Alas, is the Actor’s “Good Work” No Longer Good Enough?

An Actor's Good Work No Longer Good Enough

My goal from the very beginning of my acting career was to be a successful working actor. I had the dream that I could make my living as an actor for my entire life, despite the discouraging statistics around job outlook and wage projections for working actors.

In the “old days” before the Internet, the acting landscape was a whole lot different than it is today.

The old-school way of building a successful acting career consisted of landing a job, doing it well, and then landing another job that was more visible, doing it well, repeat, repeat, repeat.

Growing your acting career was based on making new contacts, gaining experience, honing skills and talents, and ultimately (and most importantly) doing “good work” on stage, on screen or in the recording booth.

With persistence and a little bit of luck, eventually the right people would take notice and better opportunities would lead to better jobs and increasing levels of success.

That was how the game looked to me as a young, fresh-out-of-college drama grad embarking on my journey to live my dream and be a successful working actor.

And, do you know what? That simple approach has served me quite well over the years. Even as I transitioned from stage & screen acting to being a professional voice over actor, I still found that if I primarily focused on doing “good work” at every step along the way, one success always lead to another. It was a clear, predictable path.

A Lot More to Professional Voice Over Acting Than People Realize

In today’s internet-driven world, being good at what you do as an actor (especially a professional voice over actor) is still most important. However, there is a new part of the success equation that can create some daunting challenges for many would-be voice over actors just starting out. And even for the seasoned pros, it can still be a time-consuming and arduous treadmill.

TRUTH: We working actors have to do a whole lot more marketing of our talents and ourselves than I ever imagined would be necessary.

Sure, I expected I’d have to promote myself and my profession to some degree, and make lots of new contacts along the way.

But the level and type of marketing that seems to be required today to keep the new business flowing is completely unexpected.

Not only do we have to perform the good work that is at the foundation of our profession, but we have to build and maintain a great website, create fabulous “google-worthy” blog content that builds our audience, contribute profoundly to social media and, in general, stay on top of the constant technological changes that affect how we market our services and selves.

Our livelihood as actors no longer hinges on simply doing what we do well. Now, we also have to build and maintain an intriguing online persona that is attractive to our potential clients as well as to the world in general.

No pressure there!

Earlier this week, the highly accomplished, talented and ubiquitous Kevin Bacon was asked on The Today Show about how he would navigate the waters of social media, in addition to simply plying his acting craft, if he were just starting out in the entertainment industry today.

Fast forward to about the 2:45 minute mark to hear him speak on this topic… 

He was obviously pretty reticent about the idea. He mentions how when he was young and building his career he “really just wanted to be a serious actor,” (doing good work) and the idea of being a “personality” was the last thing he wanted to think about.

Kevin goes on to say,

Now, in a funny way, if you want to be taken seriously (as an actor) you almost have to be more of a personality and you have to nurture that part of your persona. And that’s a kind of pressure I’m glad I didn’t have to deal with.

I guess in a way, he prefers a full six degrees of separation from his audience over the one degree provided by his Twitter feed.

I’ll bet William Shatner would agree, especially after the past week.

When William Shatner tweeted over the weekend that he had a prior charity commitment that would prevent him from attending Leonard Nimoy’s funeral, he got hit with a negative (and totally inappropriate IMHO) Twitter-storm of responses. Wow, makes me wonder why celebs put up with that kind of “fan support.”

Oh yeah, because they HAVE TO!

I guess these days, if you’re an actor or celebrity, YOUR business is EVERYbody’s business. It’s all apparently just part of that persona-maintenance project. 

How Does an Actor Manage It All

While the pressures of celebrity are not part of my universe, I do still have to play a similar game of persona managing.

So, if this is the new normal, how the heck do we keep up with all this stuff? And by stuff, I mean all of the chores we have to do in addition to our actual professional skills for which we actually get paid!

1. Outsource What You Can

For working professional voice over talents, one way to manage it all is to outsource, if we can afford it. Procuring agents, forming a marketing team, hiring (or in my case marrying) a business manager, an audio editor and others to help us out, can free up huge amounts of time which allow us to get back to the work of doing our good work.

However, one must be mindful to manage and maintain these relationships as well, since they can easily disappear or be disrupted. Additionally, delegating the management of marketing our persona to others can be very tricky business and demands some oversight. These types of relationships must be chosen very carefully.

2.  Find the DIY Marketing Approach that Works Best For You

If we can’t afford or just don’t want to go down the road of hiring extra help, we can still look for ways to get the biggest bang for our personal efforts using whatever marketing strategy seems to fit best. The content generation approach is certainly not the only way to go, but it seems most effective if you are trying to build good search engine rankings.

The tricky question around this whole marketing approach question is “how much time will I have to spend on my marketing?”

Every minute I spend marketing is a minute I’m not spending recording a job, preparing a quote or crafting a custom voiceover audition. This is the primary reason why I’ve chosen to delegate as much of my marketing chores as I can. That way, I can stay focused on doing my good work and earning the income that allows me to keep on living my dream of being a successful working actor.

How do you manage the marketing chores that are required in your business? I’d love to hear your comments, especially if you have found effective strategies that are working well for you.

9 comments on “Alas, is the Actor’s “Good Work” No Longer Good Enough?

  1. dc goode on

    Great article Deb.
    As irony would have it, even posting here is a bit o “marketing”, i guess. 🙂

    Honestly? My brain is worn out. I cannot keep up with most of it these days… and I’ve seen many things suffer because of it. Even my work. Now THAT’s scary. 🙂
    We have to pick our battles VERY wisely when it comes to our time and “resources”.
    Pick a platform or 2 and stick with it? We’ll see.

    • Debbie Grattan on

      DC – good to hear from you my friend! Yes, indeed, just taking a couple of minutes to read a blog post (or more time to write one!) often feels like cheating on clients and work! I hear ya! My head is spinning a lot of the time and it’s sometimes amazing to me that I can make headway in so many areas. But you make a good point about our WORK beginning to suffer due to the lack of time and focus. How lovely it was in the “old days” to just walk into a pro studio and just be a voice actor! Even then, there was background work to get there, but you didn’t have to also be the audio engineer, the director, the copy writer and the bill collector. sigh.

      • dc goode on

        The “Devil” truly is “in the details”.
        Thanks Diane for reminding me…i too have a Flash issue.
        Oh well…maybe next year.

  2. Jay Preston on

    Really great article! I feel like I started VO right at the butt end of the “good ol’ days” I got a LITTLE taste of what it was like before the P2P’s and all this crazy self marketing was necessary. Getting going.. is such hard work, but it’s that kind of hard-work that pays off, and when it does. What a fire it lights for the next week. (Kind of a vicious but wonderful cycle!)


  3. Diane Maggipinto on

    I read this rIgHT aWAy, using the hot desk work ethic of dealing with something as soon as it crosses my desk. Indeed, there are way too many elements to maintain that have your good work supplanted by the larger work of identity, social media, marketing, and in this case, finding the right hire who can do the work I’d like to farm out. There’s where I get stuck: what to farm out, how to train someone, how to ensure quality control? Of course it’s not easier to just keep doing everything myself, yet I can’t seem to find a block of time to think through what I can and would like to delegate.
    Please don’t look at my website; it’s old and in need of a facelift. And it’s in flash, so you probably can’t if you’re reading this on a device. Yep, another thing to deal with, or delegate.
    Thank you for this timely post!

    • Debbie Grattan on

      Thanks Diane and Jay for your comments. It does somehow seem as though the harder we try to peddle out, (from the pressure of everything that begs to be done) the longer the road becomes. Diane, I’m with you on the website stuff. In process of re-designing mine now too. also just saw that Google will not look kindly on sites that are not mobile friendly, so that’s a pretty good incentive to make changes in that direction too, if we haven’t already.

  4. Brian Page on

    Great post Debbie! These aspects can be overwhelming but certainly need to be addressed in today’s social media climate. Thanks for articulating it so well.

  5. Anthony Gettig on

    Superb insights, Debbie! This is so timely for me. I recently hired my oldest daughter to work for me, which has made a huge difference in my ability to be performing versus doing other stuff.

    As far as effective strategies, we use Basecamp and Google Docs to collaborate on a lot of things. I like to say if it’s not in Basecamp, it didn’t happen! It’s just a good central repository for us.

    Thanks for this excellent article!

    • Debbie Grattan on

      Hey Anthony – thanks for your comments. Yes, I have used Basecamp and Google Docs with client work before. Never thought of it for internal communication. Maybe I’ll try it!

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