Sarah Mosses reflects on TWU17

Sarah Mosses is the CEO of Together Films, a consultancy that specialises in impact distribution strategies and a champion of data and its myriad uses in the industry. Together Films’ roster of clients includes, DocSociety, the BFI and Amnesty International, and film campaigns including the Oscar nominated, Unrest. Sarah joined us in Hull at This Way Up 2017 as a speaker, and we sat down with her recently to get her top tips, her most memorable questions from the audience and advice for film exhibitors on how the can best utilise data.

Taking you back to a very chilly Hull in November, could you tell us about your experience at This Way Up (TWU), and what you think of it as an event and a fixture in the industry calendar?

It was the first time I presented at TWU, if I remember correctly. What was really nice for us was we got to engage in a dialogue with a number of different exhibitors from across the country. We’re working with exhibitors both as a impact distribution specialist — where our client’s we’re pitching them films throughout the year and have lots of work on — but as a consultant, which is our main area of work. We’re always trying to make sure we’re enabling organisations to be better and do better, and so it was really nice to have the chance to speak to the exhibition sector and see if there were any of our strategies that could help them to enhance their marketing efforts.

It was a really good moment to have everybody in the room at the same time, hear the difficulties people were having on the ground, hear the experiences people were having on the ground. And I really felt there was a lot of dialogue happening between all the different sectors that were there, and I think that’s really important with an event, that they facilitate dialogue and learning; and I really felt like there was a lot of conversation happening at lunch, a lot of conversations about experience. So in terms of an event it definitely delivered on the aspect of dialoguing and facilitation that I think everybody was hoping for.

Could you recap the core ideas of your session for us?

We did one called ‘Impact, Campaigns and Data’. It was a review of our methodology of the facts around what’s called ‘impact distribution strategy’, which is around titles that are looking for distribution need to do all the general aspects of artwork, posters, distribution, social media, but at the same time are wanting to raise awareness of important issues.

We’re looking at framing the film and saying, ‘Not only a wonderful watch, but it’s something that might be able to change mindsets.’ So, we included case study references of a project we recently worked on called Unrest, which was shortlisted for the best documentary feature at the Oscars. We had support from the BFI for the release through the Audience Fund, and for that particular title it was around accessibility to audiences, because the film is about a disease called M.E. [Myalgic Encephalomyelitis], we were targeting not just those people who might have that particular disease, but also other elements that may restrict you from accessing a cinema. So our talk was about how we can prepare cinemas for simple things like having more than 2 wheelchairs in attendance, as most cinema rooms only have two spaces – so what happens when you have three, or five attending?

The focus around data for us was the fact that I’m building out a database model for the industry, which will be out later this year and it’s about getting people to think about how we use data in more efficient ways. I shared a document called ‘a strategic partner matrix’, which is our fancy word for an excel spreadsheet, this had a series of different columns around the people we’re trying to target, what we wanted their response to be, do they actually deliver anything, and what do we think it can turn out to be actually bums in cinemas.

It’s not enough to say, ‘We emailed some people.’ You want to know: who opened the email, did they click on a link, did they put something out on their own social channels – what did it deliver?

So, the summary of our session: Data’s really powerful, you need to be tracking action points, it’s not enough to say, ‘We emailed some people.’ You want to know: who opened the email, did they click on a link, did they put something out on their own social channels – what did it deliver? So you can see if your effort it s being returned. And knowing you can use that data.

Do you remember any particularly interesting audience participation?

When we were talking about how people are storing data, there was definitely, interestingly some people who’d heard about the GDPR [General Data Protection Regulation] change of legislation, which is around how companies are allowed to store data, it’s a big European-wide legislation to update the privacy laws basically. So it was important to hear marketing managers and assistants are on top of that policy, because it has a fundamental impact on how you are able to communicate with your customers. So just from the sector view: it was really good, because even then – the law change is next month in UK – it was really good to see that people had already heard about it and people were already thinking about it and making changes. It doesn’t mean huge changes, but simple things like you can’t automatically sign someone up to your newsletter, they have to manually click a button that says, ‘Yes I want to be on your newsletter.’ Subtle changes, but huge impact.

When we were looking at the bigger picture stuff: a lot of frustration from people around just having the capacity to do this work – they would love to have an ongoing list of partners they’re working with locally, but who’s going to keep that updated, keep contacting them, who’s role does that sit under, and how do I make sure I have enough time? A lot of people saying, ‘I want to do more, but there’s just not enough hours in the day.’ So again, getting to a point where organisations can be streamline in their efforts, have any essential process that everybody understands and then doing what I say: little and often […] making sure that every day you’re spending even 20 minutes, finding new marketing partners and being in touch with them.

Could we get three pointers from you as to how film exhibition organisations can right now improve the way data informs their campaigns: three things you can start implanting now?

1. Awareness of KPIs [Key Performance Indicator] Across The Company. So if the marketing company’s goal is to amass an extra 500 Facebook followers, programming should know that as much as marketing. So KPI needs to be company wide. And having weekly refreshers so that every department knows.

2. Consistency of Spreadsheet Use. Which sounds so boring! But so, so important, because if in one document you have ‘Name’ and its first name and last name in one column, and in another document you have first name last name as two separate columns, you can’t store or filter that data together.

3. Constant Evaluation and Measurement. So once you’ve set a KPI and you’re saying ‘This is what we want to do for this,’ how are you measuring that, how are you tracking that and how often are you sharing that with your team? So what are your KPIs, but on the flip side of that, how are you measuring how you evaluate and share that success or not success with the team on a regular basis? And getting away form just using new box office numbers and leaving it at that because if you’re not looking at your impression rate on Facebook, your engagement rate on twitter or your open rate in email as a team, how are you going to affect that final box office number? Make it something really easy, so the intern who comes in can understand as quickly as the managing director.