One of the biggest challenges we face as independent creators is getting people to pay attention to our projects. Having press outlets and online communities publicize your work is critical to raising the visibility of a project, and growing an audience beyond friends and family.
While creative independent projects often have a harder time getting ink than their larger counterparts, it’s not impossible. If your production can afford it, hiring a publicist to cut through the noise is smart money. An established publicist has the relationships to ensure the right people hear about your project, and can often give you access to the people who decide whether or not your film is worth a mention.
If you can’t land a publicist, though, you can still use press outreach as a powerful way to promote your project. Do-it-yourself press outreach proved to be a very successful way to amplify the reach of our web-series “Allston Xmas,” an anthology of stories taking place during Boston’s annual moving-day chaos. Our press strategy led to being featured in print and online in Boston Magazine, The Boston Herald, Dig Boston, Boston.com, BostInno, WEMF, Universal Hub, and more importantly—exposing us to tens of thousands of potential viewers we wouldn’t have reached otherwise. Here’s how we did it:
1. Identify your audience.
Who did we think should watch “Allston Xmas?” Absolutely everybody, of course. But we only had so much time and energy to devote to outreach, so we had to zero in on a target audience. As creators, this is a difficult moment; we didn’t want to feel like we were limiting our project to just one audience.
What was helpful for us to ask was: Who do we think should watch it first?
If you’re having a difficult time answering that, try understanding what audience is most likely to go tell their friends to watch your project. Who is going to have a stake or a personal connection to the story you’re telling?
In the end, it was obvious for us. “Allston Xmas” has one of Boston’s most-dreaded annual rituals as its background, so we decided our audience was our fellow Bostonians–and we would count on them to watch and spread the word.
2. Find where your audience already is.
Once we decided who we wanted to know about our project, we needed to find them. Thankfully, the Internet has made it easier than ever for people with shared interests to connect and form communities. Whether your project is about vintage toy collectors, gay athletes, or Renaissance fair workers, there are already numerous channels where these audience members connect with one another.
Take a thorough inventory of where your audience is already going to get their fix of entertainment relevant to them. If you’ve chosen a well-defined audience, it should be short work to find a number of venues where your audience goes for their news. Since we had decided to aim for Bostonians, we targeted all publications that cover local news in Boston, especially ones who cover the local arts.
3. Make contact.
Once you have your list, start to reach out to your channels. Don’t open with the hard sell and don’t think of these folks as gatekeepers. You’re introducing yourself to somebody who loves the same things you do, and writes about them for a living. Find out what each publication’s process is for covering projects like yours. Ask who is the right person to have on your email list, how much lead time they need to get a story approved, what they prefer in terms of images or other collateral.
Your goal here is to find out how to make it as easy as possible for an outlet to cover your project. These days, every media venue–from a newspaper to a radio station to a blog–is in a serious crunch for time and money, and you need your project to be one that they can run with minimal friction. It may take some time to get answers here, so start early and be patient and pleasant.
4. Send press releases.
Remember the part about making things easy for people to write about you? That’s the entire goal of a press release. You want to craft a press release so that there’s as little work as possible between somebody getting your press release and publishing a story.
A good press release should read like an ideal news story about your project, as a narrative in the third person. Include some quotes from key cast and creatives—these can and will be pulled out if an editor wants to run a fast story. Include any upcoming events, and clear contact info for questions or interview requests. Include links and have high-resolution images ready to go.
Most of all, explain why your project is noteworthy now. Make a connection to current news, or position yourself as a part of a wider trend or topic. Or, best of all, link your project to something they’re going to cover anyway. For “Allston Xmas,” we timed our series release to Boston’s annual September 1 moving day, which let us piggyback on the stories that every local outlet was already going to write about moving day.
5. Start early and follow up, follow up, follow up.
The news cycle is short and fast, and the amount of attention that can be devoted to covering your project will vary dramatically from one day to the next. This is why it’s crucial to get on a writer or editor’s radar early, check in periodically, and not take it personally if you don’t get a reply right away. Plan out various times within your project cycle—from fundraising to shooting to release—when you can pitch your project, and keep your connections alive.
6. Share everything!
Once an outlet does write about you, share it everywhere, and with enthusiasm. This kicks off a virtuous cycle: Once one channel has covered you, it becomes more likely that others will follow suit (and likely they will be interested in follow-up stories, too). It’s also a huge morale boost for your cast and crew and existing fans–who will feel their early support is vindicated, and do even more to promote your project to their own friends and family.
For all the legwork that goes into press outreach, the case for having a publicist is pretty clear. It’s key to have a member of your team dedicated to staying on top of all the outreach and collateral it takes to nurture a story. If your project is on a shoestring budget like ours, though, you can still use press outreach to successfully expand your reach–by focusing your efforts, nurturing relationships, and making it easy for established channels to connect your project to your shared audience.
Jared Vincenti and Kenice Mobley are the director and producer of Allston Xmas, an anthology webseries set in Boston on September 1st–the day when the majority of leases in the city turn over. Jared and Kenice are both graduates of Boston University’s MFA Film Directing program. Jared’s first feature film, “Day of Youth,” will premiere next year. Kenice is a stand up comedian and is currently producing the second season of webseries “K&A”. Follow them on Twitter–@jaredvincenti and @kfmawesomeness–and check out “Allston Xmas” at www.allstonxmas.com.