The Promotion Problem: Should you Fake it Til You Make It?

I was recently talking with a friend of mine about “faking it til you make it”- projecting the illusion of success until so many people believe you that it becomes the truth. This  got me thinking about the ethics of promotion and marketing (if such things can ever go hand in hand!).  What is promotion, and how can we put it to best use without going too far?

Whilst most of us would be uncomfortable with using lies to promote ourselves, or even with too much exaggeration; most of us could also probably stand to be a bit more forward when it comes to self-promotion. It would be great to be able to hire a real PR wizard, but the majority of us can’t afford this, and we have to do it ourselves. Its up to us how we represent ourselves, so where is the line between dressing up the truth in a sparkly dress and taking it out on the town, and putting sequins on bullshit?

Promotion is necessary-that is how we advertise our product and get work.  So how do we get it right? How do we make sure our promo is not too dull, not too over the top? Wikipedia clarifies PR as follows…

“What good PR really does is find the great stories, information, perspective and achievements that are already there…s

So PR is pulling out the great things you do and are, and making sure everyone knows about it, rather than inventing something that is not there, leading others to believe something that is not quite true.

As I have said in many of the burlesque advice sessions I do, its definitely good to project an air of business and success on line. Seem busy, seem productive, seem in demand, by blowing your horn about what you are up to. And when writing blurb- don’t undersell yourself, promote your good points, be dazzlingly factual. Easier said than done, right? Most of us have horribly buggered up our blurb and promo stuff at some point- underplayed ourselves so no one would want to book us, or grossly overblown our own merit etc. When I think of some of the bloopers I have written in the past… cringe! But its a learning curve, and its bound to happen.

Here are some examples of different ways to present yourself on-line:

You meet your friends for lunch. They are performers in their own right who run a successful show in a nightclub. They ask you to perform in a couple of months time, over lunch. How do you sell this?

Post 1. The everyday post

“Went for lunch today with @Rosie Lips and @Dita Goodrack #burlyteaandcakes”

PR impact: Not huge, it lets people know you have been up to burly stuff but is pretty functional and descriptive

Post 2. The rose-coloured tint post

“Great lunch today with @Rosie and @Dita, interesting conversation and wonderful ladies, some exciting projects coming up soon! #excitingburlesquetimes”

PR impact: Good, keeps people interesting and makes you sound busy and exciting. Yes, this kind of post is also a bit annoying sometimes, but it does the PR job.

Post 3. The overblown post

“So honoured to have been invited to lunch with international showgirls @Rosie Lips and @Dita Goodrack, and to have been specially selected to perform at their no 1 show! #successfulshowgirlsuperstarsOMG”

PR Impact: Strong but use with caution, can backfire if overused/misused.

Obviously the line can be very fine, and its not always easy to decide if your promotional statement goes too far or not far enough! You sing a couple of songs at some small gigs, should you market yourself as a SINGER? You do a few TF shoots, are you now a SUCCESSFUL MODEL? And so forth.

Things to think about…

Who are your audience? 

Who are you aiming your promo at? If you are pitching to the burlesque world, it might be worth considering that people will be able to spot hyperbole, to an extent, because they know you, they know the scene, the shows, the agents, the bookings, and each other. You can still make yourself sound good, of course, but outright fibs or huge exaggerations might be counter-productive.  But if it is an outside audience that doesn’t know you from Adam or Eve, then perhaps be a bit more grandiose can work better.

What are you trying to achieve?

Have a plan. Have a brand and play to it.  Think about of what you are trying to convince people, what you are trying to achieve. What is your marketing goal, how do you want to be seen? As suggested by Ivy Wilde, it is good to remember that things like social media are a tool and what you put on there, represents you as a professional product as well as a person.  Are you drawing attention to your achievements? Are you bigging yourself up a bit, making yourself sound good? Do you want people to think you are doing well at what you do? Great, that’s PR. If your promotion would lead people to think you are way more accomplished, successful, famous or whatever than you are, or that you are doing things that you are not, then it might be worth a rethink. Because if you make the people who are paying expect more than you can give, it could backfire. You don’t want to disappoint your bookers or the viewing public.

BUT!!! And this is a big but (huh huh),  it really is possible to convince people that you are what you say, especially if you are pretty, charismatic, and they are drunk/or don’t know a lot about whatever it is you are claiming to be queen of.  I know it is controversial and we don’t like the idea that success in life doesn’t necessarily come from hard work, skill and talent, but you CAN become famous just for being famous, by pretending to be famous. Sally Rand, Gypsy Rose Lee, Lydia Thompson, they were shameless publicity hounds who would not let a small thing like the truth stop them from marketing themselves as the queens of burlesque, and eventually they became the queens of burlesque. Obviously, they were all marvellous, but you get my gist. I am sure we can think of many celebs who got where they are through clever marketing alone. And to be fair, being a PR evil genius is a talent in itself! Shameless self-promotion is part of burlesque history.

I love how home-grown burlesque is, how hard we work to get where we are. We practice, we slog, we devote ourselves, we work our way up from the ground, and we hopefully see rewards. Perhaps it would be a shame to see all that left behind for a culture of slick marketing and a glossy schtick. Perhaps it would encourage art less if we all start valuing fame over art. Or maybe that is how burlesque will move on. I personally want to earn my way to success then get noticed, not blag my way to the top THEN get earn it, if you get what I mean. But I am aware that this is probably not always the most effective way to do things, in a cut-throat media-soaked world. After-all, a certain Mrs Marylin Manson marketing herself cleverly was a big reason why the modern revival got a kick-start in the first place!

Other viewpoints welcome, please comment!

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The Greatest Hole in the Ground There Ever Was…

I first realised I was “different” at age 13, when all my friends were into Take That and I was listening to Nirvana, Soundgarden and Pearljam. I had a biker jacket, Doc Martins (which I wore without laces like Enrico from Dial MTV, remember him?) and put braids and bells in my hair. In a time before the words Goth and Mosher came into popular use, I was a “hippy”, apparently.

dial mtv

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What I actually was, was out of place in a world where everyone else seemed to be into happy hardcore or boy bands. I longed for somewhere where I belonged, and where I didn’t draw scorn and abuse. So when I was old enough, my older sister snuck me into Trillians.

Trillians doorway

It was like I had found heaven- a dark, rock music filled haven full of people who dressed like me and like the same bands as me. I fell in love (then she took me to the Mayfair and I was smitten all over, but this is about Trillians).

Mayfair-entrance-r

Over the next few years, Trillians was my safe space, my home, the place I could be myself. Nothing could beat the feeling of walking down those stairs, under the rocking bat mouse figure on the wall, and into a dimly lit room where Alice in Chains or Nirvana or Metallica was playing. Nothing could beat holing up in my favourite seat (at the back in the corner), drinking cider and watching people come in and out. Me and my friend Lucy would go in just to look at the hot barmen (Tim, Blackie and Henry) and get giddy. Some of the best times of my life I spent in that bar, and in the Mayfair as a post-Trills club.

Trillians 2

I moved away to uni, and Trillians faded away as part of my life. But when I found out on facebook that it had closed unexpectedly, I was gutted and outraged. Newcastle has lost so many rock venues. Trillians was like the last bastion of rock for Newcastle, and now it was gone! I actually hurt inside, like my heart was broken; I would never walk down those stairs again, never get a pint, never sit in my favourite seat again.

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Long lost rock pubs of Newcastle…farmers

When I found out that some people were going to fight to save it, I jumped in! It was more than saving my favourite pub or preserving my memories. More and more, independent businesses are closing, alternative spaces are being shut to make way for chain bars or shopping centres. The character and history is getting built right out of our cities. How can we call Newcastle a cultural hub, a place where music is born, a city with something for everyone, if we build over and close down everything except corporate establishments? If the S.O.P.H.I.E campaign tells us anything, its that alt folk need somewhere safe to go. I know what Trillians meant to me as a younger person, and I wouldn’t want a world where there was nowhere for the alternative folk to go.

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So a group of us kicked up a fuss on social media, liaised with the former owners and potential buyers, contacted the media and the MP for Newcastle central, and made a petition. The response was out of this world- Trillians meant so much to so many! I didnt really believe it when I heard it was to be saved, but lo and behold, on Friday 13th December, Trillians reopened! Thank fuck for that!

rock on

I will always love Trills, and here is a selection of the things some others said about our home from home. Viva Trillians!

“There are precious few places we can go and feel safe in the knowledge that everyone there is like-minded and therefore we shall not get threatened for the way we look. Please, don’t close our pub”

Trillians

“It was the first place I went to when I moved to Newcastle.. and instantly fell in love with it.. it’s always been there for me.. for the awesome times.. through some grim times… yeah.. I’ve seen some amazing bands there.. but the biggest loss is that there’s not going to be that place you can go to on your own and yet immediately find a room full of familiar faces and people who make you smile…”

Trillians 3

“Trillians has been my ‘safe house’ for 20+ years, I met my other half in there (as have so many others). This is not just another bar closure, it is an integral part of Newcastle’s identity. The city will be a cold and sterile place without it.”

Trillians 4

“Its the greatest hole in the ground there ever was and you can’t close it up. Its our hole”

Trillians 5