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The One Where Independent Filmmakers Learn from PR Professionals

While independent filmmakers have been turning to the Internet to promote their films for years, as social networks grow and platforms become saturated with users, they are facing new challenges in getting the word out and engaging viewers. I recently attended a Public Relations Society of America workshop focused on “Writing for Social Media” in the hopes of learning from the pros some to help filmmakers navigate the social media landscape for promotion and outreach.


General writing tips

  • Keep in mind your goals and objectives ­— the big picture. You want to make something happen and your writing can and should be the impetus.  Don’t let details or tangents distract from what you are trying to accomplish.
  • Make a conscious choice between an abstract or concrete goal – and stick to that choice! With an abstract goal you will be attempting to persuade or inform your reader, with a concrete goal you’ll be attempting to make something happen (for example, turn out attendance at a screening or sell a DVD).
  • Be brief, concise and to the point. You have between one and three seconds to grab the attention of your reader, before they move onto something else.  Try to make your text lively and energetic, not just information heavy. To that end…
  • Use a story! Filmmakers tell stories for a living, so you should have no shortage of stories to share.  An anecdote will always captivate your reader in a way that simply relaying the details of a screening will not.  You don’t have to use your film subject’s story, you can use the stories of people living in similar circumstances, or, share something that happened to you during production.
  • Constantly ask yourself “So what?” Assess and re-assess what your writing would say if you didn’t keep each part of the message.  Make sure each part is getting you closer to your goal, and keeping the attention of the reader.
  • You don’t have to explain much in your writing, but you should be incisive. Provide links when you can, so people interested in learning more can do so. This will cut back on your word count, but you can still provide interested readers with a way to learn more.


Social media tips

  • As the presenter mentioned at the workshop, social media is a “moving target” and it’s tough to gauge who’s reading your posts, emails, tweets, etc.  Make sure you’re measuring something – emails opened, clickthroughs, etc.  This is one of the key ways to keep track of the information that interests your readers, and to find out if your audience is expanding or evolving.
  • Consider your target audience/objective(s) and then assess the following – what is the best platform (Facebook, Twitter, email etc.) and what is the best form (length, style)?
  • Take classes or online tutorials in graphic design or programs like Photoshop. You’ll do yourself a huge favor by having those skills, rather than having to find/hire someone every time you need a new logo or to tweak an image.
  • Include the 5W’s in your writing – who, what, where, when and why – search engines look for these. Also, make sure to include action words (triggers) you have a specific intended outcome – controlling your message will help you achieve that.
  • The AP now has Social Media guidelines. Check those out online , or order a hard copy of the AP style guide.
  • Don’t be afraid to pitch stories to bloggers – if not on your film, perhaps on the topic of your film. They may want to write the article, or they may ask you to guest blog.


Traditional media tips:

While you may now be used to targeting online audiences, traditional forms of media still reach large   audiences and are still looking for stories, so you should not rule them out. Don’t forget what you le arned about basic communication writing!

  • Pitch op-eds. This can be especially effective if your movie is focused on a social issue. Target industry-specific publications that will be more likely to want a new take on a narrow topic. If you’re dealing with a local issue, consider targeting neighborhood newspapers.
  • Send them your press releases – via email and fax. (You can still send them ‘snail mail’ if it’s not urgent.)
  • When emailing a press release keep in mind the following: there should be 200-300 words visible in the body of the email with a link to the entire release; business email clients often see images and videos as spam and may block your email, so link to those instead of embedding them.
  • Use a traditional press kit as well as an electronic or online press kit. This may seem like a lot of work, but some people will find it easier to reach for the hard copy of a photo you sent them, rather than searching their inboxes for the email you sent with the link to your website then searching your site for a photo then waiting for that photo to download.
  • Target the media outlets you’d like to work with and call them to find out the best way to get in touch with them. Also, try to build relationships with the reporters and editors there, so you’re not just “cold calling.”

Other points to keep in mind:

  •  Write in a way that would not embarrass you if it was replicated word-for-word on the front page of The New York Times.
  • Try to find an angle that will elicit a response, be it surprise, confusion or anger.
  • Use email subject lines to your benefit , and be creative. Your subject line should never say things like “Newsletter,” “News you can use” or “Fwd, Fwd, Fwd”.
  • When in doubt, visit sites like Copyblogger for help.