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Promoting your film

Dear Doc Doctor:

All I can afford in terms of marketing my documentary is my Internet connection and email account. What’s the best way to use them?

There was a time when nobody had an Internet connection. Spam was just canned meat and attachment was mostly used to describe a bond of affection. Ah! Remember those days! Today we have to worry about infected documents and fear our email addresses will disappear into the junk mail blocker.
Those and many other considerations have to be pondered before you embark on a guerrilla marketing campaign of your documentary. We have become very sophisticated in our email correspondence and so that simple mass e-newsletter sent to all your friends and family isn’t quite as effective any more. But the time you spend perfecting and studying your strategy will show in the response and results you get.

In addition, no matter how little the budget, the postcard by snail mail and a reminder by phone are still common and necessary. Your e-marketing has to be part of a broader campaign, and in line with your fundraising strategy, your distribution plan and your website content. Please reconsider if you can spare at least some resources on the traditional channels of communications, and if possible join forces with a non-profit that seems aligned with the topic of your film to help you with promotion.

When using email as your primary marketing tool, you have to analyze four elements: the communicator, the message, the medium, and the recipient. Email Marketing, by Jim Sterne, covers each of these elements, and there are several other books out there on email marketing, as well as on internet software for spam blocking.

You are the communicator when it comes to email marketing, and so you need to consider a few things. First, how are you going to represent yourself—as a filmmaker, or as a company? The actual message should be short and include links to your website for those who want to find out more. Catchy subject lines and bullet points are highly recommended. No attachments, ever. Also take into consideration timing and frequency. According to the experiences of several filmmakers that I’ve worked with, the best times to send emails out are mid-week, bi-monthly, or quarterly.

Be sure to target your audience, and address each accordingly. Journalists are interested in different aspects of your film than people who might be directly affected by the film’s subject. Do not forget to provide opt-in and opt-out, which gives your readers the option to sign in or sign out from your newsletter.

And finally, don’t be like the fruit cart man who shouts out the offer of the day during afternoon naptime. It only works in quiet faraway world towns with no supermarkets. In big noisy cities, it’s useless and illegal. Instead, provide information and opportunities to interact in your newsletter. You have a better chance to be listened when you also offer to listen back.

Dear Doc Doctor:

I don’t know if I’m the best person to represent my own film—I don’t like promoting myself, and I’m not a good public speaker either. How can I promote my film without actually being there?

Some people are born speakers and the best publicists for their own work, while others have to learn how to do it. But nobody should give up the chance to stand proudly behind his or her work. I wouldn’t be so quick to rule you out as a representative of your documentary. You made the film and people want to know how you did it and what inspired you. Featuring a Q & A with the director after a screening will attract more audience members—even more if the subjects of the film are present.

Maybe think about why it is that you don’t feel comfortable traveling around with your film. Sure, public speaking can be intimidating, but it can also be learned and mastered. What else is lurking in the back of your mind? Maybe you are not totally satisfied with the work. Is there unfinished business with the crew? Do you have very high expectations of the response you will get? Or do you fear negative comments and criticism?

Many dislike the very idea of promotion, let alone self-promotion. We are taught that self-publicizing our work is vain. Blowing your own horn is a sign that your work can’t stand for itself. And there is some truth to that. Some filmmakers have good packaging but no content. Some are arrogant and pedantic in public as a way to fend off warranted criticism. You don’t want to be like them, but you shouldn’t give up on your film either. You just need to find a style of promotion that matches your personality and skills.

Check out Sell Yourself Without Selling Your Soul, by Susan Harrow. Her gentle approach to attracting media, as opposed to aggressive marketing, covers a range of strategies from how to make press releases to handling yourself in an interview. The book has been marketed as being for women who want to promote their work with “integrity and spirit,” but after reading it, I discovered that whether or not it’s meant for just women, “integrity and spirit” are what documentary filmmaking is all about.

Want to ask the Doc Doctor a question for a future issue of The Independent? Write to her at info@documentarydoctor.com

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