I am a fellow actor who has been through the lowest of the lows – through the hardest financial and personal times you can imagine. Ask anyone who knows me and knows my work; I work from true compassion and passion to inspire my peers to their potential. I care, and I promise that reading this post, fellow commercial actor, will be a valuable experience for you.
What I’m going to address is actually extremely obvious – everything is obvious when you see how it all works. What I have done as a commercial actor, and what I do as a teacher to a large degree is to point out the obvious (but overlooked) and make it practical. That’s what I expect to do with this post.
Still here? OK, so far so good.
Now, here’s the thing about commercials: Commercials exist to sell stuff. (Gee Jeb, thanks for the amazing insight! Hang in there, it gets better.)
In order to understand commercials, we must understand selling. A more practical (partner-related) way to view this action is to flip that around and acknowledge the truth that selling is about getting someone else to buy. So, to understand selling, we must understand buying.
I spent about 10 years as a business to business sales person who was tasked with making a monthly quota. I’ve sold a myriad of products and services and have penned deals ranging from a few hundred to a few hundred-thousand dollars. One of my earliest sales mentors beat this maxim into me: ‘my need to sell does not supersede the customer’s need to buy’. Or ‘if the customer doesn’t have a KNOWN need to buy, you aren’t going to be able to sell’.
Why do we buy? Well – why do you buy? You buy because you need something. How clearly you understand and how urgently you feel that need defines the ‘sales pitch’ that’s used, but it doesn’t change the fundamental (and ultimately most important to the commercial actor) question:
WHO do we buy from? We buy from people we trust who have expertise. i.e. People who are in it for us and know what they are talking about. When people are in it for themselves, it’s obvious, and we tend to avoid them like the plague.
Go to any major store where the sales people are on commission (paid a percentage of the sales that they generate) and ask for help purchasing a big-ticket item (don’t buy it unless you really plan to!) Then go to one of their competitors where the sales people are paid on salary and make the same request. Take note of the difference.
In truth, you probably don’t even need to do this exercise because you’ve lived it hundreds of times:
You enter the store, intrigued by their displays, and a new, over eager sales person approaches ‘HI! Can I help you? You know THAT looks soooo good on you, HEY! we have a deal on….’ Ugh. ‘NO THANKS, JUST LOOKING!’ most often followed by a fairly prompt exit. Yes, sometimes you buy, but almost never because of the sales person.
No disrespect to commission sales people – I was one in title for a decade, and in truth as an independent teacher I am one now (if my business doesn’t do well, neither does my family), but I practice my mentor’s maxim every day – my business can NEVER be about me, about my needs. I must shelve them and make it about delivering value to YOU. When I do, I earn your trust, and the opportunity to provide you with guidance and advice. If you find that guidance and advice fills your current needs, you might decide to buy.
Two Kinds of Actors Just like the aforementioned salespeople, there are two kinds of actors auditioning for commercials: those who are in it for themselves (I need this booking because I need the money, I need to prove something to casting, to my agent, to my parents, etc, etc, etc), and those who are in it for the customer. The customer in this case is any of the DOZENS of people involved in the casting decision. The question for you, fellow commercial actor, is: ‘How do I truly represent the interests of my customer?’.
The answer is simple: you must understand them. Understand the challenges they face, and help them find the solution for their needs. If you haven’t already, you must shift your perspective from ‘actor auditioning to land a role = me! me! me!’ to ‘casting consultant helping your project succeed = you! you! you!’.
As an auditioning commercial actor, your fundamental professional responsibility is to facilitate the success of the project itself by helping to rule you in or out as the casting option as efficiently as possible.
Ironically, (or as I prefer to view it, synergistically) when you take this approach, you set YOURSELF up for success:
1. You are positioning yourself as someone they WANT to work with – someone who can help THEM succeed (not you – it’s not their job to care about your success).
2. You are positioning yourself with exactly the relationship that THEY want to create with their client. (Which sales rep would you want to represent YOU: ‘pushy & selfish’ or ‘helpful & in-it-for-you’ ?)
What I’m saying is this: in positioning yourself as a helpful consultant you make it about them, and that’s precisely what they are hiring you to do with their customers. Trust me, consciously or most likely subconsciously, it will translate. This is a NO LOSE situation. Your best case is you book super consistently, and your worst case is you are an absolute pleasure to work with, and casting will have you back again and again and again.
This premise is the basis of my business success, and my commercial booking success. In my commercial workshops, this is the fundamental understanding from which we must work. Once we have this, everything else falls into place, because we fully understand the context of the situation we’re in when we’re in that room in front of the camera.
The acting becomes easy. By the way, I’ve never changed my acting one iota from Commercial to Film to Television, or to Stage. Anyone who suggests that you need to doesn’t fully understand.
Once that premise is locked in, and used as the basis of an empathetic understanding of the jobs of the many many people involved in the chaotic high risk nightmare of decisions and execution that is the production of commercials, IT BECOMES SO EASY. You enter the room as the least nervous person there. Your stakes are always so much lower. Assuming you’ve done your homework and understand the sales pitch of the commercial, and like all professional actors, you are working hard on your acting and have excellent technique, you are in a position to be of service.
Because you understand the entire process, you are in a position to make it about them. Because you are in a position to make it about them, you are able to stay out of your head and do your work. Because you are able to do your work, the audition itself is easy. Because the audition is easy, you are viewed as an expert.
Because you are an expert who is there invested in their success, they trust you, they like you, and they want to buy from you. Your job is done. Book or not, you’ve just had a completely successful audition.
And THAT is the thing about booking commercials.
Thanks for reading, hope this can help you. Please share your questions and comments. The main reason I’ve been successful (besides my constant exploration of acting itself of course) is because I genuinely care about the success of those around me. I am truly invested in this industry, and in you, my fellow actor. I’m at your service.