“As you probably already know, Kickstarter campaigns are all-or-nothing, so it’s going to take every bit of extra effort (and a lot of lost sleep) to get to the finish line.” — Ryan Koo, NoFilmSchool.com
I’ve never launched a Kickstarter campaign. I’ve never stressed over setting a financial goal. And I’ve definitely never even thought it would be possible for me to raise $125,000 like Ryan Koo did.
So, I know nothing about the emotional toll and exhilarating excitement that arises from running a crowdfunding campaign.
But I do know something about running a website.
And if you’re launching a crowdfunding campaign, it’s likely you’re going to try your hardest to get people like me to write, tweet, share, link, and donate to your film.
Well, it’s not as easy as it seems — you can’t just copy and paste a form email, send it off to some bloggers, and consider your work done. You’ll be lucky if you even get one response using that method.
Instead, I’m going to help you get publicity for your film the right way.
At least once a week I get an email from a filmmaker asking me to help publicize their Kickstarter or IndieGoGo campaign. While I’d love to help each and every one of those filmmakers reach their goals, most of the time these emails get quickly moved out of my inbox and into the digital ether for a variety of reasons:
- The email was obviously cut and pasted from a template
- Their pitch is unreadable because it’s full of grammatical errors
- The email doesn’t specify how they expect me to help
- The film simply doesn’t look interesting
- And, most importantly, it’s irrelevant to the readers of this site (you!)
But let’s not limit it to email because social media is also an attention battleground for campaign donations. There’s also forums, website comment sections, and dozens more places online you can connect with other people.
No matter the digital platform you use, however, your message will remain the same: “pretty please help me raise enough money to make my film!”
So while a lot of what I talk about below will take its cue from email, don’t forget that many of these tips extend to wherever you’re broadcasting your message.
Polishing Your Email Pitch Into a Fine Diamond
What’s in a Name? Everything
Rule #1 is really simple: learn the name of whoever you’re contacting.
You’d be amazed at the number of people who email me through this site with salutations like, “Hey Even,” “Dear The Black and Blue Team,” or, more commonly, no name at all.
This immediately sends up red-flags for me. Why?
Because it’s an obvious indication that you don’t read my site if you don’t get my name right! My name is plastered everywhere — on the footer of every page, in the byline and at the bottom of every post, and prominently in the about page — so it’s very easy to find out I run this site and do so by myself.
It’s not that I’m an egomaniac and need people to know my name, it just lets me know who actually reads my site (or at least took the time to find out who writes it).
So, that should be the first thing you do: find out who’s in charge.
Having the first name of this person is extremely valuable, especially if it’s hard to find. The harder it is to find, the greater the effect of using it will have. Using a name in an email has two positive impacts:
1. It personalizes the email
You will establish a small connection immediately in your first contact with the person. Think about it: when you hear your name in public, what’s the first thing you do? You look around, react, and maybe even respond. Names will attach the person you’re writing to to your message. And, at the very least, it gets their attention.
2. It tells them you’ve done your research
Like I mentioned above, using my name in an email lets me know you’ve taken a moment to scope out my site, if not read a few articles. If the name of the person you’re pitching to is hard to find, this effect increases because they will be caught off-guard that you know their name. They may think you already have a connection with them somehow.
There is, of course, one caveat to using a name — you better make sure you’re right.
Nothing will turn someone off from an email more than it being addressed to the wrong person, even if it is relevant and interesting to them. It makes a terrible first impression (I bet you still remember grade-school teachers who butchered your name) and you can’t afford to lose that ground.
If you can’t find any name, do your best to personalize the message in some way. Has the blogger ever revealed a nickname? What do their social media accounts say? How do they refer to their own site (or readers refer to it)?
The point is to establish a rapport from the very beginning of your email as if to say, “I know who you are and I’m not going to waste your time.”
Don’t Be a Stranger Either — Make an Impression with Who You Are
Anonymity has no place in your campaign. Who you are and what you have done will be crucial for those deciding to donate, but also for those who are considering publicly supporting your film.
Basically, bloggers want to know why you deserve to be featured on their website. By supporting your project on their blog, they will be putting a slice of their reputation alongside yours and want to make sure their status remains untainted.
So one of the first things you should do in your message is provide a brief introduction to yourself. Make mention of your name, what you do, and any history you have that is relevant to getting your film financed — accolades and awards are great to include.
Here’s an example:
My name is [Your Name] and I’m a [filmmaker, producer, director]. I’ve made over X short films and I’m working to shoot my first feature film.
Do your best to prove you’re a professional or an authority when it comes to filmmaking. Make your introduction ease any skepticism the blogger might have that you don’t know what you’re doing. If you have no authority or are new to filmmaking, use the introduction to provide an example of your passion for film or state what makes you notable as a newcomer.
Lastly, be brief. The message is about the film and its campaign, not you.
Become BFF’s and Go on Digital Dates
OK, so maybe the idea of a “digital date” is a little too much, but the premise of becoming BFF’s with the blogger (best friends forever, for those of you who grew up without text messaging) isn’t very farfetched.
And the idea of it shouldn’t be very new to you as a filmmaker — it’s nothing more than online networking.
Whether you direct, produce, crew below the line, or star in front of the camera, you will have been through this rodeo before. Networking is an essential part of being successful in the film industry and that mantra doesn’t get thrown out the window in the digital realm.
I’ve said it before, but it still holds true: networking is simply becoming good friends with people who can help your career.
So the BFF thing isn’t as ridiculous as it sounds, is it?
But how do you become BFF’s with a blogger?
You interact with them, you talk to them, you send them emails, you basically do anything you would do with someone in real life and translate that to the digital world.
Sometimes bloggers — especially the big ones — will seem inaccessible because of the mass of their audience, but I promise they take more notice than you perhaps realize. For instance, over the years I’ve run The Black and Blue, I’ve come to know many of my readers through their comments and our interactions online. I’ve even learned their tendencies and passions (like FB who will probably be the last person on Earth to give up film).
My point is that if you comment on posts, retweet their articles, and send them emails, bloggers are going to much more receptive to your requests. Maybe they won’t immediately take notice or even mention it to you, but when you email them, there is a strong possibility they will recognize your name.
And if you get to a friendly level with them before your crowdfunding campaign, it’s even easier to get them on your side because they’ll know you aren’t just using them.
It’s akin to the guy who wins the lottery and suddenly has to deal with forgotten friends who want loans — he’s much more likely to give money to the people who were friends with him before he struck gold. Blogs may not be the lottery (far from it judging by my bank account), but they do lend a certain type of notoriety and this minor celebrity status can make bloggers skeptical towards all those who approach them.
If you can’t capitalize on the friendship this time around or you haven’t quite gotten there yet, there’s always later on in your career. Even if you never run another crowdfunding campaign, networking with people who have a voice and the support of a community is smart.
Finally, it’s important to note this tactic takes time — you can’t rush a relationship with somebody in a week and then pitch them a project. You can try, but your ability to successfully network will be directly tied to the amount of time you’ve already invested.
Let Your Film Carry the Pitch
In a guest post I did on NoFilmSchool, I wrote about the importance of having a strong film when it comes to getting a crew to work for free:
That’s why it’s silly to see a crew call that advertises “will be submitting to Sundance” and a chance to “be part of something big.” Everybody submits to Sundance and everybody thinks they’re part of something big, but the odds of getting in Sundance are small and the odds of being something big are even smaller.
So what makes you different? Claims like that only increase skepticism and, worse, these listings rarely describe what the film is about.
If you really want a crew to work for free, pitch them the project and not the results. If you really do have the next big thing, it should be an easy sell.
The idea behind this — to pitch the project, not the results — holds true here as well.
Don’t focus so much on how your film is great, what you’re going to do with it, and the fame and riches that are guaranteed to come. Focus solely on the film itself, why the film is great, and why it needs to be made.
In this sense, your pitch will be a soft sell. That’s OK. Subtlety goes a long way. You aren’t trying to sell the blogger a new car insurance policy.
Ultimately, the soft sell works because it requires thought — the blogger, if they’re intrigued, will have the idea of your movie on their mind for awhile. With sleazy “HEY LOOK AT THIS” tactics, they’ll quickly turn you down as soon as they can.
Don’t give them that chance.
Be reasonable and tell them about the story — that’s why people love movies, not because of awards.
Don’t Expect Free Publicity — How Can You Help?
One of the top rules when pitching anybody anything is to answer this very, very important question:
“What’s in it for them?”
Oblidge them with an answer before they even ask.
On the surface it may sound selfish, but bloggers want to know what benefit they have to post your film. It’s a question I’m constantly wondering when I get an email about a Kickstarter campaign.
It doesn’t matter if your reason is weak or obvious (i.e. it’s a great cause to support!) just answer the damn question!
But before you think about answering that question, perhaps it’s more prudent to answer this variation:
“What’s in it for their readers?”
To a successful blogger, readers and their eyeballs mean everything. This encompasses their entire audience from site readers to email subscribers to social media followers and anyone else under their online umbrella. Their audience is what gives them their platform, their voice, and ultimately, pays them a bit of cash. Their goal is to provide their readers with content that they enjoy — in various ways — so their website can continue to grow.
This question is often overlooked because you stumble on a site, it seems related to filmmaking, and you blast off an email.
But knowing who the audience of a site is helps immensely because if the blogger has a loyal community, they’re going to be protective of it. When you tell them why they should care about your project, the blogger is going to ask themselves why their audience would care. Sometimes, they don’t find an answer.
So your job is to provide an answer for them. Tell them exactly why your campaign would be interesting to their readers. If you read the site you’re emailing, this should be easy: ask yourself, “what article would I like to read on this site about my film?”
Take it a step further and give them a hook or a unique selling point they can present to their audience.
Ask yourself: what can you offer the readers of the site?
- Can you provide an interview about your campaign?
- Are you shooting on a unique camera rig and have video?
- Do you have insane backer gifts that are of interest to that site’s audience?
Think long and hard about what you can offer. Now think again for twice as long.
Eventually you’ll come up with some way to collaborate with the site in return for publicizing your campaign.
For instance, a DSLR centric blog would love to hear if your film’s exclusive use of DSLR cameras and what models they are. A site that teaches people how to light could pitch your campaign if one of your backer gifts is lighting diagrams from every scene. Or a blog about film school might be interested if all the major department heads on your production went to film school and talk about how it helped them.
You should cater this unique selling point to every single blogger and website you get in touch with.
This technique will pay off in spades because an approach that benefits both you and the website is much more likely to be received and acted upon. It saves the blogger from generating content, gives them a viable reason to essentially market to their audience, and it drives further interest in your film.
Everybody wins, especially you.
Leverage Your Social Proof and Start the Snowball Effect
Do you ever wonder why top brands are so adamant about their social media pages? Or comments on their site? Or the number of users?
It’s because of a marketing tactic known as “social proof” — when people see others are involved, they are more likely to become involved themselves. It’s a more sophisticated version of checking out what the crowd on the street is watching. We all have an intense urge to be included and not miss out on anything.
Social proof also works with bloggers. Have you ever noticed how one big blog will run a story and hundreds of smaller blogs will run a similar story? Everyone jumps on the bandwagon because they don’t want to be left out.
Perhaps more than most, bloggers are susceptible to social proof — they don’t want to appear outdated to their readers. They like to be on the forefront of trends, even if that includes supporting a movie.
Use whatever social proof you have to leverage your campaign to other bloggers. A few ways you can do this are…
- Mention any other sites that have featured your campaign
- Point towards your Facebook page or Twitter account (if it has a substantial following)
- Provide figures on money you’ve already raised
- Name drop notable backers
- And talk about any other “buzz” building around your film
As a blogger, I am much more likely to pay attention to a campaign if it’s already raised half its goal by the time it gets to me or if I see another website that I respect has run a story on it.
In the very beginning of your publicity efforts, you may not be able to use this strategy, but as the snowball starts rolling it becomes a very powerful tool. Don’t let it go to waste.
Youre Your Writing for Spelling and Grammar
In the thick of a Kickstarter campaign, it’s easy to get caught in the hustle and fire off tons of tweets, check your stats, shoot off an email, check your stats again, and then send a few more messages.
But it’s also easy to neglect basic proofreading in this whirlwind.
Even though texting and the web has changed language in dramatic ways, people still prefer to read full sentences written with correct punctuation, grammar, and spelling.
Here’s an example of what not to write (this is an actual email I received):
We are Rasing Funds to help finance the project. I am Contacting you not nessessarly for a donation from you, but if you would help promote it thru your twitter page and any other mediums you can. To give you some back story on the project, it is short Political Horror film that is set in the 1960s. We Follow A Journalist Named Jackson Mailer who is famous for destroying reputations and just got a call to Follow a new rising presidential Candidate named Bill Jones. After following him Shortly on the road, Baker Finds out that Pierce harbors a terrifying secret about Pierce.
The email continues with more random capitlizations, run-on sentences, and grammatical errors. It was a tough read, but I felt the guy writing it was sincere so I sent him back a response:
I do not mean for this to hurt you or insult you, but I think it’s important for you to hear/know: if you want people to promote your films, you should consider proofreading your e-mails a bit more.
I apologize if it is a situation in which english is not your first language, but I am trying to be frank. In your e-mail to me, you capitalized random words, misplaced punctuation, and misspelled some crucial phrases. I’m not a stickler for grammar, but a well-formatted, well-spoken e-mail comes across as more professional.
It doesn’t take long to proofread your emails. And when you consider the rewards it could reap for your project, you should make no excuses. If you’re bad at editing or English isn’t your first language, forward it on to somebody you trust who can make those changes or use Fiverr.com to hire someone to do it for you.
A poorly constructed email will only dilute your message and distract from your film — don’t let silly errors get in the way of your pitch.
The Best Way to Write an Email for Maximum Response
When I write an important email nowadays, I try to write it like a blog post. I do my best to hit these four pillars:
- Get their attention
- Keep them interested
- Avoid fluff
- Get them to take action
The most successful emails will be pitch-perfect on each of those levels. This isn’t an email to your mother-in-law about her visit over the weekend, so don’t write it like that.
You need to be on point when it comes to your message.
Part of keeping your message on point is having it organized in a logical way. Now that we’ve covered some of the essentials, I’m going to show you an outline for an effective email. I will be pitching to a website focused on DSLR films and filmmaking and using a fake movie I made up called Dinosaur Sorority.
1. Introduction and brief description of why you’re writing
My name is Evan Luzi and I’m a film director. I’ve made over 12 short films and won several awards. I’m getting in touch with you today to talk about my newest feature film.
2. Add a link early on
It’s called Dinosaur Sorority and you can check it out here: http://www.dinosaursorority.com/
*It’s very important to include the “http://” part of the web address so that email clients like Gmail will automatically turn it into a link.
3. Further description of why you’re writing
The film is about a group of dinosaurs that were preserved in a tar pit, are reanimated in the future, go to college, and join a sorority. It’s a fun little action-horror-comedy piece. Right now, we’re working on securing funding via the Kickstarter platform.
4. Explain how you want the blogger to help
It’d be great if you could consider writing a post about the film, sharing it with your followers, or even donating. I noticed you write often about these types of quirky films shooting on DSLR’s for low to no budget. That’s exactly what we’re doing — we have 2 Canon 5D’s we’re using and a homemade Steadicam rig that works amazingly. I can send you pics if you’d like. I am open to doing an interview about how we built those rigs and plan to use them.
5. Provide a little bit more info on the project
We’ve already been featured on sites like DSLRforthewin.com, directorblogger.com, and shootyourmovie.com. As of right now, we’ve raised over $10,000 of our $48,000 goal and have been astonished at the support of over 3,000 Facebook fans. Our campaign ends in 18 days, but we’re confident we can make it all the way!
*If you’re going to name drop websites, consider adding in the links to the email if it doesn’t clutter it.
6. End strong with a final link and generous thanks
Once again, any help you can provide would be greatly appreciated. I know you are a busy person, so thank you in advance for checking out the film (http://www.dinosaursorority.com/) and please let me know if there’s any questions you have.
Using this roadmap as a general rule will definitely help you get a better response. Tweak it if necessary, but don’t ever change the first two points. You want to immediately tell them who you are and give them a link to click because it’s very likely they will only read the first few lines of an email before deciding whether it’s worth taking action. Give them a link to take action on, otherwise they may trash that sucker.
But here’s the really hard part: use as few words as possible. Shorter = better.
A lot of people read emails on their phones or while in a hurry. If they see a long email, they may “save it for later” which could be in a few hours, in a few days, or several months long after your campaign has ended.
Persuasive writing (which is what your email is) is more powerful when brief.
And, as a final tip on formatting, don’t waste your email signature! Use it to provide links to your own website, IMDB page, or the film’s site itself. Just don’t go too crazy with a million links — one or two will suffice.
Push Them Over the Edge to Respond to You
Anytime you send an email to anyone you risk it getting lost in the fray. Even if you aren’t a blogger, you probably suffer from some variation of inbox clutter. And when you get desperate, you start trashing emails almost by instinct from people you don’t know.
That’s why sending a follow-up email is just as important as the initial email.
People who run websites get dozens of emails a day that are often automatically generated. When they aren’t interested or don’t care to read them, they don’t bother to respond. By sending a follow-up email, you’re letting the blogger know that you actually sent the email — not a robot — and that you were expecting a response.
You don’t have to send the entire message again, just a quick two line note like, “Just wanted to check in and see if you had time to read my email. Look forward to your thoughts.”
This is guaranteed to get you even more response because it triggers a guilt mechanism in the blogger who feels bad that they didn’t address the email — even if its to say no.
There have been plenty of times where I’ve disregarded emails that I thought were automagically generated only to receive a follow-up email from the same person who was genuinely interested in conecting with me. I like when people send me follow-up emails because it shows they are sincere.
Just make sure you don’t get on anyone’s case too soon — wait at least a week before you start touching base again.
Focus Your Efforts Where They Will Have an Impact
By now I’m sure you’ve realized that the right way — the effective way — of getting in touch with websites and bloggers is somewhat time consuming. It involves research, networking, and skills in persuasive writing.
You might think the form letter is a faster and more practical approach.
But instead of ditching this method and reverting back to copy-and-paste, you should redefine your efforts to focus on a few big blogs instead of lots and lots of smaller sites.
Targeting a few large websites using these techniques is better than a press-release blitzkrieg because you’re going to have a much better response from large websites that generate true content for their readers than a bunch of small websites who struggle to maintain an audience.
Getting featured on small sites will stroke your ego and give you something to tweet about, but a large site will help pad your campaign goals. Which would you rather have?
Better yet, you could implore a combination of the two approaches: type up a press release to send to smaller websites while personalizing and paying attention to emails to the larger bloggers in the space.
And before you think, “well, technically my email isn’t a press release…” then it probably is. If it is a standard message designed to publicize your film with some links for more info, it is essentially a press release.
Those have a tendency to end up in my trash pretty quickly.
Be Kind, Gracious, and Understanding
Something most people find surprising whenever they tackle any sort of Internet venture is how tough it is to get noticed. Though the Internet is an open platform and democratizes the ability to be heard, it’s like yelling in a crowd at a rock concert during a guitar solo.
The effect this notion of “anyone can make it” has is to make people think they are owed publicity and that it’s a natural step of the process. “If you build it, they will come,” is famously quoted, but rarely adhered on the Internet.
Simply posting your campaign on Kickstarter or IndieGoGo doesn’t earn you anything, really.
Keep this in mind when you are getting in touch with websites and bloggers. They have an extremely powerful platform to help you, but they have no obligation to do so. And if you act like it’s their duty to put your film on their site, it’s going to turn them off.
The gist of this is to be kind and gracious towards them — understand they are using their time and their efforts to help you.
And if they aren’t able to help you, at least be thankful they considered it.
And if they didn’t consider it, well, you’ve got bigger fish to fry — a nasty comment, email, or tweet won’t help your campaign. Just move on and stay focused on your goal.
Deliver on Your Promises and Have a Great Film
You could write the best email ever and have a blogger kissing your toes, but if you don’t get this right, you’ll throw it all away:
Your film, project, and campaign page needs to be engaging, interesting, and polished.
No matter how slick your pitch is, it means nothing if it’s empty on its promises. When you say your film will touch audiences, it needs to show that on your page. When you talk about how important the issues in your documentary are, it needs to be a real problem. When you implore the blogger to watch a trailer, it needs to be a trailer worth watching.
Because even if the blogger, for whatever reason, still posts about your film and its not a good one — the donations will be slim pickings. Getting the publicity for your campaign is only half the battle. The other half requires you to convert those eyeballs into money for your film.
So before you sit down to announce to the world how great your movie is, make sure it actually is great and that your campaign page is proving it.
Love Magical: An Email Pitch Case Study
It’s funny to me that I receive any emails at all about Kickstarter campaigns since I’ve only ever featured one way down at the bottom of a post about working for the right people.
Still, they do end up in my inbox and largely into my trash. Except one.
It was written by a fellow named Niko Nikolaou who sent me this recently:
I wanted to reach out to you and theblackandblue.com to possibly explore any opportunities in working together; either by writing a guest post for your site or have someone from the film (director, cinematographer, writers or production team) interviewed on a topic you think would work well with your audience. We could also discuss many other topics or avenues such as our experience in working with crowd-funding on the (somewhat film saturated) Kickstarter or other creative avenues we’re taking to gain exposure, market the film and helping to build an audience.
In either case we’d love to see if there was a way to work together to provide great content for your site, and at the same time help promote our film currently on Kickstarter. We’ve had our director do a guest post on nofilmschool.com which created some traction for both of us, as well as had some great conversations started in the comments. We’ve had a few other mentions on blogs, so we’re looking for other opportunities that would be helpful in gaining more exposure for us while providing good, relevant content for the sites we work with.
NoFilmSchool.com guest post link from our director: http://nofilmschool.com/2012/01/top-essentials-shooting-indie-film/
Film Kickstarter link: http://www.kickstarter.com/projects/1767087147/love-magical-a-wild-and-crazy-independent-romantic
Film Facebook Page: https://www.facebook.com/LoveMagical
Media kit: [link removed by request]
Please let me know if this is something we can discuss further and any thoughts or ideas that may be of interest for coverage.
Producer of Marketing and Distribution
Precise. Easy to read. Subtle.
Ultimately, Niko’s email is the reason I wrote this post because I wanted others to learn from his great communication. And so Niko ends up being the 2nd Kickstarter campaign I’ve featured on this blog (His film is called Love Magical and you can help it reach its modest campaign goal).
Here are some of the things Niko does effectively:
- Offers to work with me to promote the film with ideas for how
- Points to another site that successfully took this approach
- Provides relevant links where I can find more information
- Writes in a way that is friendly, but serious in tone
- Strives not just for a blog post, but to have a conversation
The most important thing Niko did in his message was to focus on how we could collaborate — he didn’t shove the work of generating the post onto me. He had clear ideas on how promoting the film would benefit both of us.
Sure Niko didn’t introduce himself nor did he talk about his film at all, but he got me interested in working with him. He prompted me to respond. Once you get a conversation going, it’s a lot easier to turn that into press.
The end result of Niko’s email is what you’re reading right now.
The Ultimate Checklist for an Effective Pitch
I’ve covered an insane amount of info in this post and it may seem like a lot to digest, but once you put it all together it will seem natural. When all is said and done, the process is fairly straightforward as highlighted in the graphic below:
Remember, this isn’t limited to email. Many of these techniques and ideas will work in any medium where you’re attempting to connect with somebody who can publicize your film. That includes those of you who randomly tweet your campaigns to celebrities (is Snooki really interested in indie films, by the way?).
I highly recommend you bookmark this post to keep as a reference for when it’s time to launch your campaign.
And even if you never launch a crowdfunding campaign, many of the ideas talked about in this post can be applied to all sorts of communications — applying for gigs, reaching out to other filmmakers, trying to get permission for a location, whatever.
You’ll find that once you learn to write persuasively in any medium, you can apply it almost anywhere.
Expect Nothing, but Hope for Everything
My final piece of advice for you is to expect nothing, but hope for everything.
It sounds somber, but it’s a slap of necessary reality. The truth is, not every blogger will be receptive to you, want to help you, or be interested in your film. So when you are about to hit that “Send” button, don’t rest your entire campaign on that message.
You have to assume nothing will come of it and get to work on the next item on your campaign’s “to-do” list.
The minute you place your bets on one email, one website, or one person, you’ll stop hustling and marketing — two things you can’t afford to slack on in the midst of the chaos of a crowdfunding campaign.
So while being optimistic is useful, you have to be OK with it if nothing ever comes of your super-awesome email pitch, or even your campaign, for that matter.
You can hope for everything, but you can’t expect it to fall in your lap — it’s too dangerous.
Instead, put yourself in a position to get the response you want. While I make no promises that your next crowdfunding campaign will get oodles of press coverage using these techniques, I can promise it will get better coverage than if you don’t apply them.
I sincerely hope you’ve gotten value from this post and that it helps you see things from the blogger’s perspective. As always, if you have any questions or suggestions, please leave a comment!