Over the years, I have had the pleasure of meeting with and speaking to incredibly talented independent filmmakers in various stages of their filmmaking careers. Some of whom are innately new media savvy and they understand the value that publicity brings. In addition to having an entertaining or powerful story to tell, they understand that marketing and publicity are essential to premiering at a film festival, finding distribution, and selling tickets as well as to building a long-term film career. The most astute filmmakers are those that budget for and hire a publicity team. Others want to take on publicity themselves. If you’re going to DIY your film’s publicity, keep these things in mind:
Know Your Audience
You first need to understand the job of a film critic or entertainment reporter. And specifically, you need to understand what their typical day entails. I cannot say this enough—put yourself in their shoes. Realize that they each receive hundreds of emails, press releases, and press kits per day. Just like you, they’re content makers. They have to create and publish reviews, breaking news, feature stories and interviews, social content, etc.
That’s in addition to the time it takes to screen films. That means, they have to prioritize and will give preference. It’s also helpful to have an understanding of how a newsroom works and what the different job titles mean. For example, while there are exceptions, I don’t recommend cold-calling the Publisher about your short film. Also, be respectful of their time; make sure you’re giving them everything they need to do their job in the most efficient way possible. In other words, don’t send a novel-length email, make sure you have assets like photos, trailers, and clips easily accessible, and proofread everything more than once.
Do Your Research
Taking the buckshot approach doesn’t work—be strategic. If you’re making a media list, curate media contacts whose work you’ve actually bothered to read, listen to, or watch. Know what their preferences are. Choose media that cover similar films to yours. Have a really good idea as to whether or not a film critic or entertainment reporter will have the time in their schedule to dedicate to your film. In other words, be mindful of other major industry events and festivals like Sundance, the Academy Awards®, or Cannes and how that will affect a media outlet’s schedule. Hint: there’s a major film event or festival nearly every month so consider how your film fits into the calendar.
When to work with a pro: An independent film publicist not only can help you do the research and make recommendations based on past experience with a particular media outlet, but they have relationships that can help cut through some of the chaos. They will also understand how best to fit your film into a media outlet's editorial calendar.
Be Real With Expectations
No budget? No named talent? No major festival? No distributor? For some media outlets, those are reasons to feature your film and it will be difficult to get placement without these in place. But it's not impossible to overcome. I suggest looking for other ways you can compensate and still connect with people who will most likely enjoy your film. For example, a well-planned and targeted social media campaign may help you jump over this hurdle.
When to work with a pro: Consulting with an indie film publicist, can help you plan an integrated publicity campaign that uses both traditional and non-traditional tactics. Most film publicists working within the indie space have experience with integrated campaigns, how to hack social feed algorithms, and how best to use user data to target your audience. But most importantly, they understand how to use this to your advantage with larger media outlets and distributors.
Knowing what an outlet's reach and influence scores are can also help you develop realistic expectations. Maybe there are five 2nd tier media outlets that would be perfect for your film and collectively their reach equals a first tier outlet. In general, it’s important to measure the success of your publicity beyond getting a placement. Knowing exactly what that coverage is worth and how it translates into additional opportunities is valuable.
When to work with a pro: Publicity Professionals and Marketers have high-priced subscriptions and other media tools that give them measurement data and other insightful information. If you’re having difficulty strategizing in this way and seeing what the values are, it may be worth-your-while to connect with an independent film publicist.
Answer Why/What/How is Your Film Newsworthy?
You must be able to explain your film’s news value. Why should a media contact care about your film? And most importantly, why will their audience? If your film is lacking in star power, your film’s news value needs to be extra compelling. It’s a good idea to explore how comparable films tackled these challenges and how you create solutions that make sense for your film.
When to work with a pro: A film PR pro is trained to know how to answer these questions and how best to present this information to media. Additionally, they know how to integrate this across multiple connection points. If budget is your biggest concern, some film publicists may be willing to coach you or consult with your filmmaking team and give you a strategic roadmap for a portion of the cost to execute a campaign. It’s still best to have your budget include an indie film publicist and let them execute your campaign, but consulting with one is a good compromise.
Remember: Film Media Loves Film
It's simple enough but it’s important to remember that film media are also audience members and consumers of cinema. They have a passion for it and its industry just as much as you do.