Wednesday, December 27, 2006

Turnabout is fair play ...

A couple of my recent posts about self-promotion have spawned a bunch of conversation locally and via Email, and I've been thinking quite a bit about the topics included in the two posts.

The latter post (about the rough time I've had with holiday cards and gifts this year) was picked up in a post by voice talent Bob Souer, and I noticed Bob's linked to my posts a few times. I've been Emailing about with him and another voice talent, Karen Commins, who noticed Bob's reference to my post, and has also linked to my blog in the past.

And I've been talking with some local actors, after a conversation with one guy about how he doesn't do birthday or holiday cards for professional contacts, because he's concerned about coming across as ingenuous.

Me too.

I admit the whole self-promotion thing is pretty touchy, and I go back and forth as to how much to do, and still remain authentic and true to relationships -- which is important to me.

Even tougher is balancing strong confidence so that it doesn't come off as arrogant. I know who I am. I know I am a worthwhile human being. I know what I do (or what I don't do) does not define my value as a person. That can be very intimidating to some people, and come across as arrogant.

Largely as a result of my conversation with Karen, I thought I'd talk about self promotion and my struggle with it. Maybe this will give you ideas and prompt you to think about it, too.

As a series of caveats, though, understand that while I'm asked regularly to speak to acting and entertainment groups about business and marketing, I start and end with at least three tenets:
  1. The stuff I'm talking about is not a replacement for networking and building relationships.
  2. Don't hide behind business and marketing and neglect your craft and relationships.
  3. Business and marketing should be an extension of your authentic self, not selling something you're not. What good would it do for you to nail a job interview for a position for which you are in no way qualified? That will likely end badly for everyone involved.
Why I struggle...

To be brutally honest, I struggle with my personal promotion because I'm trying to avoid the three extremes in self-promotion toward which I see most actors tend:

  1. Self-aggrandizement (arguably the smallest group, especially among the genuinely "good" actors)
  2. Hiding behind marketing and promotion, and not networking, connecting, and building personal craft (a larger group)
  3. Laziness (honestly, the biggest group; seriously, if you've auditioned for BigNameCastingDirector once, and haven't for 1.5 years, your excuse for not sending her an occasional postcard, birthday or holiday card is what, exactly?)

For the first group, read Karen's "5 Thoughts About Self-Promotion in Social Settings" -- speaking for myself, I don't want to be "that guy".

In the interest of full disclosure, Group 2 is where I struggle.

Right now, there are a whole bunch of people in Group 3 that are probably upset with me, while at the same time convinced I'm not talking about them.

I'm glad I had so much trouble this year...

This year's card/gift troubles were good for me. I'm thankful for them, because they helped
me prioritize my contacts list into "important", "less important", and "drop" categories (obviously I'm not categorizing the people, just the amount of effort I spend to stay in touch with them). And, as Bob mentions, it shows me I'm "gaining some needed health in this [being too careful] area."

Who I hit up...

I have two general groups of industry contacts related to acting:

  1. "Acting" -- This bucket includes Directors, agents, fellow actors, select crew, Casting Directors, writers, producers, studios, and other Biz folks.
  2. "Video Game" -- This bucket includes folks related to this more specific voice acting opportunity. At the same time, these contacts are of a more general interest for me, because I enjoy playing games recereationally (and like to say "thanks"). I also have my "arcmchair industry analyst" video game blog). Finally, because my toy job is in managing technical development folks, I have a broader interest in the gaming industry that spans the creative, technical, and leadership areas of that idustry, in case I ever choose to jump vertical markets.

I send postcards to my contacts every couple of months throughout the year, largely for "non-standard" reasons (think "Groundhog Day"; "4,000 people read my blog last month. Were you one of them?"; retro-esque "Be my Valentine" cards; etc.). I do birthday or other gifts for appropriate Biz folks (long-term relationships, not just "I took a class"), but not for people I haven't met but solely just want to stay on their radar; that seems gratuitous to me.

What am I trying to do?

I believe I was made for acting, and I've reached a point where I don't know what to do, other than pursue it with my all, damn the cost or outcome (within reason). This plays out in how much work I put into marketing. And it's a lot of work.

Make no mistake, a big part of what I do is because I do want to "stay on people's radar". I'm an actor, and I want to be acting all the time. I am trying to create opportunities all of the time.

But I try to make the communications/gifts/contact effort fun for me too, and I'm learning to more quickly change my course and do something simple if it gets too onerous.

I've got one Casting Director who loves my custom-made thank you cards for auditions. I have sometimes made myself nuts trying to come up with something creative, sometimes at the expense of genuinely more important things. I'm getting better about sending "regular" thank you cards to her (still with my headshot and contact info), and balancing that with not becoming lazy (Group 3), which would cause me to always send vanilla cards. And it makes my creative cards more special, more appreciated.

Holiday gifts, in particular, are a chance to do something creative and show industry folks a little about me, and show them I'm listening to them, too. And have fun all the while.

Here are my general criteria for industry gifts:

  1. Unique
  2. Useful
  3. "Adam-branded"

So my gifts can contain something that seems a little kitschy or schlocky, but is totally usable, very memorable, playfully self-promoting, and a pain in the ass to regift. I take twisted pleasure in that last one.

A marketing example...

Some might argue against the judgement of my sharing this, but here's a specific example.

My last year Christmas gift for select Biz folks (many of whom I knew were coincidently all going to cold-weather climes for the holidays) was a sweatshirt with a bunch of caricatured pictures of my face across the back, my Website address, and the words, "The many faces of Adam Creighton". The note (unique to each recipient) that came with the sweatshirt was a version of, "Yeah, pretty narcissistic of me, huh? Glad I'm not like this in real life. Good luck re-gifting this one."

I designed and printed the shirts, which minimized costs and increased personal investment (and therefore object worth), taught myself some new stuff, and had fun.

And the shirts were topics of conversations during December and January industry mixers and parties.

Set yourself apart...

I make all of my own stuff. That way, if anyone sees two of the same thing, it's because it came from me; not Hallmark. But I'm a perfectionist, so my stuff generally looks like it's professional -- which is an extension of me.

Think you're not creative? You're wrong. And if you're stuck thinking you can't do the kinds of stuff I'm talking about, I'm pretty sure you know someone who hasn't fooled themselves into thinking they can't do this stuff. Barter with them. Trade something you can do for something they can do.

Or you can take advantage of professional services (I've had good luck in other contexts with and

And figure out what works for you. What does being hungry for the Biz look like for you? How does hustling for gigs play out for you?

Turnabout is fair play...

You'll notice I've added links to Bob Souer's and Karen Commins's blogs in my blogroll. This isn't one of those "they reference me, so I'll reference them" listings that seems to plague a lot of blogrolls.

I think these two voice actors have great stuff that I can benefit from, and you may be able to, also. Like with any of my blogs, I've asked their permission to add them to my listing. Check out there sites. They've got good stuff.

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