There are myriad lines of work and types of business in which finding and cultivating contacts are paramount. The entertainment industry is certainly a member of this group.
As communications students, it has been inculcated in us that contacts can do more than teach and inform; they can help us land jobs or internships as well.
Yet often making that first contact or getting in touch with that certain someone can be a real challenge. One strategy for procuring an informational interview with your prospective contact is cold calling, which good ol’ wikipedia defines as “the process of approaching prospective customers or clients, typically via telephone, who were not expecting such an interaction.”
Yet cold calling is often more difficult than it sounds, particularly when dealing with a large potential client pool. In addition to the phone conversation itself, research and organization are frequently overlooked as necessary tenets of the process.
What follows is my abridged guide to cold calling. I recognize that this is but one strategy and it is somewhat colored by my sales background, but I hope it proves helpful in contacting film professionals for our Sundance group.
1. General Research: Seek to understand the mission and identity of the company you’re trying to reach. Familiarity with the company that you’re contacting will make you more comfortable during the ensuing conversations.
2. Specific Research: Try to find the number and email address of the person most likely to help you. Thanks to the magic of Google, there should also be a good deal of literature about that person on the web, perhaps a Linkedin profile, quote, or article. Again, familiarity breeds comfort.
3. Prepare a script: This is not always necessary and I strongly recommend deviating from it and tweaking it at times. After enough repetition your script will be superfluous but it’s a nice place to start. Think about what your best selling points are and say them immediately; people in a fast-paced industry may want you to get straight to the point. For instance, if I’m calling a publicist for an actor my script may read: “Hi, My name is Joseph Accordino, I’ll be at the Sundance Film Festival this year with a student group from Elon University in North Carolina. I read that you represent Liv Tyler and I was wondering if she was going to be there this year for THE LEDGE and might have a few minutes to speak with us.” Crafting an email template is helpful as well. Remember to include whether or not you spoke to them earlier, left a voicemail for them, or were referred to their email.
4. Be prepared to ask follow-up questions: If, in the publicist example, they say “I no longer represent Liv,” ask who does. If they say to call back later, make sure you get an email address and a direct phone line before they hang up. It will save you time later.
5. Be yourself on the phone, but stay aggressive: You’ve done your research, so you have every reason to be confident and relaxed. You’ll ask good questions. But don’t let them hang up without asking who you should follow up with or when you should follow up. Every conversation should yield a result, even if it’s not always positive.
6. Be organized: Particularly when you are making several calls, getting rerouted, sending emails, and following up over several days (or weeks) it’s crucial to prepare a document with your results. Having a record of your interaction will prevent mistakes, like asking if you’ve spoken to the person before, what they said last time, or the best way to reach them. A sample record may look like this (names changed for privacy):
“Tom McIntire: FOLLOW UP TUES
Publicist: Kate Bell (From ST)
D/I Public Relations
9600 Santa Monica Boulevard
West Hollywood, CA 90069
HAVE emailed (didn’t speak with): Angela Smith @ email@example.com
Update 1-14: Spoke w/ Angela. The number I have gets you Kate Bell’s office. Angela seemed nice, said she was behind on emails. Office is closed Monday.”
7. Stay positive: You can’t guarantee that everyone will respond positively or grant your request. Stay positive, stay upbeat, and keep trying. Good things will happen.
8. Need extra motivation? Check out Alec Baldwin’s portrayal of a salesman in Glengarry Glen Ross: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wVQPY4LlbJ4
Hope this helps. Please comment with constructive criticism or other techniques you’ve picked up!