Advice and How-To's Especially for ACTORS!

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Monday, June 28, 2010

What is "Branding" (Hint: it's not a dirty word!)

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When artists start getting wise to the “business” side of the industry, they are introduced to words that they’ve never used to describe facets of their work. One of the big buzz words being tossed around is “branding” - so I thought I would do a easy breakdown of what this terms means, and (more importantly) what it means to us.

Branding, or “the brand” is the company's message to its customers/clients. What are they trying to say? What is their position in the industry? What do they have to offer? For many companies, this includes their logo, the colors on their website, the slogans they use, and how they choose to position themselves. Think of one of your favorite products, and then think about all of the things that make you love it. What do you think/feel when you see their logo? How do you describe the product to your friends? This is their brand - and their job is to a) make sure it always stays positive and favorable, and b) to communicate this to their customers.

As an actor, your job is to figure out what it is that you have to offer that is unique and valuable, and then communicate that to the industry. Your brand is not just your talent, but also your point of view, your connections, your tenacity, your willingness to try anything. It includes the roles you choose to play, the clothing you wear to auditions, what wording you use on your website, how you choose to answer questions in interviews... all of these things reflect your brand. And like all other businesses, in order to be effective in the market your brand needs to be developed and honed before you take your message to your audiences.

Most actors have a “fingers crossed” approach to the business - they just show up and hope that they talent will speak louder than the other talents in the room (*fingers crossed!) But as Bonnie Gillespie says in her book, Self Management for Actors, ”We assume you're talented. That's why you're here. The ability to rise above the flakes is sometimes the TALENT that sets you apart. How you choose to rise above the flakes is your branding."

Have a comment or question? Leave it by clicking below!

Erin Cronican's career as a professional actor and career coach has spanned the last 25 years in New York City, Los Angeles and San Diego. She has appeared in major feature films and on television, and has done national tours of plays and musicals. She has worked in the advertising & marketing departments of major corporations, film production companies, theater magazines, and non-profit acting organizations. To learn more, check out http://www.theactorsenterprise.org.


Friday, June 11, 2010

Market Your Acting Career (Tip #9): Marketing Plans

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Recently, I trekked over to one of the largest casting offices in New York City- Telsey & Co - to do an audition for the Broadway musical, "Wicked." Those of you who audition for musical theater know what a madhouse audition facilities can be. People coming in and out; noise from the audition rooms bleeding into the waiting area; people sizing each other up and warming up their bodies and voices... all happening amidst a thin veil of professionalism.

I looked around me- it was very easy for me to see what role each actor was going for based on their personal style. Men wore casual dress slacks and slim-fitted button down shirts, unless they were there for Fiyero, in which case they came slightly more flashy. Women there for Glinda curled their hair and wore dresses or skirts & blouses; for Elphaba they wore dark colored clothing (often pants or long skirts) and spiked their hair. I didn't spend too long thinking about this - this is what you see at musical theater auditions all the time. It is kind of ingrained in us.

What stood out to me were the people waiting to attend OTHER auditions. There were men there in suits; young women in tight fitting tank tops and high heels. I tried to imagine what they were there to audition for: Theater? Film? TV? Commercials? I guessed commercials, and I was right. The men were there for an insurance commercial. The women? Bud Light.

This reminded me of something I teach my students: An actor MUST have a marketing plan when pursuing work. But even further- the actor must have a DIFFERENT marketing plan if they want to work in more than one genre/medium.

Think about it this way- there is no real reason an actor can't work in every medium that tickles their fancy. You can certainly work on-camera and in live theater, or combine commercial work with television episodics. But each medium has its own set of key players (eg: casting directors/agents/producers who specialize in that field) and its own set of audiences. And within each medium, there are different genres (in TV alone there are hour-long dramas, single-camera comedies, sit-coms, mini-series, etc.) So it stands to reason - each medium/genre you choose will have its own plan of action.

I believe that in building their careers, actors are only limited by time. Even if you want to work across the board, you only have so many hours in a day/week available to do so. So, here are some basic starting points building a marketing plan (or a set of plans):

• PRIORITIZE. Get really specific about your favorite genre/medium, then your 2nd favorite, and so on and so on, until you have a complete list, from top to bottom, of the areas in which you want to focus. Some sample mediums and their genres:

Film: Studio Pictures vs Indie Pictures; Genres: Horror, Romantic Comedy, Thrillers, Sci-Fi, Drama, Historical Drama (period films), Bio-Pics, (for more lists, check out Netflix and click on "genres")

TV: 1-hour episodics, 1-hour single camera comedies, 1/2 hour single-camera comedies, sitcoms, movies of the week, mini-series (then, apply the genres I listed above.)

Theater: Musicals, Shakespeare, Contemporary Plays, Children's Theater, Interactive Theater, Improv, Sketch Comedy, Classics, Movement Theater, Ensemble Theater. Each of these then have their own genres: Comedy, Drama, Traditional Musical, History Play, etc

Commercials: Political advertising, Promotional advertising, Infomercials, Promos, and Sponsorships.

Other Mediums: Industrials (Live and On-Camera) Print, Cabaret, Stand-Up Comedy, etc

• SCHEDULE. Figure out how many hours you have in a week to dedicate to your career, and then spend the majority of those hours in the areas you prioritized the highest.

• RESEARCH. Who are the key players in your preferred areas? What kind of training is expected of you? What kind of marketing materials will you need (for example, on-camera actors need demo reels, whereas theater actors rarely do.)

If this seems like a little too much to do on your own, join the club! Almost every actor has a minor heart attack when they think of creating their marketing plan. There are several different ways to find support for your efforts:

• Buy some books on the the "business" of acting
• Hire a career coach for help in developing a plan
• Read blogs on the business
• Get together with a group of actors and build a plan together.
• Ask your acting teacher for resources in this area.

I'll end by saying ... just reading this blog is a great start to thinking about marketing and developing your career. YOU CAN DO THIS - and you are not expected to know how to do it without some training and encouragement. So, what are you waiting for?

Erin Cronican's career as a professional actor and career coach has spanned the last 25 years in New York City, Los Angeles and San Diego. She has appeared in major feature films and on television, and has done national tours of plays and musicals. She has worked in the advertising & marketing departments of major corporations, film production companies, theater magazines, and non-profit acting organizations. To learn more, check out http://www.theactorsenterprise.org.

Sunday, June 6, 2010

Market Your Acting Career (Tip #8): Follow Up Calls

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As many of you know, I am very active on Twitter, passing along tips & resources for actors, and sharing my own successes and tribulations as an actor myself. On Twitter, you can easily follow agents & casting directors who pass along their own pearls of wisdom. One of them @commeagent, posted a tweet that I found to be interesting:

(Keep in mind that on Twitter, you have to keep your tweets below 140 characters, so people will abbreviate their words...)

@commeagent: “? for Actors: Why do u insist on calling me 2 follow up on ur submission? Has an agent ever said ‘Oh I am so glad u called. I 4got 2 call u.’ ”

It took me a little while to decide what I might say in response, because this topic can cause concern among the actors andI only had 140 characters to explain myself. Not too long after I posted my response, I got an email from one of my followers (I always welcome people to contact me if they have questions):

Hi, Hope you don't mind me contacting you this way...I was very interested in your response to commeagent’s post. You said:

"Ha! It's called outdated advice, in my book... RT @commeagent: ? for Actors: Why do u insist on calling me 2 follow up on ur submission?"

I greatly respect you, the way you run your business, and the advice you give. So, I'm interested in your reasoning here? do you not suggest following up on submissions? Most agent meetings I've gotten have been after diligently following up (sometimes multiple times) with phone calls.

You said it's 'outdated advice' - what is updated advice, do you think? ie What do you advise?

Thank you for your time & opinion, Reghan

Here’s my response to her, which I thought would be great to share here as well:


Hi, Reghan! Very good question, and I am glad you wrote. I want to start by saying that no piece of advice is perfect for everyone, and there will always be exceptions to the rule. So, I am thrilled to hear that following up by phone has worked for you. Based on what "commeagent" wrote, I am not sure that all actors will have your success.

First, do you follow commeagent's tweets? I deleted the last part of his tweet so that my comment would fit. The full tweet was: "? for Actors: Why do u insist on calling me 2 follow up on ur submission? Has an agent ever said "Oh I am so glad u called. I 4got 2 call u."

I know that Los Angeles operates a little bit different than in New York City, but here the agents & casting directors, unequivocally, say that they do not accept incoming calls from actors. Even when I have been prompted to call by someone in their office, I have been met with rude and sometimes downright nasty responses. I have pressed a couple of them about the issue, and they've explained:

• When agents go through submissions, they generally have 2 piles = people to call, and people to ignore (and, hence, those go into the trash.) If they're interested, they'll call. If not, then they’ll thrown your headshot away. So, if an actor calls for a follow up, the chances are the agent has already thrown away their photo and will not remember seeing it. The answer to, "Have you gotten my submission?" will almost always be "I don't know." Agents feel that these follow up calls waste their time, and pull them away from their already busy schedule.

• When casting directors go through submissions, they are mostly concerned with the current projects they are casting. If you are submitting for a current project and they like what they see, they'll put your headshot into the "call" pile. But often you are not right for the project, and if they don't already know your work they'll likely throw away your headshot rather than filing it away for future reference. Therefore (like above) the answer to, "Have you gotten my submission?" will almost always be "I don't know."

Of course, if you have a strong referral or you have a certain look that they are going for but can't use right away, there is a slim chance that they'll hold onto your headshot and plan to call at a later date. But in this case, they already had you in the "yes" pile, so your call won't necessarily push them over the edge.

Now, IF you happen to call on the same day that your envelope hits there desk, there may be a chance that your charm over the phone will encourage them to take a look at your headshot a little longer. That would be something worth considering.

To answer your specific question (about why I think it may be outdated advice): It used to be that all submissions came through the mail, so agents & casting directors paid special and specific attention to the physical headshots and resumes that came via the post office. But since most industry folks meet actors through workshops, showcases and referrals by phone/email, and since most projects are cast online through Breakdown Services, industry pros are paying less and less attention to what comes in through the mail. I think this means that our method for follow up needs to change as well. Follow up by phone still happens in the corporate world, but it accepted less and less in our world.

That all being said: If you can handle the rejection you might feel by agents & casting directors (and their associates) being rude when you call, I'd say you should do it. Run your business the way you see fit. I think using the phone is a perfectly acceptable way to do business, and I wish our industry would embrace it as a more fair and equitable way to build relationships. But I am hearing more and more that agents & casting directors don't want that kind of conversation with actors, which is why I piped in.

Hope this answers your question (and sorry it was so long!) Please let me know if you need anything else- always glad to help!

As a Post Script- commeagent seems to have gotten some backlash, because he just posted this on Twitter (BTW- these are his typos, not mine): "You know what...Changed my mind. Folow up to your heart's content. Who knows what mysteries lurk on the end of the phone. New Attitiude." 

Erin Cronican's career as a professional actor and career coach has spanned the last 25 years in New York City, Los Angeles and San Diego. She has appeared in major feature films and on television, and has done national tours of plays and musicals. She has worked in the advertising & marketing departments of major corporations, film production companies, theater magazines, and non-profit acting organizations. To learn more, check out http://www.theactorsenterprise.org.

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