The indie film and television sector is filled with creative people who, after making a couple of projects, look up to realize they are running a company and may or may not be equipped with business knowhow. The future of being successful in this industry, however, is for these producers to think like entrepreneurs and to keep an eye on the big picture of their corporate brand, customers and competition. Last week in Toronto I taught the marketing component of a business workshop put on by the Cultural Human Resources Council (CHRC) to help with this shift in mindset. It was an intense and inspiring three days made possible by master facilitator Sue Biely and while I taught I also learned. Here is a sampling of some of the best advice to help with the marketing of your Canadian independent production company.
Find the Story of Your Brand
Marketing is really about all the ways in which your company or brand interacts with the world. As a production company this can range from your internal corporate culture to every pitch you make to every TV show or movie you produce to how the phone is answered in your office and so much more. Whether part of a strategy or not, each of these interactions becomes part of the story of your company, what my fellow presenter Steve Bocska calls your corporate “master script.” As people in this industry are natural storytellers, you can use these instincts to think about what you want the story of your company to be and put some strategy into shaping its arc. Also make sure to think about how customer reactions, new partnerships, technologies, and other changes in the bigger picture affect that story and make adjustments as necessary.
Identify Your Customer(s) & Speak Their Language
As a producer, you are used to thinking about audience demographics for individual projects, but may not be used to thinking about who are the customers for your business. These could include funders, broadcasters, distributers, marketing agencies, key creatives, as well as the audience/fans you want to follow you from project to project. To think of these people as customers can help reframe the way you integrate them into your corporate story and build relationships with them.
I also believe very strongly it is important to understand the language they speak/write to better communicate with them. Yes, I am talking about keyword research again. Finding out how people are actively looking for your products and services online allows you to connect through Internet search. It also can provide inspiration, prove market viability and, perhaps most importantly, give you the language to “talk the talk” with whomever you are trying to reach. My applied exercise in keyword research was a revelation for most of the producers in the room in terms of the data and language they learned.
Be an Active Part of the Conversation
People talk, swap information, stories and recommendations, including their experiences with brands and companies. In the Internet age this conversation is shared more publicly, more quickly and more widely than ever before. When it is happening about and around your company, projects and target audiences you need to be part of those conversations. And make it a true conversation, not simply pushing out brand messages and never listening or providing real value. The best conversations are authentic, engaged and continuous and they will build a strong community for the story of your brand.
Understand the Value of Community
Movie and television stars have fans; it is part of the value they bring to any project. Some are very tech savvy and keep their fans actively engaged online between projects (such as Ashton Kucher on Twitter). You need to think about your company in the same way. If you can grow a community online of people who are fans of your work and your company then you have something no gatekeeper (broadcaster, distributer, funder, agency) can take away. It is a huge corporate asset and one which takes a significant amount of time and effort to build. This work is an investment, not a quick fix. It will not be immediately monetizable but it will be key to any long term marketing and business strategy in this brave new online world.
Over the three days, many brilliant minds came and shared their knowledge with the room. I was lucky enough to sit through almost all of the sessions. Here are some additional tips and advice from a lot of smart people:
- With change comes opportunity.
- Be agile and adaptive.
- Be innovative (build for the future, not what is happening right now).
- Invest in experienced people.
- Share knowledge.
- Think globally.
- Focus on what brings in cash and positions your company to grow.
- Stories (and traditional media and storytelling skills) matter.
- Identify your core audience/niche and build authentically from there.
Thanks to the CHRC for their support of this opportunity, to Sue Biely for creating a cohesive learning space, to the participants for their openness and willingness to learn, and to Steve Bocska, Julie Giles and the other presenters for being so generous with their wisdom. As one participant put it, “The industry is going through a period of intense turmoil…Platforms and methods of shooting, delivery and editing are all changing faster than governments can respond. The changes are both exhilarating and threatening. To survive, the sector is going to have to be nimble and think outside of the proverbial box. The best government can do to support that is to create environments in which producers can tackle change. The course did that. Let’s have more of them.” Hear, hear!!
Do you have any other questions, resources, tips or insight about marketing an independent film and television production company? Please post below or send them via email to annelise(at)veria.ca or on Twitter @veriatweet.
Or revisit the previous issue: An Interlude with Brent Friedman