Laying out the tools

Posted on April 12, 2010

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After listening to people talk endlessly about specific, somewhat limited, promotional methods such as working your social network like an encyclopedia salesman to achieve whatever it is you achieve through that I thought I’d kind of step back and start from the beginning. If you want to be realistic about it the major labels/studios found the “secret” to the successful marketing/promotion method that works long ago and have spent years honing it down to near perfection. So, I thought, rather than flail around blindly in the (crowded) world of web based promotions, why not first think about simply finding ways to copy what already works?

Promoting a band or film like the studios/labels do makes use of 3 basic tools. I created this nifty illustration to lay them out:

The easiest place to start is to simply consider the methods used by studios and record labels to market their products.  The challenges that they face are the same as those faced by independent artists.  The goal is to make the buying public aware of the product.  Or, more importantly, to make them want the product. To accomplish this majors make heavy use of advertising.  Advertising serves as both a promotional tool and a direct sales channel.  In addition they make use of their easy access to the press.  This combination of advertising and press exposure serves to create a social buzz about the products.

Much of the advice that I see being offered to independent artists focuses solely on various aspects of social networking and essentially ignores advertising and the press.  However, tools do exist that allow independent artists to utilize both advertising and the press in addition to their social networks to promote and sell their material.  Of course independent artists don’t have the same “star power” to throw around so you probably won’t be able to get a review in the New York Times or have your photo on the cover of Rolling Stone with just a phone call.  But that doesn’t mean that you can’t make use of the same methods.

I divided the job of promotion/marketing into three basic areas; press, advertising, and social networks. I then divided each of those three areas into subsets representing the goals that could be achieved by utilizing each.  It became pretty easy at that point to tackle each of the three individually in terms of finding existing, affordable tools that will enable you to use all of them were in your DIY marketing campaign in whatever way seems most appropriate for your individual product. 

I decided to use real world examples when writing this blog, so from this point on I am going to describe my own experiences working with various web based services in promoting actual independent films and musicians.  After all, anything can be made to look good on paper but it’s what works in the real world that counts.  Besides there is nothing like hands on experience to enable you to discover the tricks and the mistakes that are inevitably present in any web based platform.

Additionally I think that part of any successful marketing effort has to focus on both the web audience and the larger audience and the rest of the world.  After all the web based audience is only 1/6 world population.  While 1.6 billion people on the web is a huge audience why be limited to that audience if you don’t have to?  The majors unlimited and you should be either.

At the moment are working with a film that has just come off the festival circuit.  It was released on DVD on March 16.  Two months prior to that release date I sent out screeners to about 10 of the largest web based and real world publications who had expressed interest in seeing the film after receiving an earlier e-mail from me.  Those screeners laid the groundwork for press coverage at the final film festival.  So there is an easy example of using a web based tool (email) to reach out to the wider market beyond the web.

The web by its very nature is a great starting point for a marketing campaign that is aimed at a wider audience.  I say this because most of the important people in the media industry whether their focus is news or entertainment are all on the web.  So if you want to contact the movers and shakers in the information industry the web is where you start.

The filmmaker that I’m working with now has decided to limit his distribution model to DVD’s and public performances at this time.  Within those limitations I put together the best promotion/marketing campaign that I could.  On the day that the film was released on DVD I began sending emails to every newspaper the country.  I’m not advocating this course of action for every film out there.  This film is unique in that it is a Documentary which is pertinent to issues that are in the news at the moment and therefore can be perceived to be of enough general interest to justify the emails to newspapers, radio stations and TV News shows all over the country.  It feels like the right film to right time to be able to experiment with shooting for distribution on a much larger scale that might otherwise be advisable.

An immediate return on those emailings has been several offers from TV stations for local broadcasting of the film along with several interviews on major AM radio stations.  Today I had a call from a Fox affiliate to do an interview for their news show.  Not bad for an indie film with a $200,000 budget.

On the advertising side I utilized google ads.  Google ads are not expensive to use but I have learned that you have to know how to use them correctly or you can get burned a little bit on the money side.  Not deliberately but simply because you might be advertising to the wrong part of the world on too big of a budget.  I can help you avoid those pitfalls.

I was running text, graphic and click to play video ads for the film. Google ads allows you to set your per click price and determine your daily budget.  For the most part I have the ads bid at 10¢ per click with a $10.00 a day limit.  The total expenditure to date for those ads has been $55.00.  For that money the ads saw over 775,000 page views and received around 3500 clicks.  In terms of exposure, using graphic and video ads to grab the attention of viewers can’t be beat. I think that 3/4 of a million views is well worth the $55.00 investment.

Because the filmmaker wants to stick with limiting distribution to DVD sales and public screenings for the time being the entire sales and marketing campaign is being focused around those two forms of distribution.  Let’s face it, trying to create a series of public screenings for a film on a national basis with zero budget is not an easy task. Not impossible, but definitely not easy.

I also sent an email to every theater chain and independent theater in the country.  From that mailing I have received responses from about five theaters so far who expressed an interest in showing the film.  That made me realize that it is possible to take any film for a national theatre run.  After all this is America and everything here is for sale including the screens on your local theater.  With the right approach and a sufficient budget you have every bit as much ability as a Hollywood studio to put your little indie film up on the big screen in theaters across the country or the world.

I think that in the last two weeks since the release of the film I have successfully utilized both the press and advertising to position this film for national run.  In addition I contacted grassroots and business organizations who would obviously have an interest in the subject matter of the film.  Several of these organizations have gotten firmly behind the film and then made their members aware of it and how to purchase it.  The total number of members of the groups that I contacted is around seven million people.  That was the first major outreach that involved the social aspects of my marketing plan.

Next I’m going to start breaking down each of the three areas of the successful promotion/marketing campaign as outlined above. I want to go into a great deal more detail on each.  I have a lot more ideas, both proven and unproven, to share with you.

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