Film Marketing: How to Build an Audience from Day-One [Part 1]

First part of a conversation with Rob Kischuk of the Marketing Agency Leadership Podcast, produced by Converge HQ, a digital marketing company backed by investor Mark Cuban.

ROB: Welcome to the Marketing Agency Leadership Podcast. I’m your host, Rob Kischuk, and I am very excited to be joined today by Erik Lokkesmoe, Principal at Aspiration and an author.  He’s based in Nashville, Tennessee. Welcome, Erik.

ERIK: Rob, good to be with you.

ROB: Great to have you on here. Why don’t you tell us what Aspiration is and what you’re great at? Go for it.

ERIK: That’s what my wife asks every day, like “What do you do all day?” [laughs] I get coffee and beer, basically with friends.

No, this is a long-term, long-time-coming type of work that I do. Just to go back a little bit, I started in politics out of college. Went to Washington, D.C., worked as a speechwriter and press secretary. About 10 years in, I was realizing I wanted to get out of this crazy world.

But it did teach me a lot about audiences, marketing. I had a real interest in the creative sector of Hollywood—arts, entertainment, media. Partly that was developed because we were seeing in politics that there was something upstream that was shaping hearts and minds and behavior and beliefs far more than political life.

You recognize quickly that it is really the storytellers, the creatives, the makers of society, of culture, of cultural goods that are far more powerful in shaping people than politics. We talked about that being politics is downstream from the creative, because as we all know, a song, a movie, fashion is much more interesting in how it shapes us and forms us internally than a bill passing on the floor. Both important.

But certainly I recognized that early on and got into entertainment, and really the last 12 years I’ve been trying to understand what’s happening with audience trends, technology, distribution, production. How do we, as a company, figure out 3 years ahead what is going to be the way audiences consume content? How do creators create better content? How do technology and distribution affirm that for an audience and for the maker?

ROB: Interesting. It seems to me largely there’s a promotional and marketing role to what you do, but there’s also production, there’s a broader storytelling piece. How does all that fit together, if someone’s saying, “I know what a marketing agency is”? What is the scope of what Aspiration does?

ERIK: We’re called producers of marketing distribution, and that is really a unique term and a new term. As more and more independent filmmakers have risen up and as the democratization of Hollywood has spread, more  and more, as you know, makers of content (whether it’s books, music, film) have to take more and more on as their own roles and their own work.

A producer of marketing distribution is really sitting next to them and saying, “Okay, you’re making something, you’ve made something. Maybe you’re in the first days of development of your script. How do we begin to think of audience from Day 1? How do we begin to acquire an audience?”

How do we begin to understand who we’re talking to—and then let’s talk-about distribution, which is now wide open. It’s not a closed system anymore. It makes sense to people who are in marketing that, “Oh, audiences. Consumers. You should think about audience/consumers with your product Day 1.”

But most of Hollywood traditionally has been “investment in an idea." Greenlight a project based upon a whim, a fancy, a talent, something that is really abstract, a comp, something that is trendy. Then, when they’re done with that production, they sit back and go, “Okay marketing team, who’s our audience?” and you’ve already invested upwards of tens of millions of dollars, potentially. That’s just, you’d think, completely insane, but that’s how it’s been run for so many years.

Now, more and more people like us are sitting there and saying we have to have a direct-to-consumer strategy. We have to know our audience. We can’t just ask them to buy a ticket or to swipe or to click; we have to involve them from Day 1, if we can.

Erik Lokkesmoe