Debra Goldblatt-Sadowski is a Toronto International Film Festival PR maven. She’s the founder and president of rock-it promotions and the creator of the Tastemakers Lounge. Celebrating its 10th anniversary this year, Tastemakers Lounge was the first Canadian-run gifting lounge at TIFF. Goldblatt-Sadowski heads up TIFF accounts and events for rock-it promotions, including Elevation Pictures, Soho House Toronto, eOne red carpet, Festival Music House, 2014 TIFF Rising Stars programme, and much more.
YouInc recently caught up with the busy PR dynamo in downtown Toronto where she shared her insights about the inner workings of the festival.
Q: The Tastemakers Lounge is celebrating its 10th anniversary. Can you tell us about how the concept was developed – and why it’s proven such an effective marketing tool for your clients?
A: I created the lounge out of demand. I was being sent products directly and having to schlep it around to talent I was working with. The year before we started, I was working with a high profile actor and I had everything from champagne to perfume to a leather jacket sent for her. When I delivered it all, she was very grateful, but was vegan and didn't wear leather, didn't drink alcohol and only wore one scent. She said, “You keep it!”. Of course I couldn't do that because it was unethical and had to contact all the folks who had sent the gifts and arrange to get it back to them. It was a very busy time, as festivals always are, and I said – this is crazy, there has to be a better way. I did some research and discovered that festivals like Sundance had gifting lounges where talent could come in and choose what they wanted. I told the story to my (then) client Jake Gold's wife, Leesa Butler, and she said, “Why don't you start one here?” I told her that if she did it with me, I would. The rest is history. Leesa continues to be the VP of Operations. This year we have presenting sponsors Brita, Sorel, Danier, LUSH, olive + piper, RISE luggage, Piloti and much more.
Q: It’s a huge win if a film can generate buzz at TIFF. By the same token, YouInc’s audience of entrepreneurs is seeking to generate buzz for their businesses. What are some key takeaways you can pass along?
A: Find the right sponsorship activation for your brand. It's not a one size fits all approach at a festival of this size. There are opportunities to work with TIFF directly or film distributors on a dinner or an event, or be in a gifting suite like Tastemakers (and more). It depends on your budget and your goals.
Q: How has digital media changed the way films are now launched at TIFF?
A: It's hard to remember a time before digital media now as it is so engrained in the landscape. It is a massive layer on top of “traditional” media that is incredibly powerful because of the worldwide, and often immediate, reach. Word is spread much faster now. A tweet from a critic can change the opinions of thousands – maybe more.
Q: Having major stars attached to a film is always a plus. Yet we’ve often seen films generate significant attention without a-list celebrities involved. What PR and marketing techniques work when you can’t rely on star power?
A: A great script and acting will always rise to the top in my opinion. Setting up promotional and word of mouth screenings is very effective. Using social media can also be a great, inexpensive way to be creative and get your target audience engaged.
Q: Once TIFF kicks off, Toronto becomes home to reporters and camera operators from all over the world. What are some of the keys when you’re thinking about leveraging international media attention?
A: Hire a great PR firm that has the right contacts!
Q: TIFF is a time when there are multiple parties happening every single night. Why are events important for building awareness – during TIFF, and just as an overall strategy for getting the word out?
A: The events and parties add to the festive atmosphere and celebrate the accomplishments of the filmmakers and talent. I don't know how much they truly add to the success of a film, as many people attending won't have seen the film, however, it's rare to have a party with the biggest stars in the world in attendance and that's fun for people that aren't in this industry (and fun for us, too!). Hopefully it gets people buzzing and out to see the film when it opens at the box office. That's really what it is all about from a business perspective.
Q: Even from its inception, the promotional engines have always run at top gear during TIFF. But what have been the major changes in the ways that marketers generate interest in a film?
A: It changes year to year – we don't handle marketing at our agency, but from a PR perspective, the most that has changed is the digital space and social media.
Q: Given that there is so much media attention concentrated here in our city during TIFF, are there opportunities that can be leveraged by entrepreneurs with businesses outside the entertainment world?
A: Of course! The hospitality side of our city benefits in a huge way from TIFF. It depends on what your business is, but with thousands descending upon our city in such a concentrated period of time, it's a great time to make some noise. We also tell a lot of clients to sit back and wait if we think the noise of the festival will drown out their story.
Q: What is the single greatest single thing about TIFF from a marketing and PR standpoint?
A: It's hectic and crazy and stressful but it is also electric. Filmmaking is about telling stories and every year, there are new ones being told that make us laugh, surprise us, scare us and make us cry. I love working with the media and creating great stories together. We do that year-round, but there is something elevated around TIFF. The volume, the pace, the passion – it's mad and we love it. We have the best festival in the world.