Paul Alan Ruben

Paul Alan Ruben

Monday, May 9, 2011

Aunt Mary’s Marketing Miasma: The Schmooze Blues

An atypical email arrived from Aunt Mary yesterday. Oddly, Mary’s missive avoided her usual self-serving importuning (“C’mon, reading is reading, voice-over is voice-over,” she tersely insists at the close of every email, signing off with: so how many times does she have to mp3 her nobody-does-it-better “Buy one, Get One Free” before she’s awarded a job, for God’s sake?). Replete with, for her, a kind of self-effacing, albeit hyperbolic, desperation, her concerns resonated with me.
“You see,” she wrote, “I registered for this APAC [Audio Publishers Association Conference] thing, and, like, my just, really, super-traumatic angst, Paul, just flew out of me – heweeee – if you know what I mean, when I thought, Oh…My…God, am I really going to sell myself to all those publishers, producers, directors who I know don’t care about me, do they? Do they?”
Mary’s email spun from desperation to resolution: “Dammit, Paul, I’ve avoided those mixers, too, like the plague. Well, dammit again, I’m going to the next APA mixer. I’m going to glom on to anyone - male, female, whatever - who can jump-start my narration career. Or bust, Paul.”
After outlining her marketing game-plan (it didn’t seem transferable to the majority of talent I know), Mary concluded with several questions that persuaded me she might, perhaps might, find commonality with a number of narrators (many experienced) I do know and whose talents I admire: “Paul,” she said, “I’m just so unbelievably not-even-passably good at selling myself! Here’s my quicksand pit, IN A NUTSHELL [CAPS Mary’s]: You won’t hire me. Unfair! But fair enough! So please, can I humbaly (sic) ask, how do I develop the chutzpah to market myself? And, do I really even have to? Is schmoozing me a waste? Oh the thought of approaching those publishers and  producers – though some are yummy, like totally  **** - just makes me, ya know, a basket case. Help.”
Responding at length to Aunt Mary would unfairly encourage a relationship, so I passed. But many narrators I’ve spoken to share her marketing-me quandary.
Though I have no marketing/sales advice – these aren’t my specialties - like talent, I’ve always been self-employed, so selling me is a permanent option. Like Mary, I’ve experienced the clenched-fist that erupts inside my stomach each time I’m on the verge of soliciting a potential employer. I’ve questioned, as well, not only the need to sell me, but the nature of that need. This said, I am a producer/director and I am routinely approached by beginners as well as experienced narrators. I have hired talent who’ve solicited me (as well as talent I’ve met through auditions, sought out, came by through referral, etc.).  So I can speak as one who has, on numerous occasions, been approached (sometimes tracked down).
While I know as much or little about sales as the next freelancer, I do feel comfortable, as a layperson, trying to unpack two ‘marketing-me’ issues that seem to bedevil many narrators I’ve spoken with: defining what a potential employer values in a narrator; and wrestling with the question, why market publishers, directors, producers anyway?
What do I value in a narrator? What do I hope to hear from someone soliciting me for employment? I’ll bet the same things (though the order of importance may differ, even significantly) as most publishers, producers and directors.
 My concerns (in order of my priorities) would be addressed by the following: I’m a storyteller (Yeah, I do great characters, but I “get” the narrative); I’m a facile narrator; I’m a prepared narrator (having read the book I’ve got my pronunciation questions and come in with performance choices); I’m not a lazy narrator (when I hear a mistake I’ll go back, fix it, without waiting to get caught); I’m a cooperative narrator (my focus is on collaborating, creating the best possible performance, not kvetching, or devoting time to my interests that might not be yours, period); I can direct myself (even with a director, I’m able to intuit what might not work and redo it, without having to be told); Yes, I can do anything but here’s what genre I should be hired for, right now (said differently, I know that what may personally appeal to me has zero to do with what I’m most suited to narrate); Yes, I’ll listen to a demo (mp3, please); Yes, keep in touch from time-to-time (email is my preference).
When narrators I speak with express reticence about marketing themselves I wonder: what’s causing the conflict? Of course I don’t know. A multiplicity of psychological issues? Probably. The nagging feeling that, well, I should market myself, but then, why should I? Again, I don’t know.  I would argue that a way of addressing this quandary could be: Market yourself if you even think you should; don’t if you’re sure you shouldn’t.
I have never recoiled at a narrator who approached me to be considered for employment. If marketing’s salience could be construed to mean “meeting a need,” then at least to me, marketing makes sense conceptually. I don’t whisper to a colleague, oy, look at that dork marketing himself!
Of course, it’s all in the execution. Nevertheless, reducing an activity to a simple rubric may transform an abstraction fraught with layers of anxious projections (marketing) into a less threatening call-to-action (meeting a need, as in: I need a job). Once reduced, I can then relocate the import of this experience from, I’m either rejected or accepted, to measuring it against my perceived self-interest (that is, what’s in it for me?)
I like to think that, when approached by talent, when it’s all said and done, I’m hearing: Hey, Paul, I’m meeting a need for me. I don’t have to worry about what you’re thinking. As long as I believe I’m doing what’s in my self-interest, I’ll market me.
Marketing, as I see it, doesn’t have many moving parts, in terms of need or value. In my single-sentence reply to Aunt Mary I suggested she read this blog. And, if I see her at APAC -remembering I am, after all, a potential employer – I will be okay with Aunt Mary’s solicitations (up to a point) as I’ll assume, rightly, she’s merely operating according to what’s in Aunt Mary’s self-interest.

This past month I had the privilege to work with a number of talented narrators, including Jenna Lamia, Dan Lauria and Emily Bauer. I’ll be conducting a workshop in Chicago on June 28th. My next narrator’s workshop begins May 17th.  I’ll be participating in the narrator track at this year’s APAC.


  1. Greetings, Paul! Thanks so much for sharing your unique perspective with us in these blog entries. I love reading them and really look forward to each one.

    One potential cause of conflict in marketing that you didn't mention in this post was the issue of location. Many narrators might not market to you and many other producers or publishers since we don't have ready availability to work in NYC or even attend APAC or the mixers.

    If Aunt Mary met all of your concerns as a narrator but lives in, say, Atlanta, would you still consider hiring her to narrate a book?

    If the answer is yes, I invite you to visit my web site, where you may hear demos, read testimonials, and see a picture of my stunning soundproof studio. And remember -- NYC is only a short 2 hours away by plane!

    BTW, have you thought of conducting any workshops in Atlanta?

    Thanks again for your most interesting blog!

    Karen Commins

  2. I agree Paul. When we start in business for ourselves we have to wear all the hats-- whether we're narrators or plumbers or whatever. Marketing is definitely a required hat (which may fit more comfortably on some than others)!

  3. Cassandra MorrisMay 9, 2011 at 5:22 PM

    I think marketing is something all actors have to learn how to do in order to work. So I'd say, yes, she does need to market herself, especially if she doesn't have an agent behind her who can pick up the phone and sell her to producers/directors. Whether the marketing is sending email updates about her career to people she knows or "schmoozing" people in person, it's her choice. I do think her email to you was on the friendly side rather than the professional side (though I'm not sure if you are friends with this Aunt Mary & a friendly email would be appropriate). I've found that e-mail marketing can work when it's short and relevant to the industry/your career.

  4. What a gut-buster! Thanks for the laughs.

    Strasburg, Colorado

  5. Thanks again, Paul, for another insightful and entertaining post. As someone who once solicited you, let me thank you for always having been so open and generous with your time and encouragement.

    What I might add about marketing is this: that when there is something of substance to market, there is no shame in it. Marketing gets awkward and ugly when it's borne of desperation, and those on the receiving end that I've spoken with have generally agreed.

    If we, the marketers, are courteous, to the point, and promote something tangible, like a new title becoming available as opposed to saying, "Hey, just wondering why you haven't hired me in six months," then all should be fine.

    See you at APAC!