This guest post was written by Alexandra Pearson and Megan Ryan of Picture Motion. Picture Motion is a team of social impact strategists who use the power of stories to accelerate change.
Congratulations — you’re going to be on TV! Those are our favorite words to say to filmmakers, as a broadcast premiere is a huge opportunity for both the film’s visibility and its social impact campaign. This moment — when millions are tuned in — can be used to amplify a film’s ability to cause change, and it’s our job to harness that power and transfer it into action.
We’ve had the pleasure of working with documentaries that have premiered on CNN, HBO, OWN and the PBS series POV. Each of these platforms has offered a unique audience, level of social media support and process of engaging with an audience. Wherever your film airs, here are our tips for making the most of your broadcast.
(Note: Picture Motion has worked with all of the films listed below. There are many other great film examples out there, but we know these ones intimately.)
1. Establish a Clear Message and Call to Action
One way to measure an impact campaign is how audiences react after watching the film. When the credits roll, be sure to be able to answer the question, “What can I do now?”
For The Crash Reel, HBO helped the team promote a post-broadcast discussion about the #LoveYourBrain campaign with the film’s subject, snowboarder and brain-injury-awareness advocate Kevin Pearce. This discussion kicked off a social media drive that inspired nearly 2,500 individuals to sign Pearce’s pledge to wear a helmet.
For the broadcast premiere of Escape Fire: The Fight to Rescue American Healthcare on CNN, we developed the hashtag #RescueHealthcare and worked with CNN to include the hashtag on the screen in every commercial break return. The hastag linked viewers to resources and ways to take action on the film’s website. So many people were tweeting that #RescueHealthcare trended in the United States! Anyone clicking on that hashtag then saw the conversations of those watching the film, which in turn drove viewership and traffic to the Escape Fire website.
2. Don’t Forget to Tell People!
That seems like an obvious tip, right? But you would be surprised how many filmmakers would have forgotten or put off telling people about the broadcast until the last minute. Make it easy for people to tune in and evangelize your premiere. Here’s a short checklist of things we always tell filmmakers to do:
The Crash Reel‘s director, Lucy Walker, was entirely on board with this tip:
“Advance notice gives people time to plan around your broadcast or theatrical dates. It’s like a good party, giving plenty of notice gives people time to get excited about it” – Lucy Walker, Director
3. Work with Your Broadcaster
When preparing a broadcast strategy, it is important to use the strengths of the broadcaster’s platform. Leading up to the PBS premiere of American Promise, a film that follows two African-American boys from kindergarten through high school graduation, we worked closely with POV’s Community Engagement and Education team to promote the film’s debut on social media, in viewing parties and through shared discussion materials. This close relationship allowed us to turn community events into opportunities for deeper engagement and inspire action toward supporting the film’s goal, supporting black male achievement, nationwide.
“Even with the most robust campaign, the largest audience you will have for your film is during its broadcast. More than 1.5 million viewers saw American Promise when it aired on PBS, and that level of viewership opens up an invaluable opportunity to mobilize audiences. As we all know, the moments after the credits roll are precious — this is when your audience feels the most investment and inspiration to take action.” – Eliza Licht, Vice President for Community Engagement & Education, POV
4. Ride the News Cycle
When the documentary Herman’s House, a film about man who spent more than 40 years in solitary confinement, was set to premiere on POV, inmates in California were hosting a prison strike in protest of prisoner treatment. Leading up to the broadcast and the strike, the Herman’s House team worked with the Prison Strike Solidarity Coalition, which was representing the California prisoners, to create a rally page that raised funds during the strike. The partnership garnered credibility for the film as proponents of fair treatment for prisoners, gained an audience in the supporters of the strike and gave the prisoners an additional opportunity to have their voices heard.
5. Use Online Tools to Organize Viewing Parties
One voice missing during the Escape Fire theatrical campaign was that of the nurses, a vital community in the crusade to improve healthcare. Prior to the broadcast premiere, the Escape Fire team worked with CNN to bring nurses into the campaign by offering them a special discussion guide and helping them arrange viewing parties on the night of the broadcast. More than 2,000 people registered their house parties on the Escape Fire website.
6. Build New Coalitions Through Creative Campaign Milestones
Black Male Achievement Week was an unofficial — but strategically coordinated — week in February created by the American Promise campaign to galvanize support for the broadcast. We worked with American Promise and POV to arrange viewing parties for the film’s premiere and more than 80 Black Male Achievement Week events, and we helped establish new Promise Clubs across the country. These in-person events allowed viewers to continue the conversation with their communities and take action together.
“With Black Male Achievement Week, the American Promise team organized invested audience members around a moment — the broadcast — by asking them to hold discussion groups, book clubs, house parties, screenings and staff trainings around the issues presented in the film. As a filmmaker, your broadcast is a chance to ensure that viewers have all the tools they need to get involved with your campaign.” – Eliza Licht, POV
7. “Incentivize” Your Audience to Tune In
Working with Big Picture Instructional Design, Nurse.com and the American Academy of Family Physicians, the Escape Fire team was able to offer continuing education credits to any doctors or nurses who watched the film. This created an incredible opportunity for healthcare providers to elevate and deepen the national dialogue about our healthcare system and our role in leading it out of crisis.
8. Create New Content
In 2012, Oprah’s OWN aired The Dhamma Brothers, a film about a prison meditation program in Alabama. Released in 2007, the film was already five years old when it had its broadcast premiere. To maintain their relevance, the Dhamma Brothers team revisited the film’s subjects and created a new documentary short that explained what had happened to the featured prisoners. The short premiered on OWN and was then distributed through Oprah’s vast online content and social media channels.
9. Host Online Discussions
Want to create online buzz hours before your big premiere? Host a Twitter chat with your filmmakers, broadcast platform, subjects and campaign partners to drive potential viewers to tune in at the right moment. In February, a Twitter chat held an hour before the American Promise PBS premiere included more than 600 organizations and individuals.
10. Leverage Your Promotional Opportunities to Further Your Long-Term Goals
Capitalizing on the momentum of Black History Month and Black Male Achievement Week, we were able to use the POV broadcast of American Promise to spark an ongoing national conversation on black male achievement with our nation’s leaders and policy makers. The American Promise team arranged a screening on Capitol Hill, sponsored by Congresswoman Marcia Fudge’s office and The Raben Group.
Don’t forget that what you do after your broadcast premiere can be just as important as what you did before it. The week after your broadcast represents an opportunity for you to track how many people tuned in, how many viewers engaged in online conversations surrounding the film, and how many campaign supporters took action after seeing the film.
In the end, the value of a broadcast lies in your campaign’s ability to involve a film’s audience in your impact campaign and create a direct line between the filmmakers and their crusaders.
Alexandra Pearson (@alexbpearson) and Megan Ryan (@everyan00) are campaign engagement managers at Picture Motion. Pearson holds an M.A. from the NYU Steinhardt School of Media, Culture and Communication and worked on the American Promise campaign. Ryan joined Picture Motion at its inception in May 2012 and is a graduate of University of Michigan School of Public Policy. Megan worked on the campaigns for The Crash Reel, Escape Fire and Herman’s House. For more on Picture Motion, check out picturemotion.com.