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The Subtle Art of Self-Promotion

by PLSN Staff • in
  • Articles
  • December 2017
  • LD at Large
• Created: December 14, 2017
Illustration by Andy Au

Tooting your own horn in public can be very successful, as long as you toot properly. I have had to toot my own horn to get where I am today. Learning how to walk the line between blasting a trumpet from the rooftop and noodling on a kazoo can be tricky. The world of self-promotion can be a real entanglement for the corporate artist type.

On stage left, if you do too much of it (or do it clumsily), you run the risk of coming off as a pompous, bragging jerk. On stage right, if you don’t do enough of it, you will be missing out on that next big gig that will catapult you into the A-list. Other than my monthly column in the leading trade magazine, I would like to share some of the strategies that I have found successful in the art of authentic self-promotion.

‡‡         Be Genuine

Self-promotion can be difficult at first but, at the end of the night, it will mean the difference between you bringing home steak or Hot Pockets for the dinner table. When self-promotion comes from a place of genuine care and respect for yourself and your family, you will be able to take your own propaganda to the next level. If you are striving to become a lighting designer, advertise yourself as a lighting designer. If you haven’t designed a show yet, still advertise yourself as a designer or no one else will ever think that you are a designer. Do not lie to your audience about your accomplishments but don’t belittle yourself either. If you advertise yourself as a lighting technician but secretly want to be a lighting programmer, you will continue to get offers for lighting technician positions and wonder why no one thinks that you are a programmer. In order for your clients and employers to believe that you can advance in the entertainment biz, you need to first believe in yourself. You need to make sure that your confidence in yourself is presented in your own promotional material.

‡‡         Promotional Materials

You need a business card, a website and a social media presence. That’s what has worked for me. The days of carrying around a massive folder of your accomplishments, photos and old plots are all but gone. You need a business card that is clever, distinct and informative. You will need this to give to potential clients at the end of a successful show that want to steal you away from your current employer. Hand it to them discreetly if they ask for it. You do not need to print up one thousand post-it note quality cards with you name, number and a picture of a Leko and blast them to everyone in the room with a confetti cannon. That may come off as overly aggressive.

Your website should be as creative as you are. If you are looking for a programmer gig, you can save the crazy videos and wild animations and merely list your accomplishments and references. If you are looking for a designer gig, don’t spare any expenses on the website. Make sure that you are represented in the best form possible with pictures, videos and resume. Your website will become the digital representation of yourself, and you will need to make sure that your work is presented in the best light.

As soon as a potential employer has finished with your website, they will head to your Facebook, LinkedIn or whatever else pops up on the first page of their Google search. Make sure that whatever you have openly presented to the world via social media is hire-worthy. That picture of you passing out in a college dorm and having obscenities Sharpied all over your face and chest will come back to haunt you at the most inopportune time. Make sure that those kinds of pictures aren’t prominent on your page. My suggestion is to keep your Facebook private and your LinkedIn public.

‡‡         Social Media Suggestions

The boundaries between our personal life and professional lives can be diffused online. The majority of us have Facebook and/or LinkedIn. Our lives are as wide open to the world as we choose to express. This, all too often, becomes a double-edged sword. We have to be able to filter which images we want to make it to Grandma Tilley and which ones we want to make it to the HR department at Disney Imaginations. Politics can get overly charged these days, and we can easily be judged on our political views while being considered for a job. Be aware of the fact that your digital expression of your politics could put your employment in jeopardy.

‡‡         Contact Hoarding

I have 8,212 contacts in my phone. I have them well labeled and I keep notes on who can help me in what way. I keep track of who lives where, what consoles they prefer, favorite drink, etc. I have never really discussed this before because it goes deep into my OCD issues, but it has helped me more times than I can count. Contacts build relationships, relationships build shows and shows build income. Never underestimate the power of occasionally reaching out to your contacts just to check in. I try and hit up as many of my contacts as possible when I am in their town while on tour. Even if it’s a simple lunch or drinks, keeping your contacts close and up-to-date is the difference between sitting at home watching Game of Thrones and going on tour with Game of Thrones.

I often get phone calls from people asking if I know a grandMA2 programmer in New York or an Avolites programmer in Nashville. I can simply type “MA2 New York” into my search bar and Brendan Gray, Eric Marchwinski, Zach Matusow, Eamonn McKiernan and Andrew Richter pop up. When I can help potential clients find people that they need in more remote areas they will remember that I am the sort of guy that can help them out. It also benefits me when I need a replacement for myself.

‡‡         Name-Dropping

This is one of the more delicate subjects in self-promotion. You need be specific, goal oriented and precise when you start name-dropping. Once you already have the gig and you are on-site feel free to talk about yourself and your accomplishments but only at the correct times and to the correct people. Of course, your newfound co-workers will need to know your capabilities and how you can best be of service, but they don’t need your entire resume. When your new Production Coordinator is looking for someone to set up the confetti cannons, feel free to say “I use to set up the confetti cannons when I worked with The Staton-House Band with Bill Hanson.” Hopefully, that might lead to a “You used to work with the Staton-House band? Me too, I love Bill Hanson” response. That will lead to more conversations about what you have both done and how many mutual connections you may have in the industry. But if it doesn’t, do not continue to hammer the nail in your coffin by trumpeting your resume repeatedly. That’s just annoying.

Remember, don’t over-promote, but don’t under promote yourself. We work in a relatively small industry with tight relationships. Saying too much can make you look like a braggart, but saying too little about your accomplishments is a bigger mistake. Be proud and honest about your achievements, and toot that horn.

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