Friday, April 23, 2010

I spoke this week to students at the Center for Cartoon Studies in White River Junction, Vermont on public relations, marketing and media relations issues. I offered my services because what I have seen is the average person involved in some sort of creative pursuit is more than likely at the mercy of someone else when it comes to getting the word out on a product.

Today one can create comics, a prose book, movies or music much much more easily with the advent of the new digital technology. While some futurists would like people to believe the Web and the social networking sites now allow greater exposure for alternative or independent efforts – they do – the playing field is still not even.

Having a Web site and a Twitter feed is not enough.

It takes a multi-tiered concerted effort to find an audience for a product and to create a brand. Using everything from personal selling at conventions to considering ad buys to support a product or appearance is all part of the mix. What I have seen and experienced, each creator needs to have a very active part in this process.

The following is an outline I used for the class. I'm happy to answer questions from people as this was a two-hour class. Post here or e-mail me at mdobbs at

Why make a concerted pr/marketing effort? Competition for entertainment dollar and justified paranoia: don’t trust your publisher to take care of you.

1. Who are you? What is your product?

Can you describe it in 30 seconds – elevator pitch?

2. Secret of success is in knowing your product and yourself. Where does your product fit in?

For example, I discovered my animation magazine did not sell particularly well in comics shops, for example. Although one might think this was a legit market, I discovered comics fans are not necessarily cartoon fans. I fared better with regular bookstores.

Where would your product best fit in? Who is your audience? You must do research to make sure that where and to whom you present your product

Essentials: Prepare yourself for personal marketing. If after your pitch, if someone expresses interest. Be prepared. Have a business card. Can you put your book as a PDF on a CD? A CD is easier to have in pocket or purse than your book.

Importance of having a blog and a web site with your name in the URL. Naturally be on Facebook and Twitter. The easier it is to find you, the better.

Remember: You are the brand. Properties come and go, but you need to be known.

3. You must fit your product with the right audience. To do so, you must do research.
Example: My experience with my project with Steve Bissette, "The Year in Fear Calendar" was a failure on EVERY level because I trusted the publishing staff and their premises and because I didn't do my research. We found out comic book shops in 1991 weren't interested in something like a calendar. We sold 125 of a 2,000 press run. Next I discovered our calendar came out too late for regular stores to consider buying. Its huge size and lack of a hole – and of course it was laid out not as an effective calendar with the days of the week – would have made it a challenge for any retailer to display.

Much of this pain could have been avoided if I had done my research.

4. Let’s talk about the first level of pr/marketing – conventions.
Research is important. Is the convention the right one? What is the price point range of the audience? Don't waste your time trying to sell comics at a Star trek convention for example, or have really expensive items at a small regional show.

Have a range of items and price points. Can you have a $2 or $3 item on the table as well as a $12?

Conventions teach how to sell. Improper way: sitting at table not paying attention to potential customers – drawing, writing, yakking. Right way is to engage customers and to have right price points at right prices.

5. Next step: spreading the word.
Again research is important. Where do you publicize your product?

What is the news significance of your product? New book from acclaimed artist? First book? Good reviews?

Reviews: how to you get them? Do you know someone whose name would help sell your book? Seriously, use them! Think about handing out copies at cons to well known types. Always include business cards.

Check out the following web sites for their submission requirements:


Do your own podcast and videos to promote appearances, conventions, etc.

To get stories in the mainstream press, you need a hook or a reason for the story: local artist, first book, second book, won award, lauded by critics, etc. This is where a good review can come in handy to sell an editor on doing a story.

First, find out the right editor to send material and what they want and how they want it. Look at web site or call.
Prepare materials according to instructions.

What’s the best press release? A one-page document that answers the questions of who, what, when, how and why and spells out the hook of the story.

Send materials and follow up several days later with phone call. Be polite.

6. Advertising
It’s important to realize that even the best free marketing campaign should be supplemented by advertising.

Put an advertising page in your books that lists other publications of yours and how to buy them. Consider trading ads with other creators.

Consider forming advertising and distribution collectives with other like-minded creators. Create a pool of money and look for logical ad buys to promote books and appearances.

Remember basic rule of advertising: smaller ads that appear regularly have more impact than big one-shot ads.

Promotional items – "freebies" – ideally should not be free. One of the CCSers prepared a sampler that sold for a $1. They gave it away to key people but sold the rest at a price point that allowed people to take a risk without much risk – great idea.

© 2010 by Gordon Michael Dobbs

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