Six ways to better promote Oz films

16 September, 2014 by Don Groves

Film industry publicist Harriet Dixon-Smith has set out six ways in which PR can be used more effectively to boost cinema audiences for Australian films.

Ineffective marketing and PR strategies are weakening Australian films’ ability to compete in the theatrical marketplace, she believes.


Among other issues facing the industry are the domination of big budget US films and the negative public perception toward Australian films, according to research she conducted with 30 screen professionals.

Her findings and proposals are part of a thesis she wrote for her master’s degree in Australian film while studying at the University of Southern California's Annenberg School.

The title: That's Just What This Country Needs: Another Film That's A Flop at the Flicks – A PR Perspective on the Success of Home-Grown Films at the Australian Box Office.

“In 2013, Australian films’ share of the local box office was 3.51 percent, well below the 34-year average of 6.89 percent and a far cry from the 11.49 percent average in the 1980s," writes Dixon-Smith, a former NixCo publicist who now works for Roadshow Films.

Her six strategic PR recommendations to encourage more Australian audiences to see home-grown films are:

Emphasize the “critical element” of each film, focusing where possible on an element that is proven to engage Australian audiences, such as a high-profile Australian cast or the uniquely Australian humour or locations in the film.

Utilize social media and content marketing as a low budget way to build awareness and advocacy for Australian films. Social media is an essential tool for combating Hollywood’s domination of the Australian media landscape as it provides filmmakers a way to reach audiences on their own terms.

Create Australian film advocates, people who have an appreciation for Australian film and an understanding of its history, among key groups of avid fans to grow awareness and intent to see with more mainstream audiences.

Start marketing and PR efforts early, preferably when a film is in pre-production or principal photography. While a unit publicist should be employed during production to ensure that assets such as a press kit, stills and an EPK are collected, he or she should also work with the producers and distributors to ensure a PR strategy is in place from the beginning.

Craft mainstream messages to position Australian films when promoting to Australian audiences.This messaging should incorporate the “Australianness” of the film, such as location, talent and humour, where possible, in marketing materials such as the poster and trailer and PR materials for filmmakers and actors to refer to in interviews and in content being disseminated through social media platforms.

Create a comprehensive, dynamic campaign to dissipate the negative public perception of Australian films. This campaign should come from leaders in the field such as Screen Australia, industry groups like the AFI or business leaders like Village Roadshow or Madman Entertainment, but ideally would come from a partnership between these organisations.

“The negative brand of Australian film is very real and needs to be dissipated to ensure the financial success for Australian films in the future,” she writes. “Australia has a great reputation for film talent and a rich cinematic history. Good films do not deserve to fail at the box office because Australian audiences are poorly educated about what Australian cinema can offer.”

Dixon-Smith hopes these recommendations might have an impact on the success of Australian films but realises they are only one part of the equation.

She suggests the Australian film industry recruits talent from all areas of expertise – marketing, distribution, production, funding, exhibition and filmmaking – to contribute their skills and knowledge to find a comprehensive and coordinated solution to the country’s B.O. dilemma.