The San Diego Latino Film Festival

…from fax blasts to marketing automation.

By Grant Goad

Imagine the following:

Sometime in February, 1993. Ethan van Thillo, founder of the budding San Diego Latino Film Festival, looks up from his desk, brow furrowed, as he considers a quote from the marketing agency he’d contacted earlier in the week.

The cost per conversion seems a little high. And the technology a bit clunky.

He mutters to himself, “How many people will forget they signed up for the list and get pissed off?”

He throws up his arms in frustration.

“Is fax marketing really worth it?” he exclaims. “When will social media come to the rescue?”

OK, this scene didn’t happen. Hindsight is 20/20. Social media, of course, wouldn’t become a thing for another 10-plus years.

And maybe fax marketing wasn’t so bad.

After all, you could reach people with targeted messages they’d read on paper, no spam filter in sight.

But in today’s world of multi-channel, highly segmented digital marketing, it seems quaint, if not downright archaic.

One thing is true, though—from fax blasting to marketing automation, the San Diego Latino Film Festival has evolved with the digital marketing times.

Early digital marketing at the SDLFF—Y Tu Mamá También, Gael García, Alfono Cuarón, and Diego Luna.

In the beginning…

Produced by the non-profit Media Arts Center San Diego (MACSD), the San Diego Latino Film Festival (SDLFF) has entertained and educated San Diego County and Tijuana residents for over 25 years.

The festival’s marketing strategies have integrated an ever-changing array of platforms and tools, but the goal has always been the same: to make a connection with their audience and get the right information to the right person at the right time.

I met last week with Ethan, MACSD’s director, and Rosana Marques, marketing and special events manager, to talk about their approach to digital marketing and how it’s developed over the years.

West South recently began helping them with MACSD’s websites, and I wanted to get a historical perspective that would inform and enrich our future efforts.

[Take a look at this year’s festival site]

Back in the 1990s, Ethan actually did pay a service to send targeted faxes to potential festival attendees. He also set up a website on AOL, and began to send emails.

“The internet opened up a new world for us, marketing-wise,” Ethan said. “Especially when it came to finding the films we screen—we used to call filmmakers on the phone to solicit submissions, a time-consuming process. Now they find us online.”

Social media has been a part of the organization’s marketing DNA since the early 2000s. The festival established a presence on Myspace when it launched in 2003, and then on Facebook in 2004.

Facebook continues to be an important tool, and Ethan, Rosana, and their team of interns create event pages for each film that screens during the festival’s annual two-week run.

Today's digital marketing at the San Diego Latino Film Festival—Demián Alcázar and Ethan van Thillo.

Festival marketing today

A sample SDLFF marketing plan might look something like this:

  • Daily emails are sent to the general list
  • Daily emails with unique content are sent to selected segments
  • A version of each email is posted to Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter
  • Niche showcase event pages are created, e.g. Chicano Film, LGBT films, etc.
  • Google dynamic ads are set up, using keywords targeted to an audience not yet familiar with the festival

Tool-wise, the team uses Constant Contact to manage their email lists and marketing automation, and Hootsuite to manage their social media posts.

Rosana emphasized the importance of imagery to their Instagram feeds, especially photos showing audience members participating in festival events.

 “Photos and videos are a great way to touch the public,” Rosana said. “We take pictures and record videos at all our events to share with our attendees. People make a stronger connection to our programs when they can see themselves and their friends having a great time at the festival.”

While we focused our discussion on digital marketing, Ethan made sure to bring up traditional media and the fundamental role it plays. Partnerships with local outlets like Univision TV and radio are still one of the principal methods he uses to communicate with his audience.

Note: Although West South is a digital agency, I’m also a firm believer in media relations, a topic I’ll write about in a future post.

Paid digital advertising has become increasingly important to SDLFF’s marketing. While the team initially focused their efforts and budget on Facebook, they’ve now been moving to Google AdWords.

And no matter what the channel, niche targeting—and creating unique content for each niche—is the centerpiece of their strategy.

The team creates a spreadsheet for each movie with an overview of its content, keywords, and a list of contacts that might be interested in seeing the film. They then produce content for that list and reach them via segmented email messages and postings to the film’s social media event pages.

The goal is to create communities and provide them with information they’re likely to be interested in, resulting in a rich experience for community members.

Today's digital marketing at the San Diego Latino Film Festival, 2019 edition.

Customer service

When it comes to social media, and marketing in general, Ethan says that customer service is absolutely key:

“It’s extremely important to listen to our audience and learn about their interests. We also read every comment on our main social media profiles and individual event pages, and respond to each and every one of them. We want our fans to know they’re appreciated, and that their shares and likes really help us to spread the word.”

And what comes next as digital marketing evolves?

MACSD and the San Diego Latino Film Festival have changed with the times, but there are still tools they haven’t integrated yet, but would like to, depending on time and budget.

High on their list is the addition of a robust customer relationship management (CRM) platform like Salesforce or Hubspot.

But any way you look at it, the SDLFF marketing team does an amazing job. We invite you to learn more about the festival and MACSD’s other programs like the Teen Producer’s Project.

They even have their own movie theater, where you can see films from all over the world, The Digital Gym Cinema.

Media Arts Center San Diego

Support the festival and MACSD—become a member today!

Today's digital marketing at the Media Arts Center San Diego—the box office and concessions stand at the Digital Gym Cinema.