Five Tips to Raise Awareness of Your Social-Change Film

Planting seeds and building recognition, one step at a time

Though it may be rare for a social-change film to achieve big box-office numbers, that doesn’t mean organizations, nonprofits and indie artists should forego opportunities to raise the stakes of their cinematic endeavors.

All it takes is a bit of inventiveness and inspiration to take an ethically guided, awareness-raising reel to the next level. Here are five ways to heighten visibility, deepen traction and build excitement around a social-change film.

Create a promo. Much has been said about the shortening of the average person’s attention span. In fact, Microsoft recently found that people’s attention spans have declined to just 8 seconds – one second less than a goldfish and four seconds less than Americans’ attention spans were in the year 2000.

Often, for marketing and PR professionals especially, this observation (in part) initially led to a frenzied preoccupation to make all forms of written content – advertisements, blog posts, newsletter articles – briefer. Though long-form content has now been re-embraced for many reasons, a similar lesson about shorter-form content may be applied to film.

Watching an entire film requires a time commitment of up to an hour and a half or more. Filmmakers who want to capture non-committal, lukewarm or time-strapped audiences should create a promo or preview to stimulate interest. This is the video equivalent to an extract for a research study or teaser copy for an article. All provide enough of a snapshot to steer audiences to the next phase of fuller engagement.

Heighten the visual with the textual. A good film engages the senses, but that doesn’t mean the film can effectively stand on its own merits in building awareness. A variety of text-based deliverables can heighten conversation, clicks and cross-over appeal. These may include commentaries about issues raised by the documentary, extensive investigative pieces that explore a prominent theme at a deeper level and personal posts by those close to the film (the producer, director, actors or other participants) about their journeys through the process.

“Creating various touch points across the messaging matrix builds continuity and community around social-change efforts,” says K. Danielle Edwards, content manager for The Wakeman Agency. “It’s about being where your advocates and target audiences are, and providing content that appeals to them at a deeper level.”

Many social-change films happen to be documentaries, and documentary film fans tend to be information junkies. Producers and promoters of social-change films can capitalize on this hunger for details, facts and footnotes by generating content-rich human-interest and fact-based narratives that drive audiences to the movie. Blogs, op-eds, email newsletters and first-person accounts are great places to start.

Host sneak-peek previews or premieres. Sometimes there’s no better way to build excitement than to make people feel special. Imparting the impression of a selective or one-time only event is a sure-fire way to turn onlookers into action-oriented participants. A sneak-peek screening or invitation-only premiere (red carpet optional) rouses fanfare and, almost like a high-tech release, stewards early adoption.

Getting an indie films or social-change cinema screened in an actual theatre can be a Herculean effort. But that’s no reason to abandon the idea. Films can be shown in alternative venues, like event halls, auditoriums, outdoor amphitheaters, banquet rooms or even private homes with a nice projector – and a bit of ingenuity to elevate the experience.

Offer exclusive review opportunities. Journalists, film critics and influential bloggers can be courted by the promise of a limited engagement or targeted opportunity. Offering just-in-time review exclusives to a finite group of specially chosen watchers is yet another way to build excitement and momentum for a social-change work. Filmmakers can send out actual screeners, or even create a special password-protected site where the film can be accessed and viewed for only a brief window of time.

Bloggers, social-media personalities and official media members are apt to capitalize on the opportunity to be a part of something new, interesting or big – before it’s validated as new, interesting or big. Those invited to review the film before its actual release date should know about the exclusivity of the opportunity. Sometime there’s no better cachet than being among the first, only or few.

Align the film with a bigger, bolder movement. Made a film about voter fraud, and it’s election season? Seize upon the timing. Developed a documentary on agribusiness and noticed a change in the commercial farming industry? Capitalize on the momentum.

Inserting a social-change film into an ongoing conversation, or a visible movement in progress, is a strategic way to elevate awareness and interest. This approach may be leveraged into interview opportunities, talk radio or television appearances, and special invitations to submit bylined material for a news site or blog.

Video and film are becoming bolder and bigger parts of campaigns, initiatives and platforms. How have you or your organization sparked interest and motivated action through social-change films? Share with us and other PR and events professionals on The Wakeman Agency’s Facebook community.

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