The indie film landscape has changed in the past 20 years in new and exciting ways. Filmmakers can cut out the middle man and self-distribute, there are avenues for distribution open now (including the streaming services) that weren’t open at the start of the 21st century, and filmmakers can grow their audience right in the comfort of their own homes thanks to social media.
Film publicity is changing, too. Long gone are the days when it was just a matter of sending out a press release and phoning up a journalist to secure an article in a newspaper or a piece on the nightly news. Publicity now regularly involves going beyond the traditional media and connecting with social media influencers, as well as websites, blogs, and podcasts. Social media marketing is usually intertwined with publicity to give great results (and extend the reach of the filmmaker as well).
Of course, this also means the possibilities for filmmakers to self-promote are also boundless.
Does that mean the film publicist is becoming obsolete, especially for independent films?
Not quite. There are advantages to having a film publicist on board (check them out HERE). Once your film has secured distribution, chances are you will have a publicist attached thanks to the distribution company…but there are also some instances pre-distribution when a publicist can come in handy:
- If your film has been selected by a top-tier film festival
- If you have cinematic screenings or VOD and want to secure reviews, interviews and features
- If you want to grow your media presence to help your work to be noticed
Those three instances are primarily the reasons independent filmmakers have come to me for assistance over the years.
And during my time as a publicist, social media marketer and crowdfunding consultant, I’ve had questions about publicity for film that pop up frequently. With that in mind, I’m answering these frequently asked questions so you know just what a publicist can be expected to do…and what they can’t (or won’t) do!
Q: Can You Make Me Go Viral?
A: The short-and-sweet answer is ‘no’. The longer answer is that no publicist can guarantee virality. It’s not possible. If someone tries to convince you to put up your hard-earned dollars in exchange for guaranteed virality of your content, it’s a scam. The lifespan of virality is shortening, thanks to the sheer amount of content in front of us every single day.
In a previous post, I said this about virality, but I think it’s worth echoing here:
If you use virality as a sole benchmark for the success of your work, you’re going to end up feeling pretty bad about things- not because your work isn’t great, but because virality is so unpredictable and on the decline. There’s also this myth that going viral means you become an overnight success and everything is peachy keen. That can happen for some, but the experience is different in every case.
There’s absolutely nothing wrong with wanting your work to go viral, but it’s not up to anyone else, whether it’s a publicist or a social media marketer, to make that happen. Instead, I suggest securing reviews, interviews and features. Reviews in particular are useful, because they can provide quotes for your posters and promotional artwork.
Q: Do all publicists also do social media marketing?
A: it depends on the individual publicist these days. Some publicity companies will also do social media marketing, whereas I know some freelance publicists who might only do publicity and won’t handle social media marketing. I do both, because one complements the other. By having publicity and social media marketing, you’re reaching your audience right where they’re ‘at’, whether that’s scrolling their Facebook feed or reading a local community newspaper. It’s a win-win.
Q: Can I get a friend or crew member to do my publicity?
A: if they have a background in publicity and/or have had experience writing things like press releases or your press kit, I say go for it. The one thing I caution against is using fans to do your publicity or social media, because those relationships can sour, and sour badly. I’ve seen it happen, it’s always ugly and potentially impacts on the reputation of the filmmaker. Avoid at all costs.
Q: Do I have to pay a publicist?
A: if you’re getting an outside agency or a marketing freelancer to do your publicity and/or social media marketing, then the answer is a resounding YES. I once had a filmmaker whom I’d never even spoken to in my life trolling me for about a year on social media because he objected to the fact that I charged for my services.
Here’s the thing: I trained up to be a publicist, and it took hours of study and implementation, coupled with the five years of publicity and social media marketing experience I now possess. This is a job for me, and I also have bills to pay like everyone else. That’s the same for every freelancer, regardless of their expertise. Freelance does NOT mean free.
It’s worth noting that when you pay a publicist, you’re paying them to do publicity work like reaching out to media outlets/influencers/websites. Their work should not be dependent on the result of that outreach. Nor is it dependent on the amount of digital sales generated for your VOD, or ticket sales for your screening. Think of it this way: a shoe-maker is paid for their work creating shoes, not on their ability to turn the wearer of the shoes into a marathon winner.
Q: Can you get me into Variety/Empire Magazine?
A: The ability to secure something in a big publication like Variety or Empire really depends on a few factors: how far along in your career are you? Does your film have well-known actors? What are the newsworthy elements of your film?
Every filmmaker wants to appear in the well-known film publications and in the mainstream news (which is an awesome goal), but depending on the factors I mentioned above it might not be possible. When a first-time director comes to me with a no-budget short film which has no well-known actors attached, it’s going to be more difficult to secure press in ‘big’ media outlets. One of the reasons for this is that these days with traditional media (newspapers, television, magazines, radio), newsrooms are being downsized, articles are being syndicated (which means less room for unique local content), and more people are turning to the Internet for their news. It means that stories about films and filmmakers have to compete for space, and so that space is quite often taken up by the big blockbusters with huge budgets and an A-list cast.
It also depends on your timeframe for requiring features and interviews in mainstream media: bear in mind that the traditional news sources (especially magazines) will tend to have their editorial calendars booked well in advance. If you come to a publicist in November wanting a feature on your Christmas story in the next edition of a magazine, your chances are slimmer than if your publicist has time to pitch at least three months in advance.
In other words, there are possibilities to appear in larger publications or mainstream news, but timing is everything. You can, however, secure quite a number of reviews, features and interviews with local newspapers, podcasts, community access radio, websites dedicated to film (especially ones dedicated to genre films if you have a horror or sci-fi film), etc. Don’t discredit these sources- podcasts are still massive in terms of reaching audiences, you’ll find hardcore fans for your film on the genre film websites, and community newspapers are often keen to pick up a story if you’ve done location shoots in their circulation area. Every positive piece of media exposure helps!
Q: How often should I check in with my publicist?
A: It depends on the nature of your project, and how long you’re working with a publicist for. It’s completely fine to get in touch with them with regards to any queries you have (e.g. someone at a Festival coming up to you and wanting to know if you have a press kit available, etc) as that’s part of the process. The one thing I would caution against is checking in on a daily basis to see how much media exposure you’ve received. Your publicist will let you know of any interviews, reviews or features that have been posted or published, and will liaise with you to schedule interviews with journalists. They cannot push a journalist or publication to post or publish content any faster- journalists and editors work on their own timeframe (and in the case of podcasters and bloggers they’re often having to fit their film work in around other commitments unless they’re able to podcast/blog full-time).
So there you have it! Whether you hire a publicist or not, at the very least you know what to expect if you get to the point where a publicist might be handy.