product. It is never related to a cause or political view. In fact, the only other artist that perfectly followed suit was Michael Jackson. Both artists generated more buzz and free press than any other in entertainment history.
Cross promotions follow the same key steps above, but require collaboration and lots of planning. Because ancillary products might be involved, it is critical that only the main product is promoted. Once in the store, the audience will find the other products in the display – Whether in a physical store or an online store.
Copyright © 2013 by CJ Powers
Photo © Ben Chams – Fotolia.com