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Monday, September 12, 2011

Marketing Nuggets: Mining for Gold

I’ve been receiving questions in response to my Blog postings via Facebook.  Here’s a great one from Derwin White:
Hi Anne Marie,
I was wondering if you could impart some tips that you use on how to effectively promote oneself, in a way that would make one stand out from the others.  If there are ANY nuggets you could share, I'd be appreciative.  I’m looking forward to getting a piece of the GOLD that has helped you to make a living in Hollywood. 
Thanks!  - Derwin White, Serra Mesa, CA

My answer to Derwin’s question is 6 pages long, single-spaced, and there’s still so much more to say.  I hope you enjoy this GOLD from the Queen!

There are many talented performers in the world.  What separates successful artists from all the others is the ability to market their product well.

Think of yourself as a product.  See yourself on the shelf.  What type of packaging will you use to draw attention to what you do?  If you’re an actor, musician, director, writer, or producer, you may choose to use your best headshot.  If you’re in a band, maybe it’s a group shot or logo.  If you’re a voice-over artist you may have created an animated image with a catchy phrase that lets the producer know your specialty.  Producers need to know where they can peg you.  Don’t be afraid to put yourself in a specific category.  You may think you’re boxing yourself in, but what you’re really doing is giving them a clear idea of how you can be cast.  There will aways be room to branch out and expand.  Give yourself a specific starting point to assist those who haven’t a clue who you are.  Yet, that is!

Create a website.  Brand yourself.  Whether you design your website yourself or hire an expert, make sure it’s awesome.  This is your calling card.  You’ll include your bio, photos, resume, contact info, and video or audio clips.  You want to be at the very top on the first page of entries when your name is Googled.  You may need to enlist someone who is web savvy to assist you with this. 

If you can’t afford to set up your own website with a professional web designer, check out NOW Casting or Argentum Photo Lab.  They offer templates that make it easy to upload your information and charge a monthly fee to host your website.  Make the investment because it will pay off. 

Design a logo.  It can be your initials or your name in an interesting font & color, a colorful emblem or company crest, or an image that represents who you are.  I used my initials at one point because my agents often referred to me as AMH.  Now I use a headshot with my Queen of Everything crown logo beneath it.  If you’ve already done this and it’s been over ten years, you may want to rebrand yourself.  Keep it fresh.

When I was Corn Fed, Inc, my logo was  corn cob.  It represented the fact that I was from Iowa which helped me book roles.  I was new to the commercial acting world and Midwestern actors were a hot commodity in the New York City casting circuit.  Now that I’m Queen of Everything, Inc I use a crown for my logo with the log line, Creativity Rules.  It represents the fact that I wear many different crowns, that of actor, writer, producer, director, painter, teacher, and overall creative artist. 

Once you establish your chosen logo, stick with it.  Use it everywhere.  On Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, MySpace, YouTube, your website, stationery, envelopes, business cards, postcards, Constant Contact or other emailing service.  Use it as your email signature, on your Blog, and anywhere and everywhere else you can think of.  Be sure to include your website address with the logo.

Demo and Audio Reels are a must.  If you don’t have any video, create it.  Videotape a nice warm welcome for your website, or shoot a scene with other actors.  Put together something that shows you off well.  Actors Access has a service called Actor Slate, a sixty-second general interview.  If you don’t have a demo reel, this is a great way to be seen by casting directors.  If you do have a demo reel, keep it up-to-date, putting your high profile scenes up front, and keeping the DVD only a few minutes long, with a variety of scenes progressing at a nice energetic pace.  One-minute demo reels are currently the rage.  Voice-Over artists absolutely must have a one-minute audio reel.  You can create one from scratch.  Once you have a VO demo, get it out in the world.  There are many online voice casting services such as Voice Bank, Voice123, Voices, and more.

Keep your info updated.  Be diligent about updating your website, resume, IMDB credits, Social Media, and all your other info listed online or elsewhere.  Keep it current. 

Send correspondence regularly.  Whether it’s 8x10 mailings, or 4x6 postcards, mailings are a must.  You don’t have to have anything important to say.  It’s about getting your photo, or company logo, across the desk of those you’re trying to meet or stay in touch with.  A simple “Just wanted to say Hi!” will do if you don’t have anything new to mention.  It’s all about the reminder.  You want to get your image across their desk so they keep thinking of you.  Whether you choose to send your postcards, or email notices, once a week or once a month, stick to a plan and make sure you do it.  There are online services, such as Overnight Prints and Vista, that offer excellent prices on picture postcards.  When you do have something to brag about, have a special postcard made and send it to everyone you can think of. 

Actors, check out Envelopenz at Actor Tips online.  They’re large white envelopes with a clear plastic opening on one side so your 8x10 can be seen.  This is a good way to introduce yourself.  After the initial mailing, you can send follow up postcards, using the same photo so you can be easily indentified.  Always include your website & let them know they can view your work there. 

Create Email Blasts.  Blast out several hundred notices with the touch of a button.  I use Constant Contact, but there are many excellent email marketing services available.  Some offer free services, others have monthly fees, depending on your needs.  Gather emails and enter them in the database.  I create newsletters, notices, invitations, updates, etc.  It’s a great way for actors to let a large group of people know when you’re going to be on television or in a film.  The templates they offer are easy to use and since it’s creative, I enjoy doing it.   They also offer classes which I have found to be very helpful.

Think outside the box.  Stand out from the crowd.  An actor friend of mine got a huge role in Apollo 13 because he found out the casting directors liked chocolate chip cookies.  He ordered a box from their favorite cookie company, taped his photo on the lid, and took it over to their office with a note saying that he wanted to audition for them.  He got the appointment and booked the job.  He even got to go to the Academy Awards when the film was nominated.  You want to avoid being obnoxious or desperate, but if you take the time to find out something specific about who you’re going to meet, you can make a good impression on them.  With the help of Google, social media, and word of mouth, you can come up with something that will get you noticed in a good way.  Put yourself in the shoes of the person you’re contacting.  Make sure the item you choose to give is something that you would be comfortable receiving.  You don’t have to do this every time.  I rarely give gifts.  I like to find other ways in, such as a referral.  Facebook is great for this because it lets you know which of your friends know each other.  Ask for a favor nicely and be okay with a no.  Don’t ever let a no get you down.  You’re not putting yourself out there if you’re not getting turned down here and there.  Let a rejection spur you on.  And be sure to express gratitude when a door is opened.  Thank you notes are wonderful and hand-written notes are especially nice.  

Be persistent in a nice way.  When I want footage from a TV show or  film that I’ve worked on, I’ll call the production office and ask nicely for a copy of the episode or feature.  They may not be able to help you out, but if they say yes, and you still haven’t received your DVD a week later, give them another call.  Ask nicely again.  Sometimes they need a gentle reminder.  If they’re unable to provide you with material, you’ll almost always be able to find it online.  Though with feature films, I’ve often had to wait until they’re released in video stores and purchase the film  there or online at Amazon. 

Derwin White, who wrote the question that prompted these words you’re now  reading, is a great example of being persistent in a good way.  It took awhile for me to write this article.  His first email arrived on August 24th.  I responded, letting him know that I was planning to answer his question in a few days.  When he didn’t hear back from me for awhile, he sent a nice follow up message, saying he knew that I was busy, but that he was looking forward to getting a piece of the gold that has helped me make a living in Hollywood.  His Facebook messages not only inspired me to sit down and write, but also supplied me with the title! 

Keep track of networking and appointments.  I have an assortment of 3-ring binders with insert tabs that have the names of the projects I’ve worked on.  I use separate binders for each category: Theatrical, Voice-Overs, Commercials, and Hosting.  I also have a 3-hole puncher and the minute I get home from an audition or shoot, I punch holes in the sides, directions, call sheet, contract, and any other information I’ve received, and put it into my binder.  Every year I create new binders, saving those from prior years so I can refer back to them when necessary.  This way, I have all the information I need right at my fingertips.

Make sure your photo looks like you.  There’s nothing worse than presenting yourself other than how you actually look.  You won’t do well on a dating website with a photo that misrepresents you and you certainly won’t do well when you go in to take a meeting with a casting director, producer, director, or network executive.  Get new photos taken a minimum of every three years, more often if you change your look.  Be sure to use a professional photographer and refrain from doing too much retouching.  You want to put your best face forward, but you want it to look like you.

Go to events.  I attend a lot of plays and always run into directors, casting directors, producers, or agents at the theatre.  It’s good to be seen, and even better to attend shows that will inspire you and spark your creative juices. 

Make a Map of Relationships.  Put yourself in the center of the page, and then put your closest industry relationships in the next circle around you, and so on, until you get to the outer circle, which would include business associates you don’t know that well.  Find their contact info if you don’t have it handy.  Get back in contact with those you’ve lost touch with, and make it a habit to stay connected with those you know well. 

Make requests.  Learn to get good at asking for help.  Find a mentor, someone you admire and respect.  They don’t have to be famous.  It could be someone who has a career that is further along than yours.  Contact them with specific questions.  Social media is a great way to connect. 

Target the top 10 people you want to meet.  For actors it may be the top 10 shows you’d like to work on.  Send to the casting directors of those shows regularly.  Make requests for a meeting or audition.  If you’re a musician and want them to listen to your music, offer an easy way to sample it via YouTube, Vimeo, MySpace, your website, or other online source.  I can’t tell you how many contacts I’ve made through Facebook and Twitter.  These are the top two social media networking sites.  Get familiar with them.  When you post new info, ask your Facebook friends and Twitter followers to spread the word. 

Find a way to make marketing fun.  Most artists would rather be creating than networking, and honing their talent rather than their business skills.  But you need to find a way to make the ‘business’ of your career enjoyable.  It doesn’t do you any good to put your work out into the world with resentment.  You need to do your mailings and marketing with a joyous intention.  The best way to do that is to make it easy.  Most industry bigwigs don’t have time to read lengthy letters.  Just send a short personal note with your photo.  Here are a few examples:  “_______ suggested we meet.  I’ll call you next week to schedule an appointment.”   “I’d love to meet you for the role of _________ in the film you’re casting, _______.”  “Visit my website to view clips & learn more.”  Whatever it is, a short handwritten note attached to your mailing will be sufficient. 

Utilize online casting services.  There are numerous online casting services, such as Actors Access, LA Casting, NOW Casting, and more.  Purchase the CD Directory and the Ross Reports for updated casting addresses.  There’s also an excellent app called Actor Genie.  Get the trade papers, also accessible online and as apps: the Hollywood Reporter, Daily Variety, BackStage West, and more.  Read as much as you can about your field.  There are so many great books, classes, and workshops.  Stay on top of what’s going on in your industry.  Keep learning and growing. 

Set up a company.  I have my own company that I use for production purposes.  It’s a sub-chapter S Corporation, and it’s a tremendous asset when I present myself as a professional offering services. 
I know a group of actors who got together and set up a management company.  They pooled their money together to cover expenses.  Because they formed a legitimate company, they were able to receive Breakdown Services, which is the best source of casting information available.  Each actor was designated one day a week, searching for roles in the breakdowns that would be right for their fellow actors as well as themselves, and mailing or hand-delivering packages to the casting directors. 

Get an Agent or Manager.  When I started out, I didn’t have referrals so I had to get creative.  I wrote letters to agents telling them a little about myself, and requested a meeting.  Because I was young and fresh out of Iowa, this approach worked well.  Later, when I decided to change agents, I went to the Screen Actors Guild, opened their thick books of Agent Client lists and wrote down the names of the women I didn’t know, then looked them up in the Player’s Directory, noting if they were direct competition.  I wrote personal letters to the agents I was targeting, stating that they didn’t have anyone on their roster like me and that I would be a good asset and looked forward to meeting them.  This approach worked for me as well.  The agent I have now was recommended by a casting director.  She opened the door by making a phone call.  There are Agent and Manager books available at Samuel French.  A manager usually has fewer clients and can offer personal attention.  Whatever you do, know that marketing doesn’t stop just because you have representation.  You still need to do as much as you can to let others know about your awesome product, which is YOU!

Hire a Pro.  It takes a lot of time and energy to get ahead.  If you really hate the idea of marketing yourself, have a friend help you or better yet, hire a pro.  It will be worth the investment.  I had a girlfriend who came over to my house one evening a week after her secretarial job at Disney.  She sat at my computer and entered hundreds of contacts, helping me create a new database.  I also had her help me with fan mail.  She took my autographed headshots home with her and sent them out to fans who had requested them.  I paid a small fee for her services, but you can make a trade with a friend.  Be creative.
Shake it up.  If you’ve tried every one of these things and you’re still not getting work, or at the very least, meetings, appointments, or auditions, then reassess what you’re putting out into the world.  Maybe it’s time for a new look, a new website, and a new approach.  Shake it up.  Rebrand.  Make a change.  Think about who you are and what you want to say.  Express yourself in a way that is clear and concise.

Mine for Gold.  Hopefully, one of these gold nuggets will inspire you to mine for more gold.  Let me know how you do.  I’m building a roster of career breakthroughs and I want to put your name on the list of success stories! 

Anne Marie Howard blogs regularly at
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