The Wakeman Agency’s “Films for Change”

New offering amplifies impact of social-change cinema

Film is a formidable force.

Hollywood blockbusters and Oscar-winning sizzlers have long shaped the national conversation on historical happenings, current events and future forecasts.

But in recent years, independent films have reimagined what cinema is – and can be – as new talents give rise to little-heard voices and underrepresented issues, sometimes sparking social change, community action and individual agency through the silver screen.

Independent films are known as a galvanizing force for some of the most critical issues of our day. Michael Moore’s “Bowling for Columbine” ignited debates about gun control and violence in America. Morgan Spurlock’s “Super Size Me” got people thinking more critically about what they consume and how it affects their bodies. Bill Duke’s “Dark Girls” explored closed-door conversations about colorism within African-American communities.

Such films evidence their impact in fomenting cultural awareness, collective consciousness and constructive activity around some of society’s thorniest issues.

“In recent years, there has been an increase in documentary films focused on social change issues,” observes Vanessa Wakeman, founder and CEO of New York City- and Silicon Valley-based events planning and public relations firm The Wakeman Agency. “While many of them have been considered independent films, more major production companies seem to be gravitating toward this genre and putting their resources behind these types of films.”

Building on this momentum – and with years of in-the-trenches experience teaming with nonprofit organizations on social-change initiatives – The Wakeman Agency’s Films for Change “increases the exposure and increases the impact” in sustaining the outreach and engagement of nonprofit causes and socially responsible efforts through the medium.

“Film can serve as the centerpiece of full-scale impact campaigns, igniting change while providing measurable outcomes and educating audiences through storytelling,” says Wakeman, who counts Forks Over Knives and Very Young Girls” among her favorite social-change films. Impact campaigns don’t just focus on promoting the film, but on building a campaign around the issue and, most importantly, measuring the results.”

The Agency’s Films for Change offering aligns message architecture, PR strategies and event management in a seamless package that elevates awareness and motivates involvement. Not only do these strategies drive ticket sales and attendance for these conscientious films, the Agency cultivates approaches designed to transform even casual observers into committed change-makers. This has particular currency for indie filmmakers, production companies, nonprofit organizations and major companies with corporate social responsibility efforts in making the most of these unique mobilizing endeavors.

“Social-change films often encounter some common gaps in marketing and PR strategy,” Wakeman shares. “One is reliance on the filmmaker to serve as the [sole] advocate for the film and provide all of these other services beyond making a great film. Another is funding; sometimes there aren’t adequate budgetary resources for a PR campaign that will position a film to get the attention it deserves.”

Also at play are audience cultivation and expansion. Usually the target audiences of social-change films are already evangelists and advocates for the cause or issue being presented. But an untapped marketing tactic focuses on reeling in prospects that might not be in the typical crosshairs of movie promoters.

“The goal should be to keep [advocates] engaged while also connecting with new audiences,” Wakeman says. “Our team creates awareness for issues so people are armed with the information to make better decisions about what is important to them.”

Agencies and nonprofit organizations increasingly integrate film as a driver for fundraising and awareness efforts through impact campaigns. Similarly, companies are adopting video as an invaluable component in corporate social responsibility platforms. As such, understanding how success is measured when it comes to social change initiatives via film is imperative.

According to Wakeman, “It’s definitely not about the box office numbers or view counts; instead, it’s about the shift in perception of an issue and how people are responding to it.”

Social-change success is also a matter of asking the right questions and probing for qualitative insights.

“Is there more dialogue around an issue? Are people rallying behind or against something based on what they’ve learned? Is it part of the current news cycle?” Wakeman asks.

“It takes time to realize significant change on issues such as poverty and education, but if people walk away with a greater understanding of an issue and are empowered to make decisions based on that, then the social-change film was a success.”

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