Top Strategies for 2018

What strategies for creative professionals will work in 2018?

Without a crystal ball, it’s impossible to say for sure. But monumental shifts in our culture and business present a great opportunity to make sure your way of operating isn’t rooted in stale thinking that needs an overhaul. Your list of best practices should be your own, based on some quiet meditation, a scan of 2017 data and maybe a quick chat with a futurist friend. The following is our list of strategies for the new year. Maybe they’ll spark some ideas for you…

1. Remember your contacts who eschew social media. And there will be more of them in 2018.

2017 was the year when social media fueled discussion and change within the entertainment business. Fans called out stars for bad behavior. Stars called each out each other. The worlds of politics and entertainment collided with hashtags. Major figures in the media dumped 2 a.m. tweet-storms (some of which were carefully managed by public relations firms as publicity stunts). In our personal feeds, we’ve seen the rougher edges of some of our friends, sometimes arguing with each other on a post we shared that touched on the terrain of politics or culture. Perhaps, we’ve even been de-friended by some who don’t share our views. So it goes in 2017. But what about 2018?

Most people didn’t sign up for social media with hopes that it would evolve into a public version of drunk texting. I predict some real soul-searching for consumers in 2018, with many exiting or limiting their exposure on these platforms. Instagram is more immune from the darkest side of social media call-out culture, but expect more people to take advantage of privacy settings or leave other platforms completely. For creative professionals, I don’t think we have the luxury to pack up and leave social media. It’s too crucial a tool in getting our work to audiences and in finding collaborators. However, I believe this possibility of social media backlash means that maintaining interesting Twitter, Facebook and Instagram isn’t enough. We need to more aggressively up our game on SEO, as searching the internet will be immune from any downtick in social media usage. Even more importantly, we need to consciously review our smart phones and stacks of business cards to make sure we’re staying up to date with those important contacts who eschew social media. I visited a colleague who had a stroke in a rehabilitation facility last week. I’m so embarrassed that I allowed myself to fall out of touch with him, but he’s not on Facebook. Or any social media, for that matter. So his presence was subtly curated “lower” in my life. Luckily, I was able to correct my error and enjoyed one of the most worthwhile afternoons I’ve had this year. It’s easy to get busy and rely on social media for a daily dose of socialization. There’s an illusion that you’re touching base with your entire social circle when you scroll through the feed. You’re not. So check yourself and take corrective action, when necessary.

2. Analyze Principles, not Leverage.

As a young filmmaker, I attended a film festival in Beverly Hills to meet a breed of power player then unfamiliar to me: the film sales agent. She was speaking on a panel about the sales/distribution side of our business and, inevitably, someone asked her a question about what to do when your distribution company rips you off.

Her answer still replays in my mind. She said, simply, yet with a slightly mischievous smile, “Don’t get mad. Get leverage.”

This sales agent went on to articulate a very cogent argument for why distributors – or for that matter agents, managers, producers, etc – didn’t have an obligation to play fair (or wouldn’t play fair) until you held some kind of leverage over them to force them into more honest dealings. After all, what leverage does an up-and-coming filmmaker selling one film possess compared to an established production company with 10 features in the pipeline that could be withheld, if necessary? (Not to mention a sizable budget for legal to sue if a distributor doesn’t cooperate.) Maybe a solution for the emerging filmmaker was to align himself with a powerful agent (like her) who could dangle or retract other clients as incentives and punishments. The idealistic youth in the crowd (myself included) grudgingly admitted that what she said made sense, even if it did not please us.

But now, in a post-Harvey world, this idea of “leverage” alone being paramount in entertainment business transactions seems like the vestige of a bygone era, one that neglected to take into account the long-term power of developing principles. This past year ushered in a much-needed discussion about ethics in the workplace and how collaborators and potential collaborators should be treated. I suspect 2018 will expand that conversation to deals between entities like production companies and distributors, actors and their agents, investors and filmmakers and on and on.

So, I believe the paramount questions for creative professionals in 2018 will be, “Does this person/entity share my principles?” and “How can I assess whether this person/entity shares my principles?” Filmmakers and creatives who do a good job defining their principles, then finding collaborators at every stage who personify them, will win. Go for that, in 2018, rather than over-analyzing “leverage” – whether it’s yours or someone else’s.

3. Time to merge.

We think of “mergers and acquisitions” as affecting only the big players in any given field. In ours, that means Time Warner and AT&T or Disney and Fox. But I suspect that the cluttered, chaotic film marketplace is going to inspire mergers between relatively small players in 2018. Think about it. If you’re a content creator and you’ve figured out how to grab a piece of the long tail, you’re not alone. Someone else also has a film with similar themes that’s out there selling digital copies. Instead of seeing them as competition, maybe the two of you need to get together and find two more filmmakers like you and sell together…as a foursome. Gay bars learned this truth long ago. When cultures were extremely repressive/dismissive of gay folks, who were a relatively small portion of the population, gay bar owners realized that having a gay bar open next to them actually HELPED, not HURT business. Which is counterintuitive. You’d think having new competition next door would mean lost clients and lower revenues. In practice, placing two bars next to each other helped guide potential consumers to that part of town to find fun and acceptance. People would hop from one bar to the other. When you have a very small segment of the worldwide viewing audience and need to drive them to a certain type of content on the web, the same principle applies.

4. Ditch Ambivalent Colleagues.

In an economy where you can accomplish so much alone, 2018 could be the year when we finally have the courage and conviction to ditch ambivalent colleagues.

The illusion of the “conversion” of the ambivalent colleague is powerful. They’ve already invested something¬†in you. They sometimes seem to genuinely enjoy your company. You had a moment…professionally. If only you work harder and smarter and go to their networking event, they will invest more and become full-fledged allies.

The truth is…ambivalent colleagues are most likely to remain ambivalent colleagues. So, in 2018, you may want to consider ditching them and investing resources in full-fledged allies or even competitors (see Time to Merge). A surprise phone call to a rival who’s not expecting to hear from you may go further than another attempt to set a coffee meeting with someone who’s straddling the fence.

5. Break-in not Breakthrough.

The language of “breakthrough year” is sort of a footnote to the era when fewer platforms served a more heterogeneous mass audience. Back in the day, when you booked a television series and it “hit,” you really were mainlining into a broad swath of American consciousness. To a lucky few, the application of the word “breakthrough” still applies….sort of. But the reality is, an actor or director or writer or artist can achieve an incredible success that most people won’t hear about at all. The audience segmentation and sheer, dizzying amount of content makes the breakthroughs of days past next to impossible, for even the most gifted and lucky creative professionals. Instead of envisioning a breakthrough year, get more accurate. Go for a year in which you break in. Break in to a new crew of professional colleagues. Break in with a certain segment of the audience that you believe will respond to your work. Break in to a new social group that you admire. It’s a subtle shift, but the thinking behind “breaking in” to a specific new subgroup is more manageable than allowing the amorphous concept of having a “breakthrough” year dominate your subconscious thoughts and actions.

6. Get Traction Away From Home (While at Home).

This phenomenon dates back centuries, all the way to Luke 4:24 when Jesus was said to say, “Truly I tell you, no prophet is accepted in his hometown.” This is especially true if your hometown is Los Angeles or New York City. (For the purposes of this piece, count L.A. as home if you’ve been here more than five years…). Because so many people here are pursuing the arts, we lose perspective of the weight of those accomplishments to others outside our bubble. Also, in your own town, others see you as competition. Away from home, they may be more likely to see you as providing something valuable or unique.

In 2018, it’s never been easier to build up your presence away from home. Whether it’s through blogging or social media or actually shooting a project in a new town, going away from your home base is a great way to break-in to new circles of influence and build new audiences. Instead of putting all your efforts into climbing one rung up the ladder in your hometown, explore the possibility of entering a completely new geographic area with something to offer.

What are your strategies for 2018?

As I said, these are some of the strategies I’m developing for Fatelink but they are hardly definitive and may not be applicable to you. So, please, if you have any insights into strategies and trends for 2018, leave a comment below and start the discussion!

Hunter Lee Hughes is an actor-filmmaker living and working in Los Angeles and founder of the open source production company Fatelink.

 

 

 

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