I have had dozens of questions on self promotion and artistic relationship building in the last couple of weeks so I put together this article:
It’s no secret: to get ahead, you have to promote yourself. But for most people, the thought of promoting themselves is slightly shady. Images of glad-handing insurance salesmen or arrogant know-it-alls run through our heads.
The reality is that artists all rely on self-promotion. Whether you want to start your own production, sell your script to a producer, start a creative group, get noticed by an agent, manager or casting director, you need to make people aware of you and your abilities. While we’d like to think that our work speaks for itself, the fact is that usually our work needs us to put in some work to attract attention before our work can have anything to say.
The good news is that self-promotion doesn’t have to be shady — in fact, real self-promotion almost by definition can’t be shady. The reason we get a bad feeling from overt self-promoters is that, most of the time, their efforts are insincere and their inauthenticity shows. It’s clear that they’re not building a relationship with us but only shooting for the quick payoff, whether that’s a sale, a vote, or a positive performance evaluation. They are pretending to be our friend to get something they want. And it shows.
Real self-promotion extends beyond the initial payoff — and may bypass the payoff entirely. It gives people a reason to associate themselves with us, for the long term. It’s genuine and authentic — more like making friends than selling something. Of course, if you’re on the make, that kind of authenticity makes you vulnerable, which is why the claims of false self-promoters ring hollow: they are hollow.
The main rule of self-promotion is to be the best version of yourself. That is, of course, a little vague and is bound to mean something different to everyone. But here’s a few more specific things to keep in mind when working to get the word out about you and your work:
1. Add value:
What separates you from every other creative mind who does what you do is the particular value you bring personally bring to the table. The same applies to your marketing efforts – people tune out if you’re just blathering on about how great you are. Instead, apply your particular expertise in demonstrable, helpful ways and include their value.
2. Be confident:
If you are telling people about something that adds value to their lives, there’s no reason to feel as if you’re intruding. Stand up tall and show that you have faith in yourself, your abilities, and your work. After all, if you don’t have confidence in yourself, why should anyone else?
3. Be sensitive to context:
Always be aware of and responsive to the person or people you’re talking to right now, and the conditions in which you’re relating to them. You can’t just write a pitch and deliver it by rote every time you meet someone — you need to adapt to changing environments (are you at a cocktail party or in the Casting Studio?) and the knowledge levels and personalities of the people you’re talking to (are you describing yourself to an Agent or a Casting Director?). The idea of talking points is useful here, because you have an outline to draw on but the level of “fleshing out” is based on where you are and to whom you’re talking.
4. Have permission:
Make sure the people you talk to have given you “permission” to promote yourself. That doesn’t mean you have to start every conversation with “Can I take a few minutes of your time to tell you about…” (though that’s not a bad opening in some circumstances); what it means is that you should make sure the other is receptive to your message. You don’t want to be bothered when you’re eating dinner with your family, in a hurry to get to work, or enjoying a movie, right? In those moments, you aren’t giving anyone permission to talk to you. Don’t interrupt other people or make your pitch when it’s inconvenient for them — that’s almost guaranteed to backfire.
5. Don’t waste my time:
If you’re on target, sensitive to context, and have permission, you’re halfway there on this one; but make sure to take no more time than needed, and don’t beat around the bush. Once you have my attention, get to the point; be brief, be clear, and be passionate.
6. Maintain relationships:
Self-promotion doesn’t end once you’ve delivered your message. Re-contact people periodically. Let people know what you’re up to, and show a genuine interest in what they’re up to. Don’t drop a connection just because they don’t show any immediate need for whatever you do — you never know when they will, and you never know who they know who will. More importantly, these personal connections add more value than just a pile of head shots on their desk.
Self-promotion that doesn’t follow these rules comes off as false, forced, and ultimately forgettable. Or worse, it leaves such a bad taste in the mouths of your victims that the opposite of promotion is achieved — people actively avoid working with you.
In the end, promoting yourself and your work isn’t that hard, as long as you a) are genuinely interested in other people and their needs and b) stay true to yourself and your work. Seek out the people who want — no, need — what you have to offer and put it in front of them.
That’s not so hard, is it?