We’ve just been through “award season” here in Los Angeles, culminating with the 89th Academy Awards. The Oscars ceremony is the biggest night of the year in LA, the city I’ve called home for more than five years. LA is the second biggest city in the United States and one of the most influential cities in the world.
You probably know that the awards are hosted in Hollywood. What you may not know is that “Hollywood” is not only a place, but also an adjective ‒ and a mindset. The city spits out lessons on image and lifestyle in an impossible-to-avoid way. Below the glitz and glamour there’s also a lot you can learn about marketing.
Here are 11 lessons I’ve learned from my time in Los Angeles that also double as marketing advice.
#1 Everyone knows someone
The adage is true – everyone in this town knows at least someone in the “business.” This can lead to nepotism, sure. But it can also lead to excellent matchmaking connections and projects.
Because of this (and because it’s the right thing to do in general), it’s a good rule of thumb to be kind, genuine, and thoughtful to everyone you meet – whether in the workplace, at social events, or even at the gym. You never know who they are – or who they know. Same goes for marketing, right? We never know who we’re going to bump into at a trade show or online. They could be our next client or influence marketer.
#2 We’re all storytellers
From the cashier at Trader Joe’s to the pastor to the gym trainer, we all have stories burning inside us. Storytelling is in the ether here. We see events in our lives through the a narrative arc and a cinematic lens. In hindsight, we make correlations and notice foreshadowing and wonder (sometimes out loud) whether we are in Act 1, 2, or 3 of a story that is playing out in our lives.
Recently, I finally picked up the copy of the classic screenwriting guide Save the Cat by Blake Snyder. In the back is a handy glossary to the vocabulary used in the 310 (the LA area code). The book is enlightening and highly useful here in Hollywood. But it’s also handy for those of us in marketing, no matter what zip code we live in. Why? Because storytelling is having a moment in marketing and advertising. From Volvo to Levi’s to P&G, major brands are clearly storyboarding, arcing, and concepting storyline narratives for their advertising. It’s worth taking 30 minutes to study the big ads (especially those that came out for the recent Super Bowl) and learn by example.
In addition to Save the Cat, there are a handful of other storytelling books that comprise the LA writer’s toolkit – they’re basically part of our entry to the city. These include Story (Robert McKee), The Writers Journey (Christopher Vogler), and On Writing (Stephen King).
#3 Every story needs a ‘hook’
Once you come up with your story, you need to sell it. The harsh truth is that in this town you can rarely sell a script without commercial appeal; likewise, you can’t sell your product without a good hook.
So too in marketing. It’s critical to spend time thinking about your product’s hook. What need does it meet? What hole in the market does it fill? What niche – or mass – does it appeal to? Break down those details and pull them forward in your marketing campaigns.
#4 You always need to have your pitch ready
Here in La La Land, you never know when you’ll need to explain to someone what you’re working on. If you’re in food service or valeting cars, for example, it’s highly possible that you’ll end up in proximity of that red-hot indie director who would be the perfect person to direct your screenplay. Are you ready to tell him about your project?
It’s true in marketing, too. You may bump into your CEO in the latte line, or mingle with potential co-marketing partners at an event.
And so, it’s essential to be ready to talk about the project you’re working on, why you’re excited about it, and what you need to complete it successfully. You never know who may be right around the corner to help.
A word of caution, though. Judge the room accordingly. Just because you see the one person who is ideal to work on your project, it doesn’t mean you should cross traffic and stalk a person to force him or her to meet you. Be tactful. Pay attention to body language – such as if this individual seems open to a conversation, or not. You don’t want to waste the one shot you have by sticking your foot squarely in your mouth.
#5 You need to pay attention to traffic
Los Angeles is famous for its dependence on cars ‒ and it’s infamous for its horrendous traffic. The car congestion makes us late for appointments, makes us rage, and puts dings in our cars (every one of our cars has been hit since we’ve been living here…). You have to pay attention to who is going where and keep your eyes on the traffic at all times.
So too must you pay attention to the traffic to your project, campaign, or website. Do you know where your traffic is coming from (direct traffic or referrals), or when and how quickly it’s exiting (bounce rate)? How much traffic is each section of your website receiving? Pay attention to these traffic signals.
#6 People will talk
Whether it’s veganism or protests or a project, in LA you’re very likely to hear about the things that make people tick or take up their time. Hollywood folks are experts at spinning a yarn, sure – but they’re also simply excellent at raising awareness. They want to tell all their friends about The Next Cool Thing.
If your product or solution can be that Cool Thing – if it’s what comes out of people’s mouths during the next wait in the grocery store line or at a Saturday shindig – you’ve secured the coveted power of word-of-mouth marketing. This is priceless – and often inexpensive – marketing. Your charge? Make a killer product and a craft a clever marketing campaign that people will want to talk about.
#7 Practicing your craft is a way of life
From acting classes to screenwriting workshops to voiceover lessons, nearly everyone I know in Los Angeles enrolls in some kind of betterment class each year. It’s part of the culture to invest back in ourselves – to keep pushing, striving, learning.
What if this were part of the culture for us marketers, too? What if we intentionally took time out of our busy lives to study and learn – whether it be a new social media tool or a psychology technique, etc. You can start this practice by setting a goal to attend at least one conference, workshop, or online learning event a year.
#8 We bounce around a lot
Many Angelenos string together several part-time jobs – self included. A full-time, steady job isn’t a given here. It’s perfectly legit and possible to juggle two or even three gigs to make ends meet. (So long as you can make the commute work, of course.) Angelenos also move a lot, due to job changes and apartment buildings being put up for sale and the like. We’re constantly flitting from one thing to the next.
What does this have to do with marketing? A key element of being a marketer is possessing the ability to be nimble. We must be able to bounce around to support varied projects. We also must be both right-brained and left-brained, creative as well as analytical, to be successful.
#9 Everyone has a side hustle
Here in Hollywood, we work tirelessly, both at our day jobs that keep the lights on as well as in that “side hustle” that holds our heart. A side hustle may be the Next Great American Movie, novel, or play. Maybe it’s a production company or startup business.
I say forget the notion about “not quitting your day job,” though. The day job is an important piece of the puzzle. Sure, it brings in money – but it also serves as a nice foil for clarifying what we really want to do with our lives. It keeps us focused and compartmentalized to get things done, forces us to be prolific, and serves up new ways of thinking. Time and again I’ve heard my creative friends say they need both sides of the sword – the paying job and the side project – to keep them balanced and focused and pushing.
So, what’s your side hustle? If you don’t have one, can you make one? Is there a project that you’ve wanted to start – or maybe a side business idea? I can almost guarantee that hustling in one area of your life will have a ripple effect back into your marketing job. You’ll see things with a different lens, force yourself to make quick and instinctual decisions, and bloom creatively.
#10 We dream big
There’s an energy here that is unparalleled. People ideate and dream – and then we dream some more. Even when it’s not practical.
As a marketer, I encourage you to keep dreaming. Allow yourself downtime, too. One of the wisest marketers and mentors I know advised me early on to block time on my calendar for “thinking time.” Give it a try. It’s in these moments of quiet when we are not scampering around that our brain gets to unwind and play. It’s why so many great ideas come while we’re driving, showering, or taking walks around the block. Some of the best ideas – the most creative, fun, and effective projects I’ve worked on – came from those block of “nothing.”
#11 There’s magic here
Some of the most timeless, beautiful, inspiring pieces of art (or film or music) have their origin story in this place. Hollywood may technically be 30-some miles north of the Magic Kingdom, but the city is its own kingdom of magic. I’m quite sure there’s something special in the air here (and it’s no longer smog; that problem has cleared up considerably in recent years).
But the magic is not just here in Hollywood. If you pay attention – if you push and try and leave brainspace and let yourself dream – you can find magic to infuse into your marketing … and your life, as well.