Docuseries Mini 104: How to Market Your Docuseries

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I spent five weeks in China during November and December 2018. The purpose of trip was for family and for work.

I had the opportunity to not only showcase my docuseries teasers to a number of interested people, I got to witness several groups of live audiences reacting to the series and took notes carefully.

While I was on an ultra fast bullet train from Shanghai to Beijing 350 km/h (217 mph), I decided to prepare this very post, Docuseries Mini 104.

Traveling is exciting but the ups and downs in between cities made me feel nostalgic and unsettled. With all the emotions bubbling in my head, getting it out in a recording seemed like the perfect thing to do.

Set your expectation when marketing your docuseries

I once read an article that the only thing more difficult than producing a docuseries is funding it. Since we started the docuseries process, I’d spoken with a number of filmmakers who had given up so much their lives to do this work. From driving Ubers to living in their parents’ basement, you name it. 

After all that hard work and commitment, you need to get the word out. Marketing is required, not optional. And on top of that, marketing is a process.

As the creator (or producer, or director), you are the best person to take on the marketing endeavor, at least in the beginning. If you have a team of marketers ready to rock, that’s fantastic. Otherwise if you are like the rest of us, here’s something doable I learned along the way.

The plan you have may not result in immediate return. Keep going! The more people you talk to, the better you get at talking about the project. Then when you meet the right people, your pitch, your stories will sound right.

Traveling soon? Let’s plan your trip 

Filmmakers often find themselves on the road traveling to festivals, making new connections.

Just like planning for any other trip, you want to know where you’ll be, for how long, and who you’ll be speaking with.

The trip I went on was a little different. I’m was in China where most people are only fluent in Chinese with basic understanding in English. My docuseries is in English, with no Chinese subtitles due to time constraint. Since Chinese is my first language, I found ways to get around the language barrier and made it fun.

If you are marketing your docuseries in multiple countries, keep listening and I’ll share some tactics that work.

Prepare your files (teasers and full episodes if available) 

Out of the 5 episodes we’ll launch as part of this docuseries, only one episode had a rough-cut. The rest was in post production when I left to go to China. 

However, my editor German helped put together two teasers for me to bring with me on the trip: one is an introduction that goes before every episode, only 20 seconds long. The other is a 1 min 40 secs teaser. They drive different emotions in people and the variations in length really helped too.

Now that you have the files, make sure you upload them to ALL your electronic devices you’ll be bringing with you on your trip. You may be wondering, how do I travel light while having enough options and backups for these files?

I feel you! 

Here’s my setup - I have high resolution files (1080p) locally saved on my iPhone (7 plus), my 12 inch iPad Pro, and my 13 inch MacBook. You do NOT want to access any video files (or important files) via an internet connection, or iCloud when you are traveling because WiFi may not reachable, or may not be unreliable.

For iPhone and iPad, I have them not only saved in the image gallery, but I also created a separate album called “Docuseries” so I can get to them quickly. The folder setup should be consistent across all your devices.

I suggest 1080p or higher to ensure the files are of high resolution. We shot our docuseries on a Canon C200 and we definitely want to show off the quality while balancing the file size somewhat. 

Getting around language barriers

If your docuseries is in one language, and you are marketing to people who speak a different language, you can still help create a more optimal viewing experience.

  1. If you have time to put together subtitles quickly, please do.

  2. If you are like me who didn’t have time to make subtitles available, you have two options - a) If you speak the language, you can first by practicing summarizing your docuseries in a clear sentence or two. Then you can elaborate further in that language. Generally speaking, keeping your introduction short is a good idea because people are eager to watch the teasers once you finish talking. Let the image, the video speak for itself.

  3. If you do not speak the language, chances are that you’ll be traveling/hiring a translator. You should prepare the translator ahead of time to articulate what you want to come across in the introduction. Then ask the translator to pay attention to people’s questions once the video is done playing.

Introducing your show (hint: relate to the people you are talking to) 

You might be able to predict every person you’ll meet (because you invited some of them). Do your homework and study the people (if you already know them well) and figure out how to anchor your story, your pitch appropriately.

What’s in it for them? How do they relate? 

The #1 mistake I’ve witnessed is when the creator/producer only relates to himself or herself when marketing the film. Sure, people want to know who you are, why you choose to produce such film. Those questions might come and you want to be ready. However, you want to make your audience the hero, not you. 

The pitch, the story needs to come from a genuine place. Otherwise people detect the B.S. Right away.

How to receive feedback 

Watch for people’s reactions before/during/after watching your docuseries. It’s fascinating! For example: Did they nod? Did they seem impatient or confused? You can continue to improve your pitch and the viewing experience during your trip.

Feedback is one of the best things you could ask for, including the ones you didn’t quite expect. I noticed that the pitching process often isn’t one on one. In a casual setting where we have dinner get togethers in China, there could be many people watching the docuseries while you may be pitching to a single person. It can get challenging and even frustrating. Here’s the good news: your audience grew, so pay attention to what others want to say as well. 

Remember that you can also ask the person or the group questions. Some people find it hard to comment and reflect right away. It’s OK if they don’t respond. Find a way to stay in touch and they might reach out to you at a later time.

Another twist to this process is not all feedback is valid or relevant, and not everyone knows how to give or receive feedback. Seth Godin has a series of articles on how to give and receive feedback, feel free to Google them, or perhaps start with this article here.

Follow-up 

Just like a job interview, follow-up with your docuseries contacts is key. Please keep track of the people yo met, spoken with - you’ll be surprised that many of them want to receive share updates related to the docuseries.

In this network economy, I noticed just how eager everyone’s willing to help. Even if someone doesn’t have a personal interest in the film right away, he or she may refer you to the perfect person/agency/partner at a later time. 

The ability to put your film, your docuseries in front of a live audience is invaluable. Don’t take it lightly and follow up responsibly. 

Please share your questions and reflections in the comments section. :)