Some people hate marketing, some people love it. Most people don't get that every action you take, at least, the ones that other people can see, is marketing.
I grew up in cities, in apartment buildings with windows that inevitably faced other apartment buildings with windows. So from a very young age, I learned from my mother this key truth about apartment-dwelling: assume that they can see you whenever you can see them, and sometimes, even when they can't.
The same truth applies to marketing yourself as an actor. Everything you do as an actor is helping to establish in people's minds what kind of actor you are, even the things you might not realize. And worse, sometimes it's especially the things you don't realize: small actions, behaviors, or the lack thereof do more to fix you in people's heads as x kind of actor than all the headshots, websites, new media activity, networking and postcarding you do on purpose.
Let's take these one by one, so you can start to see where you're doing good, and not-so-good, marketing.
Auditioning. Huge. HUGE. Because in this one activity, there are dozens of small ways to tell people you've got the goods (or show them that you are clueless). Ever shown up late and blamed traffic, or lack of parking, or some other manageable, exterior force? You're positioning yourself as a blamer and/or someone who might cost the producers money in lost time. Complain about something upon arrival, or worse, in the room? You're not Casual Mom, you're Casual Complainer in a Mom Outfit. And Difficult Actor, who cannot be counted on to carry his weight on the set. Remember, you don't get a take: the DP gets a take, the client gets a take, the writers get a take; your job is to make every one of those takes work, so the editor gets her footage.
Good marketing fixes for auditioning are equal parts preparation (which includes mundane, mechanical details) and behavior. (Notice we didn't even get to skill. That's cost of admission.)
Right representation. Many of us have an Agent Horror Story. I have a few, a couple were screw-ups by an agent whom I adored. They got us both in trouble, but they were legitimate human errors, and everyone made them. 99% awesome is, I think, a reasonable thing to shoot for. (Because sorry, but you're going to screw-up at some point, too, and you'd hope for the same courtesy when you're providing bad marketing for your agent.) But your representation is an extension of you. If the behavior is egregious, you need to deal with it swiftly, repair what damage you can, and get out.
Social media. The best advice I have about marketing yourself properly via social media is to respect the boundaries established by the people you're trying to market to. If you haven't read up on permission marketing, now is the time, Seth Godin literally wrote the book, and agent Chaim Magnum gave some great advice about it in an interview for this column. The bottom line, for the impatient: just because you can send an email or tweet or Facebook email to pretty much anyone doesn't mean you should.
Networking. The rules for networking go for any human interaction: be yourself, be kind, and think of the other person. First, because that's how (hopefully) your mama raised you, but also because you never know. Think of you at a party, you in line at the grocery store, even you in traffic, as an ambassador for actor-you. Branding (or marketing) is behavior, and if you act like a jackass, eventually, you're going to get caught at it and it will shape people's opinion of you. Which, surprise!, is marketing.
Hopefully, you're starting to get the idea. I'm all for doing all the obvious, external things to market yourself well; it's important to have a smart, well-written bio, an up-to-date resume, a presence of some kind on the Internet. Just don't forget that it's the day-to-day actions that really show people who you are, whether you can see it or not.
30-minutes or less tip of the month: Stamp and address multiple postcards or thank-you notes to have them at the ready. I'm far more likely to take the minute needed to actually write and send a note if there's less friction involved in getting it done. And hey, it's a great way to justify time spent in front of trashy TV (which I know, I know, you never do.) For more 30-minute tips, go here.
Want more ideas? Sign up for my (free) newsletter! Every month I send out a free missive about how to promote yourself without being a tool, and connect with people in a way that makes them love you. It's not about acting explicitly, but since you're a smart actor, that shouldn't scare you. Check it out, then sign up.
Colleen Wainwright is a writer-speaker-consultant who started calling herself "the communicatrix" when she hit three hyphens. She spent a decade writing commercials and another decade acting in them for cash money. Now she uses her powers for good and not evil by helping people learn how to get there faster by getting out of their own way.