FAQs About Working With A Film Publicist

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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!

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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.

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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!

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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.

While I have your attention….

Film Sprites PR has now provided 5 prizes of $1000 worth of film marketing as part of this year’s AFIN International Film Festival prize pool! The winners of Best Feature Film, Best Australian Film, Best Short Film, Best Documentary Feature and Best Documentary Short will receive:

• 1 hour Skype consultation with director and/or producer to answer your burning questions and discuss your needs and goals

• A bespoke publicity and social media marketing plan tailored to their needs and goals (at the time of winning the award)
• 1 month’s publicity and social media marketing advice on-call (e.g. will answer any emails related to marketing plan and give advice)
• 1 month’s social media marketing cross-promotion on Film Sprites PR’s social media channels (Facebook, Instagram, Twitter).

Sounds like the kind of prize you’d find useful? Make sure you submit your work to the AFIN International Film Festival 2020 HERE.

 

Getting More Bang for your Publicity Buck

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Sometimes I think independent low-budget (or no budget) filmmaking is a bit like college: you learn a lot, there’s deadlines, stress (and maybe a few tears) and spare money is tight to non-existent. With that being said, publicity for your film or webseries can seem like a bit of a luxury or a ‘nice to have’ optional extra.

Here’s what I think about that. It’s a belief I’ve held since Film Sprites PR first came into being 5 years ago, and I believe in it passionately to this day: no matter how ‘big’ or ‘small’ your film or webseries, you deserve publicity, and you can achieve it. When I began my career as a publicist in 2013 (prior to Sprites launching a year later), streaming and self-distribution was in its infancy. Going viral was still very much a viable outcome for a film or webseries. Crowdfunding was red-hot for filmmakers, and filmmakers were seeing it as an option for funding their films.

Things have changed so much since then. With so many streaming services and many filmmakers choosing to self-distribute, there’s plenty of opportunities for your film to be seen and loved, but you can also benefit from additional publicity to help reviews and features to roll in. But as you know, every cent needs to be accounted for when you’re making a film, and if you have a small or non-existent publicity budget, what do you do? Most PR firms charge in the thousands (at Film Sprites PR we work in with your budget, however)…so how can you maximise publicity while not breaking the bank?

I’m going to give you some handy options, including options that are absolutely free. Yes, really! Plus, I’ll give you some other low-cost options to help you get more bang for your publicity buck. At a later date, I’m going to cover the best way for you to work out a potential publicity budget for your indie film, but for now let’s look at some smart options:

FREE OPTIONS:

Cultivating your social media presence

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As mentioned in the last blog post, having a social media presence means you can grow your audience, connect with fans and prep fans and followers for up-coming and future releases. Growing your audience takes time (don’t buy followers!), but it’s something that is extremely worthwhile. Plus, signing up for most social media sites is free…the only thing that’s not free is your internet connection and/or data usage on your smart phone. If you do have a bit of cash to spare, you can think about doing some promoted posts via Instagram or Facebook, but it’s not completely necessary.

Getting indie-loving blogs and websites to publish your press release

There are a few excellent indie-loving blogs and websites that will very happily publish your press release, which means you have added visibility via their sites and social media. For instance, FilmDebate provides a FREE promotion service that is well worth checking out. You can also find genre-specific sites who offer similar.

Connecting with your audience via e-mail marketing

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As I’ve mentioned previously, e-mail marketing via a service like Mailchimp is a great way to connect to your audience. You can provide updates, share news and previews, and can also provide things like digital assets or copy-and-paste Twitter and Facebook post suggestions your subscribers can use on their social media in the run-up to a film’s launch.

Screening your film for interested local groups

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Having public screenings can be expensive when you have to hire a venue, etcetera…but how about having a free screening at meetings of interested local groups? Many interest groups and societies feature guest speakers at meetings, so getting in touch with relevant groups and societies could also be a great option to help amplify the signal. Does your film have an astronomy theme? Get in touch with the local astronomical society. Would it appeal to the local multisport community? Have a chat to a local multisport group to arrange a screening and Q&A if they’re keen. Take your film right to your audience locally and who knows what could happen on a wider scale?

Uploading video content to Facebook

The shifting sands of the Facebook algorithm means content creators have to keep on their toes constantly. At the moment, the algorithm on the Book of Face (which dictates what content is shown to users over other content) favours video content that is uploaded, not just a shared link. So instead of just sharing the link to your trailer, take the time to upload it to your Facebook page. Better yet, uploading means you have options for tags that are relevant to your video, giving your content a better chance of being seen.

INEXPENSIVE OPTIONS:

Promoting a post on social media

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If you have a little bit of money available for publicity and social media marketing purposes and your audience are a demographic who use Facebook and/or Instagram frequently, it’s worth promoting some of your posts. I find promoting posts more effective than paying for advertising from an algorithm and engagement point of view. In one previous instance of promoting a post during a crowdfunding campaign we saw an upswing in donations during the promotional period, and at one point during the promotional period we raised $2,000 in thirty minutes.

If you’re strategic about where and who you want to reach with your promotion, as well as the tags you use and the right image, you can see tangible benefits.

Screenings at art co-ops and local venues

Hiring a cinema for a screening can be expensive…but what about smaller local venues like art co-ops, galleries and other multi-use spaces? Many have inexpensive renting fees, or if you can twist a friendly arm you might be able to wrangle a venue for free.

It’s also worth talking to local campuses about renting spaces for screenings, for instance lecture theatres. Look at all of your options and see which is the most cost-effective.

Website promotions

Some websites (particularly in the horror film genre) offer promoted posts or advertising space on their sites. These can vary in price-range but can also come with additional added extras, like having your posts shared with their (usually extensive) social media following. This is definitely more effective than print advertising, a lot cheaper and you have the added bonus of having your film or webseries connect with the very audience you want.

As you can see, there’s plenty of options available to help you achieve your publicity and digital marketing goals when you’re stretched for cash. Our blog also provides a wealth of hints and tips on publicity and digital marketing for indie filmmakers, so make sure you check it out. Don’t want to do the publicity heavy lifting for your film? Have a chat with us about how we can assist your film. We work in with your budget to ensure you get maximum results and don’t break the bank.

The Most Annoying Things You Can Do When Using Social Media For Your Film

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Social media is an incredible tool to help connect you to your film’s audience. But there are great ways of using it, and other social media habits that are…not so great. Those habits can annoy your followers, or at the very worst, get you blocked. There’s one thing I know unequivocally- nobody sets out to be annoying on social media (unless they’re trolls), so here I’m highlighting some of the habits that are seen as common irritants, and giving you solutions. It’s about working smarter, not harder and seeing the results.

And let me tell you, when I started out I did many of these things! It’s true! I don’t consider myself some sort of social media guru, but I have seen what works and what doesn’t through trial, error and evaluation, so I’m passing on what I’ve learned to you. So, what are the most annoying things you can do when promoting your film on social media?

Spamming everyone (not just your followers) on Twitter: imagine you’re sitting in a hotel room by yourself, and you hear a knock on the door. Upon answering it, someone is standing in front of you and says: “help make it happen for….” and then promptly leaves. As you close the door, you hear the same person knocking on every other motel room door and saying the same thing. This is what it’s like when you tweet everyone the link to your film or campaign individually. Not only is it time consuming, it means that your followers can see each tweet you send out with the link to every other follower! At best they will mute you from their timeline, at worst they will block you, so for the sake of sending out the same cut and paste tweet to each individual follower, you’ve lost people.What can amp the annoyance factor up even more is if you tweet your link randomly to someone you’re not even following! I have lost count the amount of times people who are not following Sprites on Twitter have tweeted a link at us (along with a bunch of other people they’re not following, in the hopes of a re-tweet)

A better idea: as I said above, it’s about working smarter, not harder! For all the time you’ve spent copy and pasting and tweeting to each individual follower, you could be spending time engaging with your followers, tweeting out fantastic content about your film or finding additional content to post that will be of interest to your audience. People share great content- so make sure you’re maximising your time on social media by creating that great content. And if you’re crowdfunding your film, check out our guide to maximising Twitter for your crowdfunding campaign for more hints and tips.

Inappropriate hashtags:  hashtags are exceptionally useful, both for people searching for things via certain hashtags, or for people wanting followers to find their content. However, when you’re using inappropriate hashtags for your content, it can end up being a PR disaster waiting to happen. And by ‘inappropriate’ I’m not talking about offensive or rude, I mean the use of hashtags that have no relevance to the content but are there to try and capture the current trends. I’ll use Twitter again for my example: you’re promoting your new short film, but using the hashtags that are trending that day. This can backfire spectacularly, especially if you’re using a hashtag regarding a tragic current event (yes, I have seen this happen).

A better way: if you’re an indie filmmaker (webseries, film or both), the hashtag #SupportIndieFilm is particularly effective, especially for Twitter. Not only does it connect you with indie film fans, it also connects you with other indie filmmakers, and can assist you with networking. A great account to follow on Twitter is FirstGlance Film, the absolute champions of independent film on Twitter (full disclosure- we’re one of their media supporters). In terms of great hashtags for Twitter and Instagram, think about the audience for your film, and then the genres and sub-genres your film belongs to. Experiment, look at your analytics and see what works effectively.

The follow/unfollow tactic: I have to admit, this is the one that annoys me. There are some people who will follow you on Twitter or Instagram, and if you don’t follow back, they’ll unfollow, only to surface again down the track and will follow you again in the hopes that you’ve forgotten about their follow/unfollow!

A better way: people will follow and unfollow who they want to. You can’t beat people over the head with a stick to get them to do what you want on social media. You just can’t. When people use the follow/unfollow tactic, it tells people that they actually don’t care that much about your content, they just want to rack up follower numbers. You should be focusing on quality, not quantity. Follow the people you genuinely want to follow, especially if they have content you love sharing with your followers.

And, related to this point:

Buying followers: No. No. No. NO. Again, it’s quality over quantity. Would you prefer 100 engaged followers who share your content, connect with you and support your film, or 1000 who do nothing? It’s a practice you don’t want to have anything to do with, especially if overnight you suspiciously have a huge amount of followers and minimal engagement. That doesn’t mean people don’t end up with a massive amount of followers and likers overnight (especially if something goes viral, is mentioned in the news or is recommended by someone with a huge following), but it does tend to look very suspicious.

A better way: building up an audience and a following takes time. There’s no magic pill for it, except genuinely connecting with your audience on a regular basis. But building up that audience means that you will have followers/likers who have supported you from day one- isn’t that inspiring? You are inspiring- never forget that! And yes, being in publicity and social media marketing means I can put a quantifiable number on certain aspects of audience engagement, etcetera…but you can’t put a number on inspiration, or on the young person still in high school who avidly follows you and is inspired by your work to become a filmmaker themselves. One of the other things that I think a lot of people tend to do is see the numbers as a reflection of who they are, but it really isn’t. Maybe that sounds a bit woo-woo, but when you’re creating anything and working towards a goal, sometimes it’s easy to see those pesky numbers as a reflection of your self worth. Trust me- I’ve been there! But you and I both know you’re more than the numbers. Don’t sweat it, grow that following organically and over time and your work will be seen, appreciated and shared.

Identifying Newsworthy Elements of Your Indie Film

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So, you have an amazing film and you want everyone to see it- of course! And while social media is the most immediate way of connecting with your audience, chances are you’re going to want to secure some reviews, features and interviews as well.

Recently we talked about how to pitch to media to secure coverage for your film via traditional (newspapers, print magazines, television and radio news) and new media (websites, blogs, podcasts). In it, we talked about the fact that in order to secure coverage, your pitch for your film needs to be newsworthy (you can see the criteria we used here). If you do your research with regards to your audience and their demographic, you can very easily use these newsworthiness criteria to assist your chances of gaining exposure for your film. The best way to highlight the newsworthy aspects of your film is via your press release. So how can you find the newsworthy aspects of your film in order to secure media coverage? We’re going to give you examples using the newsworthy criteria mentioned above.

Timing: new, now, fresh: timing is everything. You don’t want to secure coverage for your film’s big advanced screening and Q&A after the fact. If your film was released to VOD six months ago, your chances of securing coverage lessens, especially with regards to gaining reviews in large media outlets. Film critics and reviewers are inundated with screenings every day, so you want to get your request to review in as soon as possible (we give you a good timeline here).

Significance: significance can be a useful newsworthy criteria, particularly if your film has a topic that would affect many audience members. For instance, you have a documentary about an illness that affects a large percentage of the worldwide population, it’s worth citing statistics in your press release.

Also, if there’s something of huge significance about the film or the filmmaking process, that’s definitely worth mentioning: for instance, your film raised the most money of any crowdfunding campaign to date on a crowdfunding platform, your principal photography had something of significance, like the longest recorded principal photography shoot in a certain location (or the shortest), etcetera. If, like me, you’ve just seen Christopher Nolan’s Dunkirk, it’s worth thinking about his film and filmmaking and then thinking about what sort of significance it had that would make it newsworthy (outside of the fact that it’s a WWII epic, directed by Christopher Nolan and with many prominent actors).

Proximity: Citing proximity is always great if you’re pitching to producers at local and national radio and TV news stations, or editors of local and national newspapers. No matter how big or small a film is, regardless of budget, people love the sparkle of movie-making. If the area your film was shot in has particular significance (again tying into the significance criteria) historically that can be a newsworthy element. Perhaps you’ve made an epic Western in an area that has a rich tradition of goldmining, or a psychological horror in a town where a particularly famous horror auteur was born. It’s definitely worth noting if your film has employed predominantly local crew, as it shows your commitment to that particular area and the skills the people of that area have brought to your film.

Prominence: Does your film have a name actor, or crew members that have been attached to Hollywood blockbusters (like SFX people, producers, scriptwriters etc)? This is what you can highlight to make your film more newsworthy, especially if your name actor has had recent successes, won awards or has a huge fanbase.

Human Interest: As the post about newsworthiness criteria states above, this is the sort of thing you see at the end of broadcasts: the cute, the quirky, the inspirational. So what’s cute, quirky or inspirational about your film? This is also where you can highlight anything funny or unusual that happened on set, especially if you have a name actor who is happy to be quoted about something that happened. For instance, a few years ago we mentioned in our press release of a short film (and also via social media) that the film only had two consecutive days allocated to shooting…during the British summertime. Of course, anyone who knows the particulars of British weather knows that this was asking for a miracle. Thankfully, the weather gods smiled on the crew and they had two consecutively fine days to film. This was the approach we used when pitching to British media, knowing they would appreciate the drama of waiting on two rainless days!

Finding newsworthy elements to pitch your film to media doesn’t have to be hard. Every film has a range of the various elements that can be mixed and matched in your press release in order to maximise exposure. Happy filmmaking!

 

 

We’re Getting A Blog Makeover!

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The Film Sprites PR blog is getting a makeover! Nothing drastic, just a few content nips and tucks, as well as brand new updated information to keep you abreast of changes in the social media marketing and PR world.

Many of our most widely read posts will be coming back, so fear not! Check back soon to see what we’ve added.