Last week I covered the very important topic of how your branding can be integrated into the business card you design, in Part 1 of my USP’s rather than Uncompromising Silly Positions series. Today I want to delve into websites.
As an actor I am constantly looking at other actor’s websites. I love clicking on their links to see what they write, how they talk about themselves (third or first person), which photos they use, what their showreel looks like, how they present themselves. I do this partly because I’m interested, partly because they might be someone vying for the same roles as me, and partly because I can learn a lot about an actor by what they put on their site.
Your website sits on that huge wide web and once it’s out there, anyone who types your name in will be able to see it.…remember, we don’t need to send our CVs or 6×8’s out for much longer. (And Spotlight books…why are they even still in print?). With the billions of people out there who have access to your information (okay maybe not all looking at yours at once but they could be one day), you want to be sure that their first experience is exceptional so they’ll visit again. Remember you don’t have a lifetime to make a first impression. You’ve made it the second they click on that home page. So lets break down some of the components of an actor’s website so you can consider these in relation to building your brand. As I said last week:
“Your branding represents how you are perceived and your USP represents how you are remembered.“
And please know that these are not hard and fast rules. They’re merely suggestions to help you build something memorable, uncluttered and specific to your personal acting tone.
1) Images: Now this is one of an actors’ big parts of branding. Actually I would argue it is the most important part, since you will be offered an audition initially from your headshot, prior to your reputation getting you in the door. If you know how to put your best foot forward looks wise, then you’re already on the starting line. Don’t know how you’re perceived? Ask someone…but please, not your mum! They’ll always say you’re hotter than any of the other girls on TV. No, go and ask an industry professional, be it a Casting Director, your agent or someone who doesn’t directly compete with what you do. This may surprise you but even the headshot photographer who takes your shots will usually have a great idea about your casting type. The good ones photograph 100’s and 1000’s of people and they pick out very particular details in your best selection of photos that make a big difference. For example I had shots done with Rafael Bastos (well I’ve actually booked with Rafael on multiple occasions because I love his work) and on this particular occasion, as we were looking through the images, I picked one I loved but he shows me how my neck was strained and it made me look awkward. He was absolutely right. And two photos further along I must have relaxed and the same “look” was much better. But images are much more than that. The beautiful Sarine Sofair’s website is a perfect example of an actor who clearly knows how she wants to be cast. She is stunning, yes, but she more than that. Sarine knows her brand and has a lot of images that capitalise on her “English Rose” look and her fiery red hair. And this gets her cast. Know your type! And splash it out through your website photos in a way that helps the reader know how to cast you.
But don’t show off. And be very clear about the kind of castings you want to secure. The Struggling Actor sums it up beautifully here.
2) Your professional acting name: Whatever your name is on Spotlight, Equity, IMDB and other casting sites, is what you should have on your personal acting website. And more importantly, you should also consider trying to purchase that domain name as well, i.e. www.JaneDoe.com
And don’t be clever with your domain name. Keep it as simple as possible. Save the clever bits for what you write on your site.
3) Your professional blurb: This is what you want people to know about you if they only bother to look at your front page. Imagine you’re pitching your best mate for a hot date with a friend of yours. You have thirty seconds to say the best bits. Ditto here. This would look similar to a mini blurb on IMDB.
The other option is to just have your profession there instead, be it ‘actor’, ‘actress’, ‘amazing clown’. It’s your tagline baby, not your CV. Liken it to a Mars Bar advert. “A Mars a day helps you work, rest and play”. What’s your tagline? Keep it simple, keep it sexy and keep it short. They can get all the detail they need further on if they decide to stay longer.
4) Your profession: This comes back to what I covered in business cards in Part 1. You can’t be all things to all people. Years ago I did a stint as a television presenter in Australia for a well-known TV station. So I figured that I should have actor/presenter on my website when I moved to London. Wrong! As a very clued up and honest television friend of mine explained, people either hire a presenter, or they hire an actor. Rarely can people do both (this has since been confirmed to me by asking a few agents and a manager). Yes yes I know there are exceptions but I’m not here to point them out. If you’re starting out, it’s about being consistent with your branding and making it as easy as possible for someone to cast you. Don’t be clever. And again, don’t be an actor/producer/director/dreamer/singer/musician/animal liturgical dancer. You can’t demonstrate them all on your site. You will be much more effective branding yourself as just the animal liturgical dancer than you will ten other things.
5) How many tabs?: Now this is a fascinating one. Many moons ago I learned a clever piece of advice from some marketing gurus – Consumers only want to be a maximum of four clicks away from what they’re looking for before they’ll get bored, frustrated, or click away. Bearing that in mind I suggest you think very carefully about whether you need ten tabs each with a different category. Surely you can keep it concise and still get a clear message across to your audience about your experience, showreel, links, press and contact details? If you were an established actor with a lot to tell, I would hazard a guess that it actually might be useful to have more links and more pages. But if you are starting out, why not keep your site brief and intriguing.
Lets break it down with some alternatives:
- Page 1 might include: Home page/About Page/Me page
- Page 2 might include: Work/Credits/Experience/Journey/News
- Page 3 might include: Press/PR/Reviews/Photos
- Page 4 might include: Showreel/CV/Links/Upcoming shows/Photos/News
- Page 5 might include: Contact details/Agent/Links
Rarely will you need more than four or five of any of those combinations. And those four clicks will typically land you with a good solid four clicks away from the prize website. If you desperately need more than five or six, then check if there is something you can combine rather than starting another new page. Ever asked your computer savvy aunty to navigate around your website? Make sure a family member can find what they’re looking for easily and you will know you are doing well.
6) Statistics, damn lies and statistics: Another little story first: a few years ago I set up a Graffiti website because I happen to have a passion for all things street art (and because I love showing off my street photos etcetera) and I decided to whack my new site at the bottom of my auto-signature so every time an email went out everyone would see the link to my new site and it would get the hits up. What happened? Next time I logged onto my google analytics I was mortified to find that people were spending about three minutes longer on that site than on my acting website. See, here’s the thing – as much as we think people all around the world are sitting there reading our site and mulling over every word we write down, the reality is they’re not. And even if they are, it’s highly likely it’s just other actors who are. Casting Directors aren’t perusing hundreds of acting sites checking out your latest works. Maybe directors will. I guess you’ll only know if they tell you “oh hey I was checking out your photos on your site the other day. Love the one with your hair up”.
It’s important to get to know your statistics even if you weren’t a maths major at school. GoogleAnalytics is very easy to set up and use, as well as being free, but many other sites will also have built-in statistical tools; For example Wordpress do a great job, and I’ve heard Weebly offer these tools as well. Statistics help you can see where in the world you are being viewed from as well as lots of other useful information. Because the level of detail that is available with these analytical tools is extensive, and we could go on all day about reviewing your statistics, I’ll leave this for another rainy day. Suffice to say, make sure that you have something installed to track your views. If, for example, you do decide to use the very popular wix.com to build your website, they will allow you to add your unique tracking ID (generated by google analytics) into the SEO component of the pages and then every time you log into your google analytics account, hey presto, you’ll see your clicks, common words used to find you, how long people view your site for, new viewers vs returning viewers and a host more.
And finally on this topic, I asked one of the leading Casting Director companies this week about looking at actors websites and this is what they said: “I mainly look at Spotlight pages and if intrigued then might look at actor’s website but that is rare for timing purposes. Spotlight is the place to have the pic and I would also argue about the importance of the picture posted. I see a lot of dodgy pics that don’t sell the actor at all.” So there you have it ladies and gents. Straight from the people who cast you in film and television. Now this is only one Casting Director’s opinion, and for each one you talk to they’ll have their own way of doing things, but time is one thing that is always of the essence in their offices. They probably aren’t the key people looking at your site. So find out who is.
Quite simply, know your audience!
7) Showreel: Now this one is a biggie, and in regards to branding, it is so big in fact it can definitely be saved for a blog on its own. For now the important take out is to make sure your showreel is on your website if you have one. Whatever is on Casting Networks or Spotlight will be perfect for your website. A showreel is your acting calling card.
I remember an acting mate asking one of my pals one day why they didn’t have their showreel on the front of their website. As I listened I thought, wow why hadn’t I thought of that too. It’s a strong move you can make on your acting website really isn’t it? If you like your showreel and think it sells you, why not make it prominent. Why not make it the easiest thing to find along with your amazing headshots and links. Such common sense really isn’t it.
8) Links and contacts details: Like your business card, the links displayed on your site give your audience other reputable places to find out more about you. You definitely want to have your Spotlight link and your IMDB link on your website (if you have them). Optional extras include the other host of website CV’s you have available, social media links and even your personal blog – if you think it is relevant.
With regards to what contact information you have available, only you can decide. If you only want your agent to be contacted then have their email and phone number on your contact page. If you prefer to be the point of contact, display your email or create a ‘contact sheet’ that allows someone to fill in their information and get in touch with you directly. If you choose the latter, you don’t even need to display your email address as most sites allow you to build the contact sheet with your email address hidden. If in doubt, just ask.
9) Press / PR / Reviews: I love seeing actors celebrate their wins on their website. If done well it tells your audience that you are going great guns. You can share incredible reviews, or you can display an exceptionally positive comment made by a director who worked on set with you. Don’t be afraid to share your news in a positive, not-arrogant-silly-pants way. And if you have had interviews, articles or press releases written about you, then definitely add links to those in too. There is nothing wrong with sharing and celebrating your success stories. The only other person typically doing this on a daily basis is your mum (right?).
10) Be safe: There are many other things I could talk about, and while this is not directly about branding, I’d like to finish with one final point on safety. And this is BIG. You are an aspiring, or already established actor, and that means people will, or already do, know who you are. Your life becomes public the moment you decide you want to pursue this profession. But one thing that doesn’t have to be public is your address or personal information. Be sure to check that whois.com doesn’t show where you live, what your email address is or your phone number. You want to avoid having friendly stalkers or fan mail being addressed to your house. And to do that it’s best to pay that tiny little annual fee to have your website details hidden. Trust me, I’ve had mates sent Christmas cards directly to their house before from strangers. That is not cool!
I hope this branding exercise for websites has proved useful. If nothing more, perhaps you know a little teeny bit more about why you already did the great job with the things you put up on your website.
If you want to see some other lovely websites with some excellent examples of some of the branding points I’ve mentioned here today…. check out Natalie Ames, Sarine Sofair, Clayton Moss and Nadine Nicole. Next up B.A.B.E.s we will cover your emails.