Communications chief, Barry Patterson, describes the CFC’s 20th year, including how stakeholders spontaneously serve as brand ambassadors (updated)

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September in Toronto always means that various heavyweights in the international film industry head to our city, as part of the Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF). But operating year-round (headquartered in Toronto, on the beautiful Windfields Estate) is the wonderful Canadian Film Centre. Having been a CFC “Reel Club” member for several years translated to an invitation to its July 2008 Garden Party, which was celebrating the Canadian Film Centre’s 20-year anniversary, including many of the people who had played a part over the years. The perfect June evening was so lovely and inspiring that I decided to invite my colleague, Barry Patterson, to write a guest post on PR Conversations about the CFC. Note that next week the CFC will have the world premiere at TIFF of its 17th feature film, Nurse.Fighter.Boy (produced through the CFC Feature Film Project). Also, 2008 CFC dramatic short film, Pudge, is screening in the Short Cuts Canada program. The CFC also salute the more than 30 CFC alumni that have played a key creative role in films featured at TIFF 2008. JG

The Canadian Film Centre (CFC) launches Canada’s most creative ideas and voices in film, television and new media to the world. From April 2008 to March 2009 the CFC—Canada’s largest advanced-training institution for media professionals—celebrates 20 years of bringing inspiring storytellers to the world.For us, it’s a time to:

  • celebrates many things, including the legacy of acclaimed filmmaker and founder, Norman Jewison
  • strengthen ties with our alumni
  • broaden our reputation and support in the international marketplace; and
  • demonstrate our leadership by looking towards the future

What sets us apart is that:

  1. we have well established training programs in all mediums: film, television and new media; and
  2. our training is production-based, with short films, TV pilots, interactive prototypes and feature films being created.

Additionally, the CFC inaugurates new training programs and divisions that meet (or exceed) industry demand, such as the CFC Media Lab, which was established in 1997.

Our reputation and profile is built upon the training expertise and success of the CFC’s more than 1,000 alumni, who represent a vital part of the Canadian media industry. What’s very gratifying to this non-profit institution is that, over the years, many of these alumni have become both industry leaders and supporters. CFC alumni come back to mentor new residents, as well as go on to create successful production companies that hire new CFC alumni talent. Another testament to our strong relationship with alumni (and their positive experience at the CFC) is that, year after year, they recommended the majority of applicants to our programs. A shining example is alumna Christina Jennings, who went through our film program in 1990, created one of Canada’s largest production companies, Shaftesbury Films, has mentored potential and new residents, hired alumni and now sits on our board of dDirectors.

Industry members also play a huge role in raising (and enhancing) our public reputation. The CFC is a talent-engine for them; in turn they are key partners and financial supporters. Since the CFC’s inception, the major studios, independent production companies, exhibition companies and broadcasters have collaborated with the CFC to develop new training programs and enhance existing ones. The significant role that alumni and industry play as brand ambassadors cannot be understated.

I was recruited to be the CFC’s director of marketing and communications in 2004. When I arrived, the organization was at important point in its growth. Communications and marketing had not been a priority, with all focus being placed on programming. The overall environment was becoming increasingly competitive, with new causes to support and organizations looking to get into advanced professional training. The task at hand was to create a new brand and communications program for the Canadian Film Centre, one that all stakeholder groups and brand ambassadors would support, easily understand and be able to articulate to the world. Stakeholder consultation was an integral part of this process.

The newly developed brand is a canvas to showcase alumni’s work. In all cases our visual imagery that the logo sits upon is alumni-based work. It appears on all communications collateral, from business cards to the web site. Public relations efforts have been directed at promoting alumni successes and their projects created at the CFC.

Did it work?

Well, today, alumni engagement is very high and industry support is thriving. In a very short time we have grown from an $8M budget to $11.5M.

Managing such rapid change presented challenges, but the strong communications platform we’ve built will help us as we proceed forward with our 20th anniversary celebrations. Our public relations plans include media relations activities that are targeted at national and international trade publications and Canadian arts and entertainment outlets.

One major goal (which is admittedly somewhat difficult in this American-celebrity-obsessed culture) is to create a profile for the CFC through our collective alumni talent successes.

Another is to focus on new training programs that we will be launching throughout this anniversary year, to further benefit and provide opportunity for our alumni and the industry. Update: Two of those programs were announced at the annual TIFF BBQ, hosted by the CFC:

1) a new actor’s conservatory to train and market future stars of the screen; and
2) a separate, international co-production training program, the Canada-U.K. Script Incubation Program, designed to foster cross-Atlantic collaboration between script writers with support from the BBC and CanWest.

Information about both programs can be found in the Globe and Mail article, A Canadian first: actors’ training program launched.

We’re also launching a website and viral campaign—i.e., traditional and non-traditional advertising campaigns—to support these efforts.

Efforts will be complemented by yearly networking and fundraising events, planned to engage our stakeholder base. For example, our annual (and quite famous) BBQ held during the Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF), to premiere screenings for our short and feature films, alumni events, and annual gala and auction fundraiser.

New outreach events to support program announcements in the international market will be done in New York, L.A. and London. At the end of our anniversary celebratory year, we’re hosting a four-day CFC Homecoming, for alumni, industry and supporters to celebrate with us through networking events, high-profile master classes, a special event with Norman Jewison, and a future forecast brunch to be keynoted by our executive director, Slawko Klymkiw.

The timing of the CFC’s 20th Anniversary celebrations and our communications strategy to continuously engage with our stakeholders is more important now than it has been over the organization’s history. Today we face a new challenge, as recently the Department of Canadian Heritage cancelled its National Training Program in the Film and Video Sector, to the tune of a approximately $2.5M. This will have some impact on our ongoing plans, but already the industry and our CFC alumni “brand ambassadors” are rallying behind us.

2 COMMENTS

  1. Judy, this is superb.
    As an Italian I know of the CFC from my amateurish love for quality film, but if we could collectively put together stories like these from all parts of the world.. not lip service nor self serving but neither necessarily masochis like this one certainly is not.
    I am confident that the best examples of our trade today come from leaders like Mr. Patterson who are not necessarily working for the Fortune 500’s, possibly in the non profit sector in Pakistana or Tanzania, sall industry in New Zealand, Culture in Italy or Russia, hopefully in the public diplomacy arena in many countries.. thank you for this breath of fresh air, and thank you mr. Patterson.

  2. Toni,

    Thank you for your kind words and comment. I worked for many years with some of the most well-known entertainment companies in Canada. Taking the step to move to the non-profit sector has been very rewarding. People are extremely passionate about our cause. The work is some of the most challenging of my career. Resources are limited and I certainly have honed my creative problem-solving skills while supporting a cause I believe in. For those looking to explore this sector I encourage them to do so. Best Barry.

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