Last week Bloomsbury were once again at the excellent Surviving Actors convention. The seminar’s main focus was on how actors can effectively market themselves while not stepping on their agent’s toes and potentially damaging that relationship.

The panel was chaired by Lloyd Trott, editor of the Actors and Performers Yearbook. I joined Lloyd, alongside agent Matt Chopping from Waring & McKenna and BBC Drama casting director Derek Barnes. Here are the main points from a great session.

Actors need to take care of business

Once an actor signs they can easily neglect important aspects of their career, leaving responsibility for their marketing in their agent’s hands. Sometimes the opposite problem occurs; actors want to market themselves but feel frustrated because their agent has tried to restrict them. Or perhaps they feel the relationship with their agent is unstable and are uncomfortable discussing submissions or suggesting roles they would like to be seen for.

The panel felt that self-marketing is crucial to developing almost every actors’ brand and business. Even highly successful actors with top agents and a team of publicists will still network, research the business, use Twitter, and develop direct relationships with casting directors.

But for actors at the beginning of their careers, or who are still working to establish themselves, then self-marketing is essential.

Is your business running well? Agent or no agent, here are just some of the strategies that an assertive actor can be employing. Your branding - not what or who you are but what other people PERCEIVE you to be (what message are you sending out?) - is something you can always be thinking about …

  1. The photograph! Throughout the seminar the panel stressed how important having a great photo is. It is the first thing casting people and agents see. At an early stage in your career make sure it looks like the person who walks in to the casting room. Avoid the temptation to glamorise it.
  2. Make sure your CV and showreel are in good shape. Regularly assess and update them whenever necessary.
  3. Improving your image. That could be making sure that you are dressing well, you are going to the gym, or just that you are generally looking after yourself.
  4. Networking and contacts … are your keeping your contacts up to date?
  5. Making the most of Twitter, Facebook, website and other online marketing.
  6. Are you still learning? Are your training and skill levels up? If you are missing a skill start working at it.
  7. Writing to casting directors. Do it at a time that is right for you, when you are in a play or you’re in a TV show that is airing soon. If it’s a TV show let them know when and where it is on (including on catch-up), and ideally at what point in the episode you appear e.g. ‘my first appearance is 5.35 mins in’).
  8. Making sure you/your business is knowledgeable of the market you’re working in is key. Research producers, directors, production companies. You can see a pattern of which directors and producers work together often. Use sites like IMDB. 
  9. Improving your industry knowledge means you go in to meetings stronger. Directors and producers are often impressed by the homework that an actor has done. You come across (brand yourself) as a thorough and professional.
  10. Research the programmes and plays you are auditioning for. Use sites like the BBC website and Youtube to find episodes and clips.
  11. Research TV shows and theatres/plays for the all the meetings you want to get in the future. You can then make realistic and specific suggestions to your agent for roles you’d like to be seen for. Any agent will be much happier to talk through potential submissions with you if you are making thought-through suggestions.
  12. Making sure practical aspects of your business such as your accounting are in great shape.

These are just a handful of the things you can do alongside what you employ an agent to do on your behalf. Work hard with the aim to keep yourself very solid as a business and always pushing yourself forward.

Are there good reasons why an agent would try to restrict your self-promotion activities?

The panel felt that it was common for most agents to encourage actors to promote themselves. All agents want their clients to succeed and be seen for roles. This works best when actors and agents are working in unison. The exception is when actors get to a level where they are pretty starry; they don’t have to do so much self-marketing because they are well known within the casting world. In these cases, sometimes less is more.