Things I Wish I’d Done Differently When I Began My Film PR Career

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I turn 37 on Friday.

I’m completely fine with ageing- in fact, I relish it. I think my life has opened up in exciting new ways from the time I turned 30 and I can’t wait to see what my life will look and feel like by the time I reach 40.

Of course, with the dawning of a new natal year comes a time of reflection, and recently I’ve been thinking about when I started my film PR career in 2013 (with Film Sprites PR being born in 2014). There’s definitely a few things I wish I’d done differently. I don’t regret pursuing my career in a different manner, but there are some ‘tweaks’ I would have made earlier on that I believe might have made a difference.

So, why am I talking about this, and what are the implications for you, dear reader?

Perhaps you’ll gain some insight into your own goal-setting and career path. If you want a little bit more information about pathways to a job in publicity and digital marketing that are a bit more pain-free than the way I started, you can read about them in a recent guest post I did for We Make Movies on Weekends.

I’m also talking about this because so often on the Internet and on social media we see a very sanitized, edited version of people’s lives. We’ve seen an influx of beauty products touted to help you achieve a perfect selfie (including colour correcting concealer and tooth whitening pens)! I always talk about authenticity in social media, and here I am, pondering the past and bringing to light the messier, muckier aspects. It’s a crash course in not doing what I did! So what do I wish I’d done differently?

lynnaire macdonald film sprites pr

I regret not having a business plan: when I started in publicity, I was working as a freelancer under my own name. I didn’t have a goal to start a PR consultancy…I just wanted to be head-hunted. But fate had different ideas, and when I popped on Twitter on April 17th of 2014 to ask if filmmakers were looking for publicity and digital marketing assistance, the influx of requests took me aback. I literally had to work backwards! I didn’t have any seed money, my branding was very quickly knocked out on Canva in about 5 minutes, and I definitely did not have a business plan.

By the time I met with a business mentor in 2016 to ask about drawing up a business plan, however, he looked at my website and branding (which by now were up to standard) and went; “you need a business plan…why?”

I still wish I’d had it. Back in 2014 I was flying by the seat of my pants which only worked for a small amount of time before I had to go back to the drawing board again.

And again.

And again.

Even if you’re not going to be setting up your own business, I thoroughly recommend sketching out your long, medium and short-term goals. I knew what I wanted, I also knew what I wanted to provide in my role as a publicist, but I couldn’t articulate it- never a good thing when you work in an industry which requires clear communication!

I regret not attending networking events sooner: the beauty of working at home is that, well, you work from home. If you’re an introvert, you have the ease of not having to stick your neck out. But that can also be detrimental. Although I had spent from July of 2013 right up to the day I asked if people wanted my services constantly networking online, doing online networking still can’t fully replace networking with your colleagues and peers face-to-face. Thankfully now I enjoy networking events and the chance to meet people in various industry roles. If, like me, you’re an introvert you might want to check out a recent post I did about self-promotion and networking. These are strategies I’ve found that work very well.

I would have learned how to set up my website earlier than I did: initially, I started with a WordPress blog. Although it was rudimentary,  it did the job…at least for the first few months. Eventually the blog morphed into this website, with a blog attached. But that would happen a year and a half into working at Sprites. That’s a long time when you consider that a website is one of the places people come to to ascertain whether you’re a suitable fit for their services or not.

There are times when I didn’t listen to my gut…and I definitely learned the hard way: your intuition is an incredible tool. It’s that voice and feeling inside that tells you when things are going well…and when they’re not. My intuition tends to be very highly tuned now. If something is amiss, I have an internal GPS that feels like a guitar string snapping. When things are going well or I get an intuitive nudge in the right direction, it’s all tickety boo. But there have been times when I haven’t listened to my intuition to my detriment.

I definitely find that meditation and mindfulness practices really help to fine-tune your intuition.

What advice would I give to my younger self, and to anyone chasing their dreams? Believe in yourself. First and foremost, you have to have the grit and determination to see things through. Sometimes a goal can be a very lonely thing- people may not understand what you’re doing, you may have to go it alone for a very long time. So it’s imperative that when all the doors seem closed and you feel like you’re in an echo chamber you truly believe in yourself and your capabilities. The more you believe in yourself, the more willing you are to prove yourself to the world. The more willing you are to prove yourself to the world, the more people will see what you can do. It’s a snowball effect. Never give up, never give in.

 

The Art of the Pitch (and Why It’s Not Just For Publicists)

The Art of the Pitch

 

What’s your inbox like? How about your DM inboxes on social media? If they’re anything like mine, you’re inundated with unsolicited requests. If you’re a director, a producer (or a film publicist like me), you see them coming a mile off: links to videos, unsolicited requests from crowdfunding campaigns, showreels and more…things that clog up your inbox, take up your time and also distract you from the messages that matter.

Sadly, I cannot tell you the best way to avoid this (other than the nuclear option of blocking), but I can tell you how not to be THAT person, especially when you want to connect with someone for something and want to not only make an impression, but make things happen. Whether you want to collaborate with someone, network or pitch an idea, you can learn a lot from the way publicists pitch their clients to media.

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The art of the pitch is something that can be used successfully in many different arenas in your life, and I’m going to let you in on some of the techniques I use every single day that have assisted me in securing results for my clients. So, whether you’re making contact with someone for networking purposes to help further your filmmaking career or pitching your story idea to potential producers, these techniques are tried and tested:

Introductions are vital: remember the restaurant scene in The Disaster Artist where Tommy unsuccessfully ‘pitches’ his script? Don’t be Tommy! When I was building relationships with bloggers, websites and journalists at the beginning of my career, I would send an e-mail introducing myself and my business. The reason? I didn’t want to send an unsolicited pitch and have it be ignored. In fact, if I was particularly keen on having a film client interviewed by the media outlet I was getting in contact with, I would ask if they would like to be added to our media list for when we had films and filmmakers that their audience would be interested in. It worked so well that with some media outlets would prioritize my clients in terms of reviews/interviews/features. Whether you’re getting in touch with someone for networking purposes or discuss an up-coming project or script, a great introduction is vital.

Do your research: one of the things I hear frequently from journalists is the amount of times publicists get in contact with them wanting to secure a story for their client without actually doing their research. This means they get pitches for beauty products when they are a site that has nothing to do with beauty and/or doesn’t have an audience that would care about beauty products (let alone purchase them). It happens more than you’d like to think.

The same goes for pitching ideas, networking and getting in touch with people you really want to work with. Don’t just do a cursory skim of their website. I had a rambling, incoherent pitch arrive in my inbox the other day from a writer who was looking for a female filmmaker to shoot his script. When I told him that I wasn’t a filmmaker, I was a film publicist, he was extremely red-faced and horrified. The problem? He’d been given a list of female filmmakers to contact…but whoever compiled that list hadn’t done their homework…and he hadn’t either.

Craft your communications: here is the absolute best piece of advice I can give you when it comes to contacting anyone for any reason. Keep this phrase in your head as you write: what’s in it for them? Don’t think about what you want to get out of this communication- hone your writing so you highlight any benefits or advantages for them.

Here’s an example from my world: when I have a client and I’m pitching to journalists, I’ll highlight what’s newsworthy in bullet points, bearing in mind what’s newsworthy about my client and/or their film. For instance if I’m pitching to a film-related website that has a strong commitment to championing women in film, perhaps I’ll mention that the film passes the Bechdel Test, or something similar if it is applicable.

the art of the pitch women in workroom

Take the virtual into the real: communications over e-mail and Skype are great, but if you have the possibility of meeting up, it’s worth suggesting having a coffee meet…and yes, you will be buying. Including a suggestion of a coffee meet is a great way to take the working relationship a step beyond an email. I quite often schedule time in the year where I will go to Auckland or Wellington to meet up with film industry contacts and acquaintances over coffee in order to talk about potential new collaborations, opportunities, and to see what’s happening up north in the industry.

Hopefully these tips will help you hone your communications to connect with the people you want to work with…and make a positive impact. Happy filmmaking!

 

Why Hoping to Go Viral is Like Waiting For a Fairytale Prince

Why hoping to go viral is like waiting for a fairytale prince

A note: while I’ve used the concept of a fairytale prince, you can substitute it for ‘princess’, ‘Iron Man’, or a gender-neutral savior…whatever suits you- the point is, you’re waiting to be saved! Now, carry on…

Gangnam Style. The Harlem Shake. Rebecca Black’s Friday. Chocolate Rain. They shared, we shared, they went viral, we moved onto the next viral hit. One of the things I’m asked most is “can you make me go viral?”, which ultimately gets a hard “no” from me. Why?

There’s nothing wrong with wanting to go viral. The prospect of having your work go viral is exciting, right? But keep in mind the fact that just like having the ‘flu (which is a virus), the infectiousness of your viral content will pass, too. Add to the fact that, according to Socialbakers’ Jan Rezab the lifespan of virality is on the decline thanks to social media going mainstream and hoping to go viral is basically like waiting for a fairytale prince. Not convinced? Read Jan’s post Stop Trying to Go Viral on Recode- he gives evidence but also gives some fantastic alternatives that really work.

Add to that the fact that since the advent of social media in the mainstream there has been a consistent and steady stream of content available to the public, and it’s harder to make a dent virally. Even Tay Zonday of Chocolate Rain fame thinks that it’s more difficult to go viral now than back in 2007.

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.

I always say to people when it comes to building an audience for their content: “it’s a marathon, not a sprint.” Even though virality is juicy and attractive and seems like the goose that laid the golden egg, it’s less valuable in the long-term. As with any relationship-building, it takes time and care. You can’t just throw any content out there willy-nilly and hope it sticks. Experiment. See what your audience resonates with, and what they’re not so keen on. Keep tabs on engagement levels and what your audience is saying about your work. And most importantly, let them know that you appreciate their shares, comments and support. Build a solid foundation for your work and your brand and you will reap more consistent benefits than a moment of overnight success with a viral video.

Making Your Filmmaking Journey Matter to Your Audience

 

making your filmmaking journey matter to your audience

Recently, I was pleased to see that The Power of Myth was added to Netflix NZ/Aus. This PBS series featuring Joseph Campbell and Bill Moyers is truly powerful stuff. You may be familiar with Campbell’s Hero’s Journey template. You may have even found yourself utilizing it if you are a filmmaker. It’s a reminder of the commonality of themes and stages in myth and storytelling, as well as in life.

Don’t worry- we’re not going to get deep into Hero’s Journey territory here, but we are going to look at how your own filmmaking journey can inspire your film’s audience, and how to utilize that to great effect.

Our world is a tapestry of complex stories, of narratives and viewpoints. The advent of social media has provided more people with the means to bringing their own personal story to the world. I was in college when the Arab Spring happened. In decades past, uprisings would be told to the world through traditional media, with these events then being relegated to history. But with the Arab Spring people were taking to social media to let the world know what was happening.

At the time I was learning about the political economy of the mass media and the media conglomerates who had shares in media outlets. That landscape was beginning to change in real-time even as I was learning about it. Back then I got the sense that something very important was happening in the way we receive information about the world. People could tell their story in real-time and receive real-time feedback. Obviously, that’s a really broad statement because it doesn’t take into account some of the inequalities faced by people in different areas of the world (financially or due to censorship), but that’s how I saw it at the time.

Making Your Filmmaking Journey Matter Book and Photograph.jpg

As a filmmaker, you know the importance of stories- after all, you’ve had one (or more) play out in front of the camera! Telling the story of your film (behind-the-scenes details, work in progress, etc) is something that can be used with good effect to connect with media and audiences…but sharing your own personal filmmaking journey can also be incredibly powerful and compelling.

Now, I’m not suggesting you share all of your dirty laundry. You don’t have to get that personal. But the hardships, obstacles and sweat equity that goes into any endeavour can be truly inspiring. Pick one successful person in history and look at their story. I can guarantee you it wasn’t smooth sailing the whole way. Just like with the Hero’s Journey, there were tests and stages. I once heard a successful nanotechnologist say that success isn’t a straight line, it’s more a wiggly one. People are inspired by hard work and struggle. After all, Steve Jobs ended up with two biopics for a good reason- his path wasn’t always smooth sailing. He got fired from his own company. He had an incredible phoenix moment with Apple in the late 90s- early 2000s.

So….what’s your story- and how can you utilize it in publicity and social media?

As you know, filmmakers don’t just pop up out of holes in the ground (if they did, that would be weird). They’re not packaged up like dolls that can be unwrapped and liberated from their boxes to create pitch-perfect films every time. It takes work, it takes skill, and it takes dedication to their craft. The same goes with you. You have a story of your filmmaking journey, and now it’s time to share it. Last year, I heard David Michôd (Animal Kingdom, The Rover, War Machine) talk about his films. Animal Kingdom‘s final incarnation was different to the script of 10 years prior. Perhaps you pursued filmmaking because you heard the call after 30 years of doing the same mind-numbing desk job. Perhaps your film was in distribution limbo but you managed to secure a deal thanks to a serendipitous meeting. It’s things like this that can be shared with media and audiences to good effect.

Here’s ways in which you can share your filmmaking journey:

  • If you love to blog, then blog about it! Film fans love unique insights into the filmmaking process and the filmmaker’s journey because it feels intimate and special.
  • Share on social media. Perhaps you have some old photographs from your early filmmaking days, or a snapshot of the first day’s filming of your first film. Nostalgia is fun and accessible.
  • Think about vignettes and insights you can share when you are being interviewed. In my case, when I do interviews or podcasts about the creation of Film Sprites PR I am more than happy to discuss the fact that my career started as a result of being an earthquake survivor and re-building my life to reflect my passion for film and the desire to work in the film industry. You can think about sharing similar (if you’re comfortable with it). Have you struggled with mental illness and are now dedicated to reflecting these struggles in the narratives of your films? Did a beloved childhood film spark your path towards filmmaking?

Your story is just as much a part of your film as the script and the actors in it. Don’t be afraid to share your journey…you never know who you will inspire.

 

Making E-mail Marketing Part of Your Film’s Publicity Strategy

making-email-marketing-part-of-your-films-publicity-strategy

Back in the late 90’s I created my first e-mail newsletter. It was a film news and reviews newsletter, very basic and in plain text. I gained subscribers through friends and acquaintances. Before long, I had around 300 subscribers- not many in today’s terms, but not bad! I would scour the Internet for film news, do reviews of favourite films, and so on. When I look back, it was sort of a foreshadowing of what I do now!

E-mail marketing has thankfully come a long way from my rudimentary attempt in the 1990s, and it’s something that can be extremely useful for connecting with your audience as an independent filmmaker. It can also be integrated into your film’s publicity strategy in some very fun ways.

If you’ve had the experience of crowdfunding before, you’ll know that many of the various crowdfunding platforms provide a space for updates. When you post an update on your crowdfunding page, it’s also e-mailed to donors who contributed to your campaign. E-mail marketing is not all that different to providing those updates on your crowdfunding page. If you haven’t had the experience of providing updates to crowdfunding donors- no worries! E-mail marketing is easy, it can be incredibly fun and is a great asset to have as part of your film’s publicity strategy.

Where do I start?

It’s a good idea to pick an email marketing platform, like Sendlane or Mailchimp. I don’t recommend just sending out e-mails from your e-mail account as people won’t have the option to opt out of receiving your e-mails unless they e-mail you back. Email marketing platforms generally have the option of a free account provided you have under a certain amount of subscribers which is perfect for when you’re just starting out.

In order to grow your subscribers you can create a landing page for your film’s website or share the link to a sign-up form via your social media accounts.

email marketing for filmmakers

What about content?

When it comes to the content of your newsletter, the choices are endless! Here’s a few ideas:

  • Provide subscriber-only exclusives, like behind-the-scenes videos or giveaways (signed film posters, a prop from the film, etc)
  • Update subscribers with the film’s progress via short vlogs that can then be re-purposed via social media at a later date
  • Mobilise your subscribers to spread the word about the film (especially in the lead-up to release) by providing them with digital assets they can use on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter. These can be housed in a dropbox and subscribers can download them via a link in your newsletter. You can also provide sample tweets they can copy and paste
  • Let people into your filmmaking world: is music particularly important to your process? Share a list of songs or albums that have influenced you. Found resources that you know fellow filmmakers and filmmaking fans would love? Share them!

Experiment. Have fun. See where the mood takes you and what your audience responds to. It’s another way to connect with your audience from production onwards in an intimate and rewarding way.

And speaking of mailing lists….yes, we have one now. Sign up to our mailing list to receive film publicity, social media marketing and crowdfunding hints and tips, exclusive content, and occasional FREE resources. You’ll also be the first to be notified of discounted service rates. You can sign up HERE.

Self-Promotion and Networking For Introverts

self promotion and networking for introverts

Recently on the blog I laid out some strategies for self-promotion for people who were reluctant promoting themselves and their work. It proved to be one of our most popular blog posts thus far. Initially, I had thought about discussing what to do when it came to self-promotion and networking if you were also an introvert, but decided to tackle that separately…hence this post.

My name is Lynnaire MacDonald…and I am an introvert. Introversion gets a bad rap sometimes. People mistake it for shyness or think that introverts are unable to socialise effectively- not true! In fact, when people meet me they’re amazed when I say I’m an introvert. Introverts think deeply, have rich inner worlds and yes, when they need to they can shine on the stage, do the TED talk and show the world what they’ve got. You can see the definition of introversion here, but the real meat of it is that introverts are energized and drained in ways that are different to their extrovert peers. Introverts are energized by introspection and solitary activities, whereas they are easily drained by group activities and loud, busy environments.

Does that mean that being an introvert is a barrier to doing things like promoting your work, or attending networking events? Not at all. The key to doing so in a way that keeps you from feeling drained or overwhelmed is by having a few strategies up your sleeve. These are some of my tried and tested strategies:

Choose networking events and conferences wisely: as much as introverts would prefer to network with people via e-mail and social media, networking events or conferences are inevitable. The key is choosing events and conferences wisely. What do I mean by this? In my experience, small-talk can be draining, but really focused conversations about a topic are energizing for me and I get the most out of them. So, for instance, a general women in business-type networking event would be draining but going to a filmmaking networking evening or conference brings out the best in me because I can talk about the minutiae of filmmaking with the people I meet.

Have a conference or networking ‘wingperson’: sometimes there will be conferences or networking events where you don’t know anyone, and that can be unavoidable. But if you are attending an event and know someone else who is attending, think about asking them to be your ‘wingperson’ if it’s the first time you’ve attended that event. I had this happen last year at my first Big Screen Symposium. A friend and mentor was also attending and kindly introduced me to other people. This year I know I can attend the Symposium and I will see more than a few familiar faces.

Don’t be afraid to make an e-mail introduction: email introductions are fine, too, as long as each e-mail is genuine. No copy and paste, please! I have to do this often in my line of work so I’m used to doing this, but if you’re feeling a bit reluctant to reach out, test the waters by sending out one introductory e-mail a day for 5 days. Then 2 for 5 days, and so on.

Manage your energy levels: constant interaction with people over a sustained period of time can be draining, so it’s important to manage this by taking some ‘alone time’. Whether that’s grabbing some time to sit and read a book for a few minutes, or going for a solo walk, you need that time to recharge.

Know your ‘voice’:  self-promotion and networking as an introvert it can be difficult but it’s not insurmountable. It’s all about finding your ‘voice’ in various situations. For instance, I use a lot of humour in social media posts. I’m not afraid to say that something is shameless self-promotion, or use a cringe-worthy pun or ‘Dad joke’. Finding your ‘voice’ can be your superpower, because you know what works for you and what doesn’t. For instance, you won’t find me gushing over someone. I physically can’t do it- I find it draining and inauthentic. But I can connect with someone via social media over a shared interest or opinion. I once bonded with a fellow PR person over the UK version of Wallander (we had differing opinions on pickled herring, however).

Being an introvert is not a personality flaw. In fact, tapping into your ability as an introvert can help you both at work and in your personal relationships.

 

Strategies For Reluctant Self-Promoters

strategies for reluctant self-promoters

I can honestly say that I owe about 99% of the opportunities I’ve had in my career to being a smartarse.

And I don’t mean being a smartarse in a disrespectful way, but some of the biggest and most exciting opportunities in my life have arisen because I’ve been cheeky enough to ask for them in a playful way that doesn’t come off as pushy. This isn’t something that would work for everyone, but that’s my schtick. I pretty much live my life on the verge of telling a joke anyway, so using my sense of humour (and my cheekiness!) have become second nature.

It’s something I’ve had to develop over many years, because to be completely honest I’m very much a reluctant self-promoter. Part of it stems from the fact that here in New Zealand we’re not big on tooting our own horn. Part of it is because I’m very much an introvert, and while I can bring the energy for presenting a workshop or networking events, I need at least a day to recover afterwards. Introversion isn’t a hindrance to things like networking and self-promotion, but it needs careful consideration when it comes to utilising your energy resources and being at your best (I’m sure many of you can relate).

In the work that I do, I get to talk to a lot of filmmakers about their work, and I often hear them express the difficulty they have in self-promoting their work. Sometimes there is a reluctance in reaching out to people for donations to their crowdfunding campaigns,  promoting on social media or reaching out to media outlets to secure coverage or a review. It’s something I understand- sometimes it’s not easy! But your work deserves to be seen and appreciated.

Better yet, the information age provides filmmakers with a variety of opportunities to connect with their audiences in ways that were not previously available prior to the Internet going mainstream and the development of social media. The world is literally at your fingertips.

So, how can you grow your audience and promote yourself and your work if you’re really reluctant? I have some strategies that may help- they’re the same ones I have used over the years successfully:

camera strategies for reluctant self promoters

Work out what’s stopping you: chances are, when you think about promoting your work, you’ll have thoughts and/or feelings that arise over it. It’s a good idea to really drill down and find out why you’re reluctant to promote your work. Find 5-10 minutes in your day to sit undisturbed with a pen and paper or your laptop with a word processing document open and ready. Take a few deep breaths, focusing on each breath and clearing your mind. When you’re ready, think about self-promotion of yourself or your work and identify any thoughts or feelings that come up around it. Write them down.

Now that you’ve got your list, look at what you wrote. Here’s where it gets interesting! Step outside of yourself for a minute and imagine that it’s your best friend thinking and feeling these things. For each thought or feeling, write a statement that refutes that thought or feeling. For instance, if this thought came up:

“Nobody gives a damn about independent filmmakers and their films”

You might write:

“Who is this ‘nobody’? There are plenty of people who are passionate about independent filmmakers and their films. You will find those people when you connect with your audience.”

Do this for each thought or feeling. It sounds silly, but it really does work!

Take approaches that you’re comfortable with: perhaps you’re not comfortable with social media, but have someone on your team that is and can provide social media assistance. If you’re more comfortable reaching out to media outlets via e-mail, then that’s completely fine! The same applies when you’re crowdfunding your project: if you’re not comfortable with social media, you may want to approach people individually or via your mailing list.

Authenticity is key: you don’t have to be anyone else. You don’t have to try and put on airs and graces with people. Being yourself and sharing your passion for your filmmaking well and truly resonates with your audience. People are passionate about filmmaking, so let them into your world and your process.

You don’t have to do it all at once: while it’s a good idea to have your social media presence established and also tap into resources for publicity of your filmmaking, you don’t have to do it all at once! If it’s easier for you to start with one thing and then add other strategies later, then do so. After all, good things take time!

Strategies for Reluctant Self-Promoters film sprites pr

Remember your WHY: I say this so often with different scenarios because it’s applicable across the board. If you start to feel really reluctant about promoting your work yourself, remember WHY you started filmmaking in the first place. This helps to not only bring you back to your centre, but it also provides a boost of inspiration to propel you forward through your reluctance.

Happy filmmaking!