New Documentary 'Knock Down the House' Offers Takeaways for Any Marketers

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"If they don't give you a seat at the table, then bring your own lawn chair." That came from Amy Vilela following a screening here in D.C. of Knock Down the House, the new and wonderful Netflix documentary about four women running for office in 2018. (It's now available on Netflix plus later on in some theaters.)

Vilela is one of those women, a Nevada mom who ran for Congress in the Las Vegas area and lost. But the success of the film—it already won the Festival Favorite Award at Sundance—will come from the amazing, behind-the-scenes footage director Rachel Lears has of Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. She was there when Ocasio-Cortez was first gathering the signatures needed to just get on the ballot and then rushing over to waitress in a bar.

After a night's sleep, I think there are some non-partisan lessons for any marketer, event producer or anyone who seeks an audience for what they do from this inspirational film.

Take some low-risk chances. Lears lives in New York so when asked how she got so lucky by choosing to follow Ocasio-Cortez early on, she said they didn't have much funding for a travel budget at the beginning so it was an obvious choice. Lears is actually with her the night of the primary victory and they both learn of the outcome at the same time. Still, she took a chance by committing resources to her so early. Low-risk opportunities for publishers could include starting a podcast—there will be a great session at SIPA Annual 2019 to help you do that—holding a webinar on a new subject, starting an awards program, or trying some new speakers (see the next bullet).

Diversify your offerings. After the screening, Lears was asked about the decision to feature four women. She really played it down. She said that these were working-class people who wanted to make a difference in our society. The two other women were from St. Louis and West Virginia. She wanted to let the fact that they're women just work "organically." (I love that word in this context.) "You could see who they are," she said. In getting speakers for your events or quotes for your stories, reach out to new folks—old, young, female, male, different backgrounds. It may expand your audience. We all like to see ourselves reflected back a bit.

Can't beat video right now. The film opens with Ocasio-Cortez putting on makeup before an event, commenting on the decisions women have to make vs. those of men. Words could not have done that scene justice. Later on there are key scenes at her strategy sessions as well as her and the other women canvassing their neighborhoods. Arno Langbehn filmed a video for the Pre-Conference workshop that he is hosting at SIPA Annual 2019. It's simple but effective. If you ask for testimonials, try to get some video ones or shoot some at your next event. I recall a session last year at another conference where two people from the American Anthropological Association showed us this amazing video of a day in the life of an anthropologist, and it was so cool! A video done with this kind of admiration and expertise could shine a revenue light on any niche field.

Tug at some heartstrings. I've quoted Rick Wilkes, director of marketing at OPIS (and a speaker at SIPA Annual 2019), a few times when he referenced emotion: "I think emotion is underrated in any kind of marketing, particularly with websites." Using anniversaries for your company or for particular events can stir an emotion. Even putting some interesting biographical information about your people can do that. Access Intelligence's Cablefax used to have a featured called Diversions that highlighted what their employees did in their free time. Knock Down the House wears its heart on its sleeve. Vilela, who is as tough as they come—she tragically lost a daughter recently—said she was okay for the film showing her cry. It was real and part of who she is. (And she will be running for office again.) Ocasio-Cortez is also shown in old footage with her father who died when she was in college and tells a heartwarming story about a road trip they once took to D.C. that closes the film.

"Festivalize" when you can. This film has built up a strong following through festival showings. People just like to be part of something bigger these days—and enjoy the community of being around others. If you have a one-day seminar, add something that night or the night before to give it more pizazz. Take advantage of your locale. Surveys say places are very important to younger people today in making decisions on what they will attend.

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Ronn Levine began his career as a reporter for The Washington Post and has won numerous writing and publications awards since. Most recently, he spent 12 years at the Newspaper Association of America covering a variety of topics before joining SIPA in 2009 and SIIA in 2013 as editorial director…