I've shilled for The Man both behind the camera (writing TV ads for roughly 10 years) and in front of it (acting in them for roughly 9 years). And since starting my own design and marketing business a few years ago (read: no-budget startup), I've learned to apply some basic principles of promotion to some free or inexpensive tools to take myself from "you're who?" to #1 on Google for my business name and full name, and (of this writing) #6 on Google for my first name alone. But enough about me. Here's what I learned along the way, for you:
First, you are your own best publicist.
This is an extension of the old maxims "you are your own best agent" and "you are your own best manager." (The only thing you're not your own "best" is lawyer; there, the saw about a lawyer who represents himself having a fool for his client is right on.) No matter how high up the ladder you eventually climb, you are always going to be the one most interested in and most invested in yourself.
So yes, eventually, you may have minions and "people" to handle things. But it would behoove you to learn the fundamentals of self-promotion now. Partly because you can start using them in service of your career immediately and partly because once you are in a position of employing people, you won't be an uneducated idiot at their mercy.
Next, only idiots spend where they don't have to. Don't be an idiot!
There is a never-ending line of people with a range of intentions from noble to outright evil ready to take your money. Know this going in, and act accordingly.
This means doing your research when it comes to things you have to spend money on. If you're brand new to the business, read the rules; there is evergreen info on where you should (and should NOT) be spending your or your parents' hard-earned cash. (Seriously, if you're brand new, go to this page, read the entire contents, and only when you have, come back. I'll be here; I promise.)
You are a business; apply the laws of business to the self-promotion part of your business, just like you do to everything else (and I'm assuming you're being fiscally responsible in at least one area of your life.) Don't pay someone for a service unless you're sure that: (a) this person is the right person for you (i.e., do your research); and (b) you need this service to begin with (i.e., do your research.)
Noticing a pattern? The first step is always research. (Well, the first step after desire, anyway.)
You can do a ton of research for free, too, via search engines, online forums, and old-skool asking around. I know it can be tempting to buy advice/books/services/whatever on impulse, you want to believe that this advice/book/service whatever is going to be that thing that puts you over the top. (I have a weakness for books, myself.)
But trust me: that once-in-a-lifetime deal that is going to launch you into superstardom? Probably isn't.
Get your basic tools in order first
It's easy to forget, with all the sparkly glamour of the internet distracting you, but the fundamentals of self-promo are still pretty pedestrian:
- A good headshot (that looks like you)
- A good resume (that describes your experience and has your contact info)
After that, come a few tools you may not think of as part of your self-promotional toolkit, but boy-howdy, they sure are:
1. A great outgoing message on your voicemail
Don't be cute unless you can pull it off. If you have to ask, you can't. Be clear, be concise, sound like you. Don't have your favorite pop song on in the background. (While we're at it, I'm kind of against those internal ringtones that play music while callers are on hold; you are not Time Warner, thank god. And yes, I'm 47, so it might be a demographic thing. Just remember, at least some of your audience is old, too. (Erring on the side of caution works for me.)
2. A great verbal business card
When my ex-husband and I moved out to L.A., one of the best pieces of advice I was given was to get my "raps" down: my ten-minute, five-minute, one-minute and 30-second sound bite versions of what it was I here to do in L.A. What I was about. Basically, various "pitches" where the thing being pitched is you.
This is harder than it sounds (okay, maybe it already sounds hard) because you need to come up with stuff that is exciting, to pull people in and get them in your corner, without being sell-y and gross (no one wants a Willy Loman, kids.) And also, it has to sum you up. Ready? Get crackin'!
3. A wardrobe of great bios
If you're doing it right as an actor, you're going to be doing theater. That means programs, and that means bios. It is very, very easy to make an ass of yourself in your bio. Start reviewing bios EVERYWHERE with a critical eye: what works, what doesn't. Get second opinions from smart people you really admire.
NEXT MONTH: How to promote yourself online with (mostly) free tools!