Friday 03 February, 2017

I spent most of my childhood telling everyone I was going to be a movie star when I grew up. By the time I’d started in my first comms role working in the press office at Edinburgh Zoo the dream had taken on a different form, this time I’d tell everyone one day I was going to write an award winning Best Picture film.

I’d even gone as far as planning who I’d take with me to the red carpet. My Dad of course, it would be payback for all of the late nights we’d spend watching award shows.

Working in PR means you’re a storyteller every day; it’s at the heart of what we do. It’s not writing feature length films but the concept is similar, know your audience, develop engaging content and share it in a creative way.

The more obsessed I’ve become with movies, the less happy I am with the big award results. It feels like the top talent always misses out, *cough* Amy Adams *cough*. However, it’s not necessarily that the talent that misses out, it’s the award campaigns that fail to hit the mark and catapult their movies to cinematic greatness.

The film industry’s most sought after award nominees were announced this week sparking phase two of a surprisingly complete campaign process. Film companies shell out millions to clinch a 13.5 inch, 8.5lbs, 24-karat gold plated statuette. Nobody really gets the reason behind the name but they embrace it all the same.

With such a tight timeline for voting – approximately 1 month – studios have to work fast and be super-efficient to make sure their films get in front of the right audience. This time it’s not eager film fans they are looking to impress. Vanity Fair documented the outcry from avid Amy Adams fans, disgruntled that she failed to clinch a nomination for either Arrival and Nocturnal Animals. She might have had the fan backing but it’s the industry VIPs with voting powers that she needed to back her bid. With two competing films in the running, she may have been a victim of her own success and split the vote.

AdWeek compared the marketing blitz around the major awards to the political campaigning behind running for the White House. They are not wrong. The big budgets help secure all the right ads in all the right places, then lobbying and PR pull out all the stops. It’s not uncommon for studios to spend up to $10 million building momentum to get their films to the knock-out stages.

Veteran award campaigner Cynthia Swartz describes the media portrayal of the awards coverage as being similar to aggressive sports coverage; everyone wants to know who’s up and who’s down. Why all the effort? Awards mean money, and lots of it. Statistics from IBISWorld highlight Best Picture Oscar winners make about $13.8 million more post-Oscar win than their nominated counterparts, and there’s a noticeable increase in winning actors salaries.

The keys to success vary, and the PR industry can learn some tricks and tips from award season campaigns. Great award campaigns get their messaging right, tell stories and promote an underdog. A painstaking transformation (Matthew McConaughey in Dallas Buyers Club) or showcasing a new filming style or technique (Birdman’s one continuous shot or Boyhood’s 12 year filming process) can also help tremendously.

Timing is crucial, you need to generate buzz at the right time so that it has the best chance of reaching your target audience. It’s no coincidence that all of the award season films tend to come out around about the same time each year.

Getting involvement from the wider industry is also vital. People want to back a winner. Leonardo DiCaprio’s run for Best Actor in 2016 for the Revenant is a dazzling example of industry engagement at its best. The notoriously media shy star walked numerous red carpets, spoke to various chat show hosts, became a meme with the involvement of Lady Gaga, and had a lot of face time with Academy members. By the time the awards night rolled round, he’d put in the time and effort to secure the win.

But most importantly, if the awards campaigns can teach people in PR anything, it’s that you must know your audience. Ultimately they are who you need to vote, support, purchase or use your clients’ products and services.

It’s one of the reasons you can always bank on the award success of a film about Hollywood, for Hollywood…