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Film Secrets: Roll Out the Red Carpet For Your Fans

How TIFF and movie stars connect with audiences.

It’s that time of year where the entertainment world turns to Canada and film-lovers from across the globe flock to the Toronto International Film Festival!

Every September the streets of Toronto fill with movie stars on red carpets, publicists vying for critics’ attention and endless parties, premieres and block-long lineups as people try to be first in line to see the hot new movies being released this fall.

TIFF is a feeding frenzy of paparazzi and excitement — and it’s one of the most amazing spectacles of product promotion and marketing that the world has ever seen. After all, the promotion that Hollywood studios receive for their movies at TIFF helps set the stage for the race to the Oscars (and the race to get you into theatres). And to get that promotion, they invest an incredible amount of time and money in essentially giving away their product for free.

That’s right: the movie makers won’t see a dime from the thousands of people who line up to see their movies at TIFF. All the money goes to support the festival, which is a really good thing, considering the incredible role it plays in Canada’s cultural scene and its value to filmmakers.

So why do they do it?

Because putting aside all the glamour and glitz, and getting down to the ‘boring’ nitty-gritty business side of it all, a film festival is really just a gigantic product demo for the studios. By giving up their box office receipts, the filmmakers hope to generate tons of positive buzz and get everyone watching their film to tell their friends they need to see it, too.

But unlike wine reps who give you a little taste of merlot in the liquor store in the hopes you’ll buy the bottle, the filmmakers can’t give you a ‘sample’ of the movie – you need to see the whole thing.

Is it worth it? You bet! While they will lose tens of thousands of dollars in box office receipts from TIFF, the word of mouth those people generate can help earn the movie millions over its box office run.

So what’s the secret to their success, and what can business owners outside the film industry learn and apply to their own companies? Here are four marketing lessons that we could all learn from the red carpet film festival circuit.

Film Secret #1: Know your product’s story – and tell it in a compelling way.

Pick a movie that’s premiering at TIFF this year and make a point of reading every article and watching every news story about it. You’ll begin to see that the movie stars, director and everyone involved are telling carefully crafted stories about the movie all designed to make you want to see it.

Those personal behind-the-scenes anecdotes, plot-point teases and little bits of gossip shared in the tabloids are part of a multi-faceted communications strategy designed to pique your interest in the movie, and get people talking about it.

Think of those stars and directors as the movie’s front line sales team, and you begin to realize that they’re delivering a very well thought out sales pitch being delivered in an incredibly clever way across a wide variety of media.

At the core of the strategy is the story of the film – and its unique selling proposition.

Film Secret #2: The more people like your spokesperson, the more they’ll talk about your product.

You couldn’t get a bigger spokesperson for your product than a movie star like George Clooney or Brad Pitt. They’re attractive and trustworthy, and people want to be a part of whatever they are doing. Their star power rubs off on whatever it is they touch.

While your company might not be able to entice someone of that stature to promote your product, you can generate just as much buzz in your own way by finding spokespeople who have the trust, respect and admiration of your clientele. They don’t need to be famous to the public, but if they have a strong reputation among your business and community then you can have their ‘star power’ rub off on your product, too.

    Related: How to deal with divas & be a superstar leader          

The challenge with having a spokesperson associated with your product is that you’re also associated with their behavior. There are plenty of stories highlighting bad-boy and bad-girl celebrity behavior that have ended up in the tabloids, and a few cases where their behavior has hurt the film.

And at the end of the day, the product has to perform. You might have a movie star that draws audiences in on opening weekend, but if the film’s a stinker, that first audience will be your last. The same goes for your product, too.

Film Secret #3: Your fans are your best salespeople

Whether you make multimillion dollar blockbuster films or really cool couches, having loyal fans who love your products and tell others to try them is the best way to win your audience trust.

That’s because people make purchases for emotional reasons, not rational ones, and they like to be associated with positive feelings. Think about why you bought your last car – was it because of the fuel economy stats, or because it felt good and your friends wouldn’t stop talking about theirs?

The relationships with your customers and clients don’t stop when they walk out the door — that’s just the beginning of making them love your product and helping them become your biggest fan. Social media, insider special offers and exceptional customer service are the keys to building a fan base.

Remember though that fans are fickle — one slight and you can lose them forever. So never stop loving them and showing your appreciation.

Film Secret #4: Cross-promotion and product placement can help you leverage your fan base

When a blockbuster film comes out, you’ll suddenly see its star in ads for the sexy sports car she drove while defeating the villain.

The car company is, of course, using the ‘product placement’ opportunity from the film in order to promote their vehicle. But the film also benefits by associating themselves with that luxury automobile, riding on the coattails of the appeal it holds with fans of the car. Those fans will, by association, see the film in a positive light.

Maybe you can’t afford to do product placement to get what you sell in the hands of a movie star. But you can find more attainable ways to cross-promote with like-minded brands. It can be as easy as making deals with other companies to offer each other’s products as complimentary gifts with purchase from your company. Investigate potential partners in your local area who have strong brand reputations, and reach out to strike up a cross-promotion strategy together.

Using these tips from the film industry, roll out the red carpet for your audience so they become your loyal fans.

Next up: What a showbiz style elevator pitch can teach you about selling in 30 seconds.

Robert Hardy

Robert Hardy is a Vancouver-based television producer, writer and development consultant. Through his company Perfect Day Productions, Robert works with leading producers, writers and networks to help create innovative new television series, digital media and documentaries.

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