The Engagement Life Cycle: Pre-Production

The Engagement Life Cycle: Pre-Production
Posted by: Laura Fallsgraff

Many funders, partners, and viewers like to ask us exactly how we go about structuring an engagement campaign, and how we measure our films’ and projects’ impacts. So we figured it might be useful to outline the life cycle of a Kindling engagement campaign, right here on the blog.


Today, we’ll dive into campaign pre-production — the first steps we take when we embark on a new project. It might seem a bit premature to begin talking about things like social media audience and screening locations before we even have a shoot scheduled. But because real-world impact is central to all of our Kindling projects, it’s a starting point for many aspects of our productions, from choosing characters to scripting to sales.

We’ll use our forthcoming film on early childhood education, No Small Matter, as a case in point. In 2014, we began pre-production for the feature documentary: research, pre-interviews, and lots of sticky notes and whiteboarding. But before we even began filming, we convened a messaging brain trust in Washington, D.C., an activity that for filmmakers often lands much further along into production. We convened leading experts in public relations, messaging, and education — many of whom had differing viewpoints and approaches to strengthening early learning. We discussed major “icebergs” to avoid in talking about the issue, notable upcoming opportunities to move the needle, such as the reauthorization of Head Start, timing of the film’s release, and framings that are most effective in changing perceptions around the educational experiences our youngest children need to thrive.


Next, we worked with outside strategists to research potential target audiences, including in-depth stakeholder interviews and data collection. This helped our team identify the core “choir” for the film — early childhood educators and advocates — and then better understand their motivations, media consumption habits, pain points, and the kinds of content that would most resonate with them. This information has been invaluable in our social media and website content, and will help us better reach the people most likely to be passionate about the film and share it more widely.


To fund these activities, we began actively fundraising for our engagement campaign early on. This engagement nest egg has helped us invest critical staff time in planning, hire outside consultants to check our assumptions and provide valuable feedback, and has supported a robust digital presence that will help recruit wide viewership for the film while also raising awareness about individual topics covered in the documentary — such as the word gap, or learning through play.


Engagement pre-production has laid a solid foundation under No Small Matter in preparation for its release — and soon it will be time to put all of those plans into action!


Got other ideas for processes and tactics to weave into “engagement pre-production”? Please share in the comments.


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