Gwyneth Paltrow and Reese Witherspoon emerged with media personal brands years after Oscar wins. Filmmaker and film score composer Nicole Russin-McFarland didn’t want to wait. She linked her website’s blog to syndication on Apple News and a special Google News subscription option. Today, her incredible entertainment journalism personal brand, CinematNIC, annually attracts many thousands of readers through the iPhone and Android news apps.
Thank you for sharing your media branding career tips today. Why do you think your readership numbers are surging?
The actual number is going to be my indie entertainment journalism in front of at least one million readers this year, based on how I started 2020. I do whatever old world media people say not to do. No printing press. No team of editors with trendy headlines. No clickbait. No awkward articles written up like human beings are living gods because they happen to work in Hollywood.
When I was younger, I wanted something both genders could read like Esquire but down to earth like Seventeen, and including more interviews with people who weren’t only promoting a new movie. For us to get to know the interview subjects better on camera. More interviews also with behind the camera people like directors and crew members creating special effects. And cooking here and there! That didn’t exist, so I created it on my own website, and the material gets syndicated out to the news apps.
What is your readership demographic?
Everyone of every gender and age group. The only commonality is they access my material through the apps. My impression is, people love reading while they eat breakfast, or on coffee and tea breaks. Film journalism and the stuff mixed into my material, like cooking and living life, do not have a demographic. We all relate to those topics.
What can anyone do to create a media personal brand?
Maybe you want to be a writer only writing what is in your heart, or a scientist with a media brand, a doctor with a media brand, a rapper who writes about music. Whatever you do, create your own impactful personal brand because an audience exists for it. Apologize for absolutely nothing you do. Be your own boss. Make that brand happen.
I was told millions of times I needed to promote unhealthy weight loss to men, or I had to ignore the ideas some actors wanted to talk about because brilliant thinking does not sell sex appeal. A couple of magazines paid me go away money and never published my work because I didn’t ask male film stars these horribly inappropriate bedroom questions; they wanted to talk the whole time about their love for raising children and feeling guilty as working dads, the good deeds they did for poor children, or science fiction’s questioning of humanity versus technology. A prominent magazine told me I couldn’t get paid to interview a really big deal director unless I had his film star talking about nonsense. As if this amazing man were a nobody without this genius that is his brain. I never gave that magazine my new e-mail address. This is the stuff you’ll deal with if you don’t create your own media brand. People with old fashioned, backwards thinking will say you can’t do it. Yes, you can do it. And if you’re like me, you will be pulling in readership numbers they wish they had.
Find the right platform for your material. Some people do outstandingly well with standard search engine hits and terribly on apps. Some writers do well with paywall systems like Patreon. Give YouTube a chance. Podcast away. You need to try and fail, a lot, or you’ll never find what works!
Why is a media brand important to you?
When people of the future remember me, I want my name to stand for something more. Having fun is human. Perfectly fine. I don’t want that to be all you know of me. My goal has long been to change the world with my art. Part of that can count journalism like me conducting interviews with people in the performing arts from this time period. To this moment, my favorite ever entertainment journalism has been Q&As with the brilliant minds behind the original two Terminator films.
Or my COVID-19 Virtual Video Time Capsule project I am currently working on, which is open to everyone of any profession from all over the globe. I want people to strip away the numbers we read in the newspapers, seeing the harsh reality of COVID-19, and the good ideas coming out of dealing with hardships.
As my career grows, I want my personal changing the future initiatives to grow with it. You’ll continue seeing recipes on there, my life updates, and occasional goofy stuff because I want to be the real me, but you will see plenty of things opening up discussions on tougher topics. Science. The environment. Human causes. Things that make you wonder. Dipping into filmmaking from the viewpoint of it affecting people or how it is made and not the standard “person sat down to promote a film” stuff. Getting to know my interview subjects so you understand how their work is what it is because of their personalities.
With the Internet, everyone has a platform. The more prominent your career grows, the greater that platform becomes. You have a choice. Do you use that platform for showing people your skimpy bikini collection every morning in another same old selfie, or do you make the most of what you have been gifted Like I said, selfies and all that are fun. I am human like the next person. I run a cat Instagram called @russincats. That fun side isn’t all there is to me.
My current and future work itself isn’t all of my existence, although yeah, it definitely is going to include my asking the audience questions or presenting general cultural ideas to them. Who am I? Who do I want to be? I have this theory you are never alone in the world if you connect with people out there. In the past when I did modeling and mostly awkward journalism I didn’t care about, I felt lost, surrounded by many people who I didn’t feel a connection for. I feel more alive today from the comforts of my kitchen talking to people creating films and ideas I love, and sharing my life with people on social media, than I ever did a day with bunches of people a decade ago, who I often felt were physically alive but no one was home upstairs.
How can people attract exciting interview subjects?
My advice works for any industry themed personal media brand you are creating. Birds of a feather flock together. Become that person with some starter material on your new website, and in your career. Being new is fine if you have a clear idea of who you are for the public. The first person who was so sweet to me in doing an interview for my website was Rodney Johnson, a film producer and screenwriter who wrote an Anna Nicole Smith cult classic film. A major magazine I blogged for was discontinuing its blog program and wiping our work off the web, so I took some of my work off there and placed it on my website.
This combo showed people I was serious about entertainment journalism. From there, I told a film director, “I want an interview with that guy,” this one person I thought was cool, and he made it happen. A very nice thing to do. And the rest is pretty easy for me nowadays. You ask people. Some are excited about reaching that many readers with me. Others are sadly turning me down, legitimately, because they have been burned by the press with this horrendous amount of bullying and think any additional interviews will fuel the mean people fire. And some are like, “Talk to me again when my next project comes out. I only do interviews when I have something to promote.”
Does being female makes things harder building a media brand?
No way. People are so used to hearing men’s voices on the phone and seeing men’s names in their inboxes. Your being female is like wearing 80’s workout clothes to a Wall Street board meeting. You don’t need to do anything to get someone’s attention. About once a year, you do meet an idiot mistreating you like people mistreat Elle Woods announcing she is going to low school in Legally Blonde, but for the most part, you don’t deal with that garbage, at the very least, not from the actual talent of people working on these beautiful films in front of and behind the camera. People are very welcoming. If anything, those negative entertainment industry stereotypes are based on mean secretaries and lower ranking corporate office people with attitude problems because they are in the presence of talented people. It’s like, “You aren’t those people. You work around them. Get the attitude problem when you become Ridley Scott. Oh right, you won’t. Because instead of creating career opportunities while you have this day job, you spend your days gossiping and being bitter towards any optimistic person who still has a future.”
Why did you make the seismic shift from a private personality as a quiet New York professional agency model to the most approachable living person in the film industry?
Seen but not heard? You mean, coming out of my little shell over the course of a slightly more than a decade? Yeah, I was constantly fearing what people would think of me were I in 2010 to be open with the media, and now look at me. I’ve become like a nice Midwestern girl type of Katie Price, and all I do is talk to people about everything! Including on my own website! I between formal interviews mix in personal things, like my work or life. My most read article so far of 2020 is how I was and still am mourning my shelter puppy who died of cancer. I only had him for seven months.
My plan early in life was sliding into a Hollywood career path quietly, from journalism where I was using all kinds of pen names at the same time I was with modeling agencies. Half or more of the journalism I was involved with didn’t align with who I am. I did it to get more clips and hated some of it. In Confessions of a Shopaholic, the lead uses a pen name to distance herself from her writing because she hates it. I’ve been there. Done that. If you must use pen names, or “staff writer” the most nameless pen name ever, you shouldn’t be doing that work.
The goal was, as a filmmaker and composer, having a Stanley Kubrick attitude, maybe somewhat less reclusive, of not caring about how I presented myself to the world. People would know my career and very little about me. I wouldn’t care about the press much. A few bad experiences of others trying to define my truth when I was in my early 20’s showed me, fame is the power every #metoo victim wishes he or she had, and certainly that includes me. Fame is the power to have a say in your career destiny. For people to know you, love the real you, and love your films and music more, and you can count journalism into that, knowing you do things from your soul. The final puzzle piece is knowing you.
In an Internet time period, you can’t get away with that. If you aren’t online and on social media, and your name isn’t George Clooney, the average person oddly thinks you are hiding something sinister. Everyone has some say as to who the real you is for as long as someone has a keyboard at his disposal. The written word is high on top of the most powerful peaceful weapons you own. To take away your view from the Internet is one form of removing your power. As I always say, only I write the screenplay to the movie that is my life story. My written word is the final word.
Do social media follower numbers matter to you?
No, because sometimes you’ll have a bunch of people who befriended you online ages ago. Maybe they didn’t log on in a year or more. The social media network one day wipes out those old accounts. It’s so annoying because people then think something of your numbers like the stock market! False. Readership, yes, numbers mean a lot. Numbers don’t mean everything on social media.
Reason number two, many of the people I have reached with my social media aren’t on social media, or if they are, they never use their social media accounts. People find what I am saying through looking around on my accounts. People who were part of making the films I loved as a young person or, now for that matter, are reading what I say and discussing it amongst themselves. That blows my mind. I am so grateful for what social media does bettering my life.
What changes in life when someone creates a personal brand?
You are now a public person. Whatever your actual career is, your being a brand means you don’t have the small life options someone has in being a private person.
Men with careers I admire always tell me how important your image is. Be sure to have a couple of photos of you looking what I call “cleaned up well,” meaning presentable, on the web. Smile in at least one photo. Nobody likes a sour grapes personality. If all people find of you online is party photos, that is the image they will have, this person who doesn’t take work seriously.
A successful film director told me how sometime in the future, people are going to chat me up whenever I go out to eat or shop and want a selfie or a handshake. A quick hello. I often won’t know them. And my choice will be, either I can present a good image of myself who is friendly, looks nice including if casually dressed, appreciates what people do supporting me, or I can be this awful person resenting the public who doesn’t look nor act like the image people have of me. I could look like my hair was electrocuted on a day off, or I could look casual but like a nicer version of me. Maybe a little pink lip balm to brighten myself up and looking sharp in my athleisure, packed with a smile and good attitude. One person will quickly spread the word of how I live up to his or her expectations. I could be that girl on a red carpet someday with an outfit the size of a paper bag for the short term shock value getting in the newspapers, or I could put on some fashionable clothes reflecting my personality that say, “I am a serous movie director and film score composer,” the clothes that many years from now, people will see my soul through. Because you literally do wear your heart on your sleeve.
I choose to be that positive image people take home of me. Notice I don’t say perfect. I say positive. Human beings can never be perfect. And, he said, you need to be doing that online. I said I already was. He said anything I already do, since being this shy bit friendly Midwestern chick is already my personal brand, I can be more of that real self than I have ever been. I can outwork everyone else and be the best at it.
To quote Mean Girls, like Regina George and the Plastics with how “everyone just knew stuff about you,” get used to people telling you about things they learned from your website or a ten second glance at your social media feed. Maybe a social media bio. YouTube! Deal with it. The most famous people in your industry are going to know everything about you before you realize they know you exist. They will tell you, “So you did this thing!” as if you’re 2004 Brad Pitt splashes on magazine covers. This is not exclusive to the film industry. If you happen to be a corporate person, expect everyone in your field to be curious with what you say and do online. I enjoy knowing people read my film reviews or industry interviews. That an industry person someone who isn’t on social media 24/7 bookmarked my website and loves my recent soup recipe.
Little things in human connections bring us back down to earth and that is more important than ever with how people are increasingly glued to their phones, lacking human connections. It beautifully proves, I may be living in the most anti-social time in history and can give the world a human connection through the web, this very thing everyone says is dividing us. It’s amazing. I have these amazing human connections with folks from around the world with the web! I like saying, people in the distant future too are my friends. I may no longer be alive centuries from now but will be remembered for my ideas, positive change, films and music I make, and this absolutely joy that I hopefully bring to the world.
If you want online privacy, don’t build a brand. Do not dare work in the corporate end of Hollywood, or New York and London high power corporate life. Don’t be a journalist out there with your work. Become a solo job person, think a truck driver alone in your rig up to Montana alone with nature and your thoughts. If the thought of human contact with fellow nice people asking “what’s up?” at a truck stop lunch drives you crazy, become an angry, anti-social weirdo with no family, pets, or friends. Join an Antarctic research facility where your only interaction is the angry penguins outside accusing you of eating all their raw fish. The first thing some of my non-film acquaintances tell me is, “Someone today said Googled me and said he came to my restaurant because he liked my Instagram.” People tell me they looked me up, liked what they say, and want to talk to me. In the past, some have hired me for freelance journalism because they liked my social media bio and glanced in a second at my cat photos. That is reality. If Stanley Kubrick were alive, he might have curious social media fans sharing stories of spotting him around England. You can’t escape the web. All you can do is make the most of technology as it evolves in our lives. Life is what you make of it.