by Sara Kiener
Outreach means different things to different people, but when Merrill Sterritt and I co-founded Film Presence in early 2010, we set out to help give form to a certain type of outreach that balances “making an impact” and boosting overall revenue. Here’s how we define it: outreach is the process by which a film finds partners who can help generate buzz and raise awareness within specific communities, all while boosting sales and ambassadoring the film to a wider audience. This process includes pooling contacts, researching potential partners, crafting the tone of an outreach campaign, preparing and nourishing social media and strategically contacting and following up with each potential partner organization or institution, one by one. These partners are then able to spread the word about the film through their preexisting means and outlets.
Here’s how it works at different phases in the life of your film:
Fundraising, Development & Production:
Outreach can probably be handled internally this early on. Here’s what you absolutely need at this stage: Facebook, Twitter and a website. Don’t be scared of launching these things “too soon.” There’s no such thing! If you’re making a social issue documentary, you need an online presence so that potential partner organizations can easily have you on their “radar” (i.e., Google search you!). It’s okay if your trailer isn’t done and it’s fine if your website is very basic! Chances are you won’t need these organizations to help you for another year or more, so it’s better for them to get a good first impression than none at all. If you are making a narrative, you can use your cast and crew’s networks to start building your base.
TIP: Crowd-sourcing isn’t just about raising money on Kickstarter. I’ve seen films find extras and location scout via Facebook statuses and IT WORKS! Get people involved early.
Film Festival Launch:
If you’re premiering in a major metropolitan film festival (SXSW, Tribeca, LAFF, ect.) now’s the time to start making wish lists and phone calls. This is where you can make inroads with your film’s first (and thus most invested) ambassadors. Invite organizations to present screenings, host ticket giveaways on their social media, moderate Q&A’s and include your screenings in newsletters. For ELEVATE, we brought a group of local high school athletes to the premiere at SXSW. It “heightens” the sense of community involvement at the screening, raises awareness locally and generates industry buzz. It’s worth it, and it’s essential to make sure someone on your team (either internally or hired) is taking care of this as soon as you know you’re in a major festival.
However, if you premiere in, let’s say, Park City, you’re not going to have a lot of regional organizations to pick from. That’s okay. You can use the clout of your festival to start making inroads with national partners who can support you down the line.
TIP: While in production, set aside one hour a week to Google search possible partners and keep a list! This will help you get a sense of your options and make you feel productive while phrases like “finding your audience” are whizzing by at lightning speed, and, really all you want to do is finish your film!
Theatrical, Semi-Theatrical or Non-Theatrical launch
This doesn’t have to be as daunting and overwhelming as it seems as long as you’re strategic. Outreach at this stage can be broken down into two simple categories: the asks and the gives. What are you offering to people? What can they expect in return? What can your theater or venue offer in terms of discounts, giveaways and Q&A’s? What can an organization stand to gain from taking your venue up on this offer? What can your director or subjects do to communicate directly to your audience, be it through Q&A’s, exclusive video or social media? What can your partner gain from this interaction?
– USE THE PHONE. Don’t be scared. Organizations like getting phone calls, and usually there’s someone whose job is organizing events JUST like the one you have in mind.
– Think about who you’re reaching out to. Do they have a blog? Ask them to blog! Do they post about events on their homepage? Ask them to do that for you! Do they offer discounts to their members? Utilize it, and make sure you’re getting a newsletter or email blast out of it!
Post-Theatrical or Non-Theatrical outreach:
By this point, you probably already know who most of your partners are (keep them organized in a Google doc!). It’s important to thank everyone who helped you along the way and make them feel like a part of your “team,” so that when you’re booking community screenings, selling DVD’s and/or preparing for your broadcast premiere, they are open to helping you once again. Usually at this stage you’ll ask for others to send emails, include info in newsletters or tweet about your announcement. But you can be creative at this stage…
– If you’re showing your film theatrically, you can ask for support in exchange for a reduced rate or waived fee for a community engagement down the line.
– Offer DVD discounts in exchange for email blasts (i.e., members or affiliated of a certain organization can use voucher within an email blast to redeem a discount.)
– Remember to ask the most obvious partners (and sometimes the easiest to forget) for help at this stage: your funders, the festivals where you premiered, your fiscal sponsors and your cast and crew.
Clearly there’s more to outreach than 1,000 words so we’re thrilled to have the opportunity to post more about our strategies and implementation. In the meantime, please take a moment to vote for our SXSW panel on outreach.