In autumn 2020, the arts organisation Creative Folkestone experimented with a live broadcast of a production that was more akin to arthouse cinema. Inspired by Derek Jarman’s diaries Modern Nature, they shot a film in Jarman’s former home – Prospect Cottage in Dungeness, Kent. It was challenging and avant garde in its style but had great potential to reach a wide variety of audiences. In the end, the film was watched approximately 50,000 times – far exceeding the targets set for it. We investigate the marketing and distribution strategy that made it so successful.
Titled Strange Concord: Music and Words from Prospect Cottage, the finished work was a complex and innovative piece of film making, which wove experimental classical music performances with readings from Jarman’s diary entries – but that didn’t mean the marketing had to be complex too.
The film had several associations that gave it instant appeal. Jarman himself is an iconic figure amongst both film fans and LGBTQ+ communities, and Prospect Cottage is a widely revered and popular destination that had just gained press attention after a campaign to save it for the nation. But perhaps the biggest appeal of all was the star Creative Folkestone had enlisted to read extracts from Jarman’s diary – actor Ben Whishaw.
“Ultimately it was a really simple message,” says Owen Kimm, the Marketing and Communications Manager for Creative Folkestone. “We just ran it with the line ‘Ben Whishaw reads Modern Nature at Prospect Cottage’. That’s all viewers needed to know.”
Once the marketing angle had been settled, the next task was to find ways to distribute the film. “We had a long lead-in time, which gave us the chance to draw up a really comprehensive seeding list,” says Owen. “Although it might seem like a niche film, we actually found that there were plenty of avenues to explore to find supporters – there was the British Film Institute (BFI), who hold many of Jarman’s works, LGBTQ+ campaigning organisations such as Stonewall and local Pride festivals, the donors who had helped to save Prospect Cottage, and our existing audiences at Creative Folkestone – to name but a few!”
Seeding Strange Concord amongst these organisations and accessing their audiences involved asking for support on their respective social media channels to coincide with the film’s launch. “We found that posts on Twitter and Instagram did really well, because they required very little investment from the partner organisation,” says Owen. “They could just retweet us, which only takes seconds, or make an Instagram story, which disappears in 24 hours and doesn’t interfere with their own feed too much.”
The 70-minute film was broadcast ‘as live’ via YouTube and was then available to view online across multiple platforms for one month. In addition to the seeding strategy, Owen says that paid advertising enabled them to massively extend their reach on these platforms. “We didn’t have a big budget – we just put about £500 into Facebook ads and about £300 into Google ads – but the response to them was brilliant, especially on Facebook.” They received about 20,000 views on YouTube and another 20,000 on Facebook, with the rest on Twitter. “We’d only set our target at 15,000 views, so it totally surpassed our expectations.”
The film itself was high risk in its concept, but the results show it is possible to find online audiences for challenging and experimental work – if only you get the marketing and distribution right.
- Keep the messaging simple and focused
- Make time to develop a comprehensive seeding strategy
- Put money into paid advertising, even if only small amounts.
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