Since the birth of the moving picture, film has played an important role in the way people experience culture worldwide. This is apparent at the 400 film festivals which take place around the globe each year. These events give talented artists a venue to promote their work in front of a qualified, interested audience.

Like any dynamic art form, film is forever changing. New digital media have placed unknown independent artists on the same playing field as their more established, commercially-backed counterparts. Moreover, as access to cyberspace has become more universal, reaching the right audience has never been so easy.

Why is this? Because of “The Long Tail.” Originally an abstract concept introduced in a WIRED Magazine article from 2006, The Long Tail is now a mantra of digital marketing. Applied to marketing in film, the pre-Long Tail mentality was to conceptualize an artistic work with a specific target in mind, and then develop it to invite as big an audience as possible. Marketers would then direct their resources toward the audience within distribution range.

The goal was to make the next big summer blockbuster. But according to Chris Anderson, the author of the article, “hit-driven economics is a creation of an age without enough room to carry everything for everybody.” In other words, a new day has come.

In a post-Long Tail awakened world, we’ve found that most people’s taste in film goes beyond just mainstream appeal. With the recent onset of a limitless distribution range, the audience dynamic is changing. An American producer whose film deals with even the most esoteric subject matter now has its niche audience at arm’s length. Using the right digital marketing tactics, the filmmaker can draw those people in without burning through resources they way they might have during the pre-Long Tail era.

Filmmakers, now freed from the shackles of heavy distribution burdens, can finally create that masterpiece that was once deemed implausible. And with a continued stream of artists looking for exposure, the film festival industry now has the scale to reach far and wide…and find willing consumers around every corner. This is why, according to Anderson, the “cultural benefit of all of this is much more diversity, reversing the blanding effects of a century of distribution scarcity and ending the tyranny of the hit.”

Step-by-step: How to market a film festival to a Long Tail audience.

1) Create a home for your festival on the net.

Give your contestants a platform on which they can share a trailer of the film they plan to promote at your festival. Allow visitors to vote on the trailers, with a thumbs-up/thumbs-down or one-to-five-stars approach. This allows the best ones to rise to the top, creating a channel of the highest quality content, which can be used to draw in a large audience. This widens the timeline for audience engagement, and gives you a vehicle to convey supporting messages related to the festival itself.

You want a website where entrants can upload a trailer with minimal technical know-how. The easiest way to do this is to use YouTube as the host. Users worldwide simply create their own profile and/or channel on YouTube, submit their content, and then provide your site with a URL or embed code to the video. Each trailer then has its own landing page on your festival’s site, and should be accompanied by “Send To A Friend” and “Download To Your iPod” links, along with submission links for social bookmarking sites like

(Note – It is important to limit the length of the trailer (two minutes would be a good round number), and make sure that the actual length of the YouTube video is clearly visible on your site. If a video requires a time commitment, a lot of people will click away without even looking.)

Make sure your site is scalable, in the event that you receive ten times the traffic you expected. Even if you are focused on quality content, be prepared for massive quantity as well. Your web developer needs to make you very confident that your site won’t buckle under pressure.

You’ll also want to add search capability (this is easy with Google Custom Search) do some user testing, or consult a usability expert on making your festival’s website as navigable as possible. Invest in good analytics software to follow trends in visits,
pageviews, referrals, keyword-driven traffic, and so on.

2) Give your festival a personality.

If your festival has a theme, make it very evident. Brand it consistently, from the copy writing to the graphic design to the outbound marketing communications. Everything must boil down to the seminal concept of what your festival is about. If it’s abstract, e.g. “good independent film,” that’s fine as long as you remain consistent.

Offer an incentive. Partner with local organizations in the host city, e.g. the Chamber of Commerce or a local Arts Council. Find a major event taking place which could benefit from a partnership; your contestants’ work might be a major asset to their program. The grand prize, apart from whatever you already decide to offer the winner(s), is the visibility of being associated with these organizations…and thus get in front of a large audience.

3) Define your stakeholders.

Your directors and producers are the ones supplying quality content–the lifeblood of your site and your best promotional asset leading up to the festival.

Your visitors are your primary source of feedback. Leverage their opinions wisely and you’ll find many ways to bring them back to your site, and to your festival–along with their friends.

The general public is the 6 billion people living on this planet. Some don’t have computers. Some don’t like film. But in line with The Long Tail concept, reaching just about everybody else is relatively easy…and the enthusiasts will come out of the woodwork.

Keep these people satisfied at every stage of your campaign, and your marketing engine will keep things moving with minimal intervention on your part.

4) Establish measurable goals.

How many directors do you think you could get to sign up? How many people would you like to visit the site and vote on trailers? How many views do you think a trailer of an eventual award-winner ought to receive? Arrive at a low, medium and high estimate, with a timeline of projections, and constantly measure your progress.

5) Leverage digital media channels to the fullest.

Social Networking.

With a little bit of research, you can find the right social networking sites to target for your campaign. To leverage Long Tail potential to the fullest, use a network like Facebook or Myspace to co-brand content and engage new groups of people.

Facebook – Create a Facebook profile for each member of the organizing committee, and use this to administrate a dedicated Facebook Group. Have your developer create a Facebook application allowing artists to embed their trailer in their profile, with a module to solicit ratings on films. For viewers, the application should offer “on-demand” rankings of all trailers posted (across the entire Facebook network) to encourage healthy competition.

It is also helpful to add calendar integration for notification of important dates in your mini-feed, and of course links back to the festival website and blog. If your festival features content from around the world, why not add a real-time updating world map showing geographical location of all participating artists?

Myspace – On this network, you’re faced with a tradeoff. This is still the best place for artists (and art lovers) to nurture their passion. However, it may also be harder for you to cut through the spam and build a meaningful campaign. Compared to Facebook, spend far less time administrating the Myspace profile. It should simply be a “content dump” with regularly rotating trailers and blog content.

If you have a lot of manpower at your disposal, also consider a targeted approach to some of the industry-specific sites such as Flixster, MatrixMovies and Revver.

Search engines.

Getting your festival to appear prominently in search engines requires an orientation toward dynamic content and inbound links. Start a festival blog in which organizers can collaborate to upload content on a daily basis. This will push a variety of relevant keywords out into cyberspace, tied to your website to bring people back for more.

For added juice, open the blog up to the general public — if the public is properly engaged, the volume of content will grow at a furious pace, along with the number of inbound links to your site. With a little creativity, you won’t have trouble coming up with original content: event news, featured films, press mentions, staff picks, etc. Make sure all blog content is accompanied by chicklets (links for easy posting) to popular social media sites, to increase the number of viral touch points.

If particular video content speaks to a particular audience, weed out the leaders of each category and make them aware of what you’re doing. Use Technorati to find the most prominent bloggers in these categories, and approach them personally and individually, offering them your content and/or reciprocal links.

Find every event site related to film, digital media, arts & culture, as well as the city where your event will be hosted. Create a reference sheet containing your event’s title, a short description, a long list of comma-separated tags, a shorter version of the same list, and other pertinent information which will need to be standardized across all submissions. Put on a pot of coffee and hammer away.

It would also help to hire a search engine optimization (SEO) consultant to handle the keyword strategy and tactical implementation. This will make your pages friendly to the spiders sent out by Google, Yahoo! and the like.

Email Communications.

Decide your strategy from the very beginning: do you force everyone (directors and audience) to register, thereby creating a nice long distribution list? Or do you scale back the mandatory registration, requiring registration only to post content? You can also find a middle ground, offering certain incentives for opt-in (such as winning a pair of free all-access passes to the festival). The registration module will allow you to also collect additional demographic information (city/state, age, gender, etc.) but if you go this route, make sure you have given some thought to your privacy policy.


This will vary based on your resources and network. If you have advertisers on board for a lot of money, your marketing communications will give you a variety of venues to feature them (website banners, emails, plus your entire arsenal of offline marketing assets). If you have no major sponsors but still want to explore advertising revenue, you can always use a program like Google AdSense for a very customizable on-page sponsored link campaign.


After your festival, you’ll be faced with a decision: do we want to do this again next year? You may not be ready to decide right away, but there’s plenty you can do to capitalize on the momentum of your event, to keep marketing your concept.

Ongoing global link sharing campaign with partners of various categories
Blog coverage of other major film festivals
In-depth profiles of festival award-winners
Discovery of worthy short films not originally submitted to the festival site
Film industry interviews (available as podcasts)
Once all these elements of your digital marketing campaign are off the ground, the last thing to do is convey your scope to your artists. You’re in the festival business, which in 2008 means you’re hardly concerned with the manufacturing and distribution concerns of the filmmakers. But this talented constituency is still waking up to the opportunities of the Long Tail economy.

If you have the numbers, give your artists a pat on the back by showing them the geographic reach of your festival. Repackage the most compelling feedback on submitted videos into a rotating “ticker” in the banner of your website. Do whatever you can to give these filmmakers–the authors of content without which you’d be in business–an extra incentive to keep going.

In a world in which, as Anderson says, “popularity no longer has a monopoly on profitability,” we’ll all be better off because of it.

Paul Burani is an internet marketing consultant based in New York, NY. After acquiring account experience working with Fortune 500 clients in the advertising and market research industries, he has since turned his attention to startups and growing businesses. His company, Clicksharp Marketing, is a full-service digital marketing consultancy, aimed at helping entrepreneurs market themselves effectively on the internet.