By Laura Hammer
As PMD on Leah Meyerhoff’s I Believe In Unicorns, part of my job was to send newsletter updates to our base of supporters. Newsletters are not just for announcing screenings! They are an integral part of audience engagement and get people involved in your project as early as development stages. Your subscribers email boxes are flooded with newsletter campaigns from companies and projects and they will barely have time for yours. Do not bother them with something hideous (lacking design effort) and difficult to read (text too small or the length of an encyclopedia).
Newsletter layouts have four essential components: Header, Body, *Sidebar, and Footer. *Depending on the layout you pick you may have no sidebar, one, or multiple sidebars! If choosing multiple sidebars, I would advise picking a layout where these columns are below the main body text and above the footer. Choose wisely and investigate your own email box for designs that stand out.
Be creative and consistent. Design choices should match the aesthetics of the film. Keep the same color scheme, layout, and visual elements throughout your campaign. Use a minimum amount of graphics as several email clients block images by default.
Declare yourself. Ensure your readers know who you are and why they are receiving this newsletter. Try adding the words “movie” or “film” to your sender name. The “email subject line” should be short and attention grabbing as it serves the same purpose as a logline. This “subject line” should highlight the main topic of your newsletter.
Make sure your (A) HEADER links back to your main website and includes the film’s title as well as the director or key cast members names. Recipients will click mostly on links in the top of your newsletter and most will only view your email in the preview pane. For the (B) BODY of your newsletter stick with one main topic or idea you are trying to convey.
Choose an eye catching main photo and make sure it links back to your main website or site you most want your readers to visit.
Get Social (1, 5, 9) Prominently display social media profile logo links and your official site url. Tweet your campaign after sending.
Keep it short! Use short subtitles to break up topics or long sections of text, these can also become navigation links in the (2) table of contents. The main body text can include links back to blog posts that have more detail.
Highlight recent news. We use the subtitle “More Great News” to highlight the recent accomplishments of our cast and crew. Next to each blurb is a thumbnail photo that links back to the related press article or the related film’s Facebook page. We usually include a text link back to a blog post on our blog congratulating them and providing more detail and additional related outgoing links. This builds community and drives traffic and new fans to your film.
Express gratitude by linking back to any organizations helping your film and include their logos. Thank cast, crew, and supporters when production goals are reached and let them know how their contribution is bringing the project closer to the finish line.
While optional, the (C) SIDEBAR of a newsletter can be most helpful during development and production stages of a project. Once a film is completed, sidebars can be utilized to list screening and release dates.
Crowdfund. If you are asking for donations, (3) make the link large and feature a logo if you have a fiscal sponsor or crowdfunding platform.
Get help! (4) Our “Join” button allows people to sign up for a separate segmented list letting us know they are willing to go the extra mile for Unicorns. Subscribers have donated their time, equipment and lent other items for our production. This is our go-to list for last minute needs.
Hire people! (6) You can use your newsletter to find cast and crew. Add a job notice for positions available on your project. We found many of our team this way and saved lots of resumes for future reference.
Change the world. (7) Our project has a social justice issue, so we use a “Stop Domestic Violence” purple ribbon logo to link back to our advocacy blog on Tumblr.
Your (D) FOOTER must include (8) a closing, (10) your company contact information, a (11) “You are receiving this message because...” one line explanation, and an (12) “Unsubscribe” opt-out.
“Let my people go!” There should be a link for subscribers to update their preferences – in addition to “Unsubscribe” – as subscribers may change their email address but still want to receive your updates.
Codecheck Repeated edits and saves can cause the code behind your newsletter to become broken. If you don’t know HTML and CSS, find someone who does to double check your code before sending. Otherwise it may not arrive in recipients mailboxes looking like it did in preview mode.
Spellcheck Proper spelling is fundamental. Cross-reference IMDB for names. Always check with partners, sponsors, publications and institutions as to how they would like to be credited.
Create a schedule for blasts and set goals. Once a film is complete, your focus should move from growing support to get the film made to motivating that cultivated audience into the seats at the theater, renting, and/or purchasing your film as it becomes available.
Grow your Subscriber Lists. You should be always cultivating your contacts and growing subscriber lists. Add a signup form to your website and your Facebook page. Organize and segment these lists for easy reference. Make sure you have the individuals’ permission to email them - its the law!
There are many services available for sending newsletters and you should comparison shop for one that best suits your needs. We chose Mail Chimp because it has a great analytics feature, social sharing, and a free plan! You can view our newsletter in your browser. Please share our campaign with your friends - http://eepurl.com/ojPc5 - and sign up to join the magic of I Believe In Unicorns.
Laura is a Producer and SAG-AFTRA Actor with a BFA from NYU Tisch School of the Arts. Enamored with the art and business of 21st Century storytelling, Laura is taking on a new role in independent film as a Producer of Marketing and Distribution. http://laurahammer.com/