April 1, 2001

The Importance of Doxploitation

Editor’s Note: For Richard Roe, who made the award-winning Pop & Me with his son Chris,, selling a documentary to the media takes more than a little luck, pluck and virtue. He explains how he turned a globe-trotting father-son bonding expedition into a cinematic enterprise.

 

You are the best salesman for your project—not your agent, manager, publicist or distributor, if you’re lucky enough to have any of this help. You must discover your niche, be super-aggressive, get publicity and exploit it to the nth degree.

Pop & Me is a 92-minute feature documentary film about father-and-son relationships around the world. Through our own efforts, we were featured on The Oprah Winfrey Show, The Early Show with Bryant Gumbel, CNN World News, ABC World News, BBC World News, Lifetime Live and dozens of other affiliated television shows. And Roger Ebert showed clips of Pop & Me and said very nice things about the film. We were also featured on National Public Radio, as well as in such print outlets as People magazine, Variety, The Los Angeles Times, The New York Times and many other newspapers.

How was this publicity generated? It is very important to establish relationships with the media as soon as possible. This way, assuming they like your story, they will have a vested interest. For example, before we embarked on our journey, which would take us to 29 countries on five continents over a 190-day period, I had read an article in The Los Angeles Times by Alan Abrahamson. I called Mr. Abrahamson and left a message on his voice mail (I love voice mail, way better than e-mail, as I would leave such an enthusiastic message with an “incredible, unique story” that they had to return the call). When he returned the call that same day, I told Alan (we were already on a first-name basis) of our upcoming quest. He responded that he was interested, but only after we returned from the trip, and he advised us to “keep in touch.”

Prior to the trip, I had accumulated a mailing list of some 20 media people, including Alan, and each month I would send them long letters, along with photos, about the “amazing stories” we were filming. At the time I had no idea if this strategy would ever amount to anything, but, hey, you have to sell! By the time we returned, these people were actually rooting for us to make this film, and they felt like they had a vested interest in the project.

The next Father's Day, Alan and I talked, and he felt our journey would make for a great Father's Day article. Lo and behold, on Father's Day, there was major article on the front page of the Sunday Los Angeles Times. We copied this article and presented it whenever we talked with anybody. Other jackpots included the media outlets mentioned above. We received this publicity because we knew our niche, Father's Day, and just marketed like crazy to get on the shows. Here are some useful tips that I learned:

You must find out who the proper person is at each media outlet and get that person on the phone. This is a very difficult task, and absolute persistence and a thick skin are essential. Your telephone voice is also very important. After all, if you're not wildly enthusiastic about this terrific product, how can a stranger be excited enough to publicize it?

Having a great website is also extremely important. As soon as I get someone on the phone, I ask them to look at our site (www.popandme.com), which Chris designed. It mentions the five festival awards we've been lucky enough to win, plus our selection to the Academy of Motion picture Arts and Sciences' "short list" for an Oscar® nomination. Now you have their attention. And your pitch should be no more than 30 seconds; make it great.

As you start to get publicity, leverage it into more publicity. Package every good review and article into a great press kit. And don't scrimp on this press kit, or on your website.

We were extremely fortunate to sell our film to MGM, and we leveraged this coup to get more publicity: the fact that a major studio bought a documentary film, by unknown first-time filmmakers, without any name stars.

To reiterate, you must discover your niche, be super-aggressive, get publicity, then exploit it to the nth degree.

 

Richard Roe worked in the investment business for 12 years, was a camp director in New Hampshire for 12 years, and has worked on Pop & Me for past five years. He has three children—Richard, 34; Chris, 33; and Gabby, 32. Pop & Me is available in VHS and DVD in all Blockbusters and many other rental outlets

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