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!