Branding for Freelance Creatives

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Good communication is a top soft skill that can set you apart in a crowded field, and something I look for when hiring a DOP.

Everyone loves to talk about branding. But how do you brand yourself when you are self-employed?  There are a few strategies I’ve used over my years in the video production business that you might find helpful.  I’ll be incorporating these into a new Lynda.com course this year on being a successful creative freelancer. Let me know any specific branding questions you have, as I’d love to incorporate them into the course.

Why You Think People Hire You

Most freelancers promote themselves with the skills they think people are looking for. Their websites show software or tools mastered, areas of expertise, lists of equipment.  That’s fine. But did you know that your expertise is only a small part of why people hire you?  If I want to incorporate a fantastic animation sequence in my next video, I can choose from literally thousands of freelance designers working with all the latest software. What I need in addition to those skills and tools is someone who is a problem-solver, easy to work with, and a good communicator, as we are likely to have a lot of back and forth during the storyboard process.   If you are that person, then your portfolio page needs to communicate to prospective clients more than simply the last projects you worked on. They need to understand HOW you accomplished the work to be sure you’re a good fit for their new project.

Why People Actually Hire You

Soft skills is what we’re talking about here. So how do you incorporate “soft skills” into your branding? References from past clients are helpful–and guide them to talk about your “HOW” skills. Also be sure to describe the personal attributes and abilities that make you good at what you do. These might include your positive attitude, your communications skills, your ability to work with challenging personalities, or your ability to lead a team.  Case studies are another great way to explain the problem or creative issue was that you were presented with, and how you solved it for a client. Be sure to include soft skills in your resume along with lists of hard skills and gear. Also put them on your LinkedIn page and website. These are part of your unique brand value, and that’s what you need to be promoting!

 

 

7 Things Freelance Creatives Need Right Now

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As frBlue Glass c B. DeLouiseeelancers in the creative disciplines—graphic design, video, set design, etc.—we’ve got a lot on our plates. Every day we’ve got to be, well, creative out-of-the-box thinkers, able to leap small budgets in a single bound, staying on the bleeding edge of trends, and up on the latest hardware, software and teams that make it all possible. Plus we’ve got to run our businesses, paying our bills, invoicing our clients, and thinking strategically about our careers and where we want to go next. It’s a tall order.  Here are some ways we can break it down and get it done.

  1. Energize Your Creative Self. Take on a project outside your usual comfort zone. This might be a pro bono passion project (see #7 below). Or it could be a totally new approach to work with a regular client. Push your limits and create something you wouldn’t typically do.  Or check out work by others to inspire you. For example, this week I’m in New York City where it’s Design Week http://nycxdesign.com/ with all kinds of wonderful gallery and design-focused events.
  2. Connect to Creative Communities. Lots of independents get so busy with projects and life that we fail to make time for human connections. It’s too late to attend a networking event when you need the work. So get out and go to conferences, coffees and meet-ups. Get to know people in real life, not just in online communities. Real relationships are important, not just for business, but for our mental health as solo practitioners. Join a group like the aiga.org or www.wifv.org, www.aicp.com or www.asmp.org . If you are just getting started in your industry, many groups have a “junior” category with lower dues.
  3. Keep Learning. Take an online class. Attend a workshop. Read books and articles. Learn not just about the tools of your particular trade, but the fields that connect to your work. As a filmmaker, when I learn more about audio mixing, I’m going to do a better job directing field audio on my next shoot. As a filmmaker who’s been in the business for…ahem…awhile, I especially need to keep pushing myself to expand my horizons. It’s one reason I teach classes on lynda.com –to teach something you have to be sure you are up on the latest and greatest.
  4. Share. The corollary to learning is sharing. Share with your online communities. Share with your professional association. Share with a mentee. One of my favorite creative directors always has something interesting to share through his twitter stream. I’m much more likely to want to work with someone I can learn from.
  5. Give Back. Volunteer for the organization you join related to item #2. Or volunteer to speak on Career Day at your local school. Or mentor someone coming along in your business. Whatever you give, you will get back a thousand fold. I know it’s cliché, but it’s true!
  6. Get Tools. I see so many creative stuck in workflow of tools past. Don’t. So you used to edit on AVID but now you need to learn Adobe. I’m super-comfortable designing content to shoot with a C-series camera or FS-7, but now I’m pushing myself to develop storytelling that can leverage the power of 360 VR like this.
  7. Charge Appropriate Rates. I have left this one for last. Let’s face it, we creatives hate dealing with money. It’s not why we got into this work. Despite flat wages and the constant dilution of our various industries, we need to support one another by charging a living wage. When I see someone posting on a professional list-serve that they are looking to hire (fill in the blank creative position) at (half the standard industry day rate), I want to shout “doooon’t do it!” to all respondees. Sure, if you’re new to the biz and building your portfolio, you can discount your rate. But don’t go too far. For one thing, people tend to value your work by the value you assign to it yourself. For another, we’re all in this together.

 

Amy DeLouise is a video director-producer and author, and occasionally an industry speaker.

 

Branding Tips for Creative Freelancers

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The brand word gets thrown around too much. What does it actually mean when you’re a freelancer in creative work? If you’re a photographer, art director, graphic designer, video producer or editor, how do you establish your brand versus that of other folks who use the same tools you do and have similar skills?

Why You Think People Hire You

Most freelancers promote themselves with the skills they think people are looking for. Their websites show software mastered and lists of equipment owned. That’s fine. But this is just the basics. Loads of your competitors have these skills. What clients want to know is what PROBLEMS you can solve for them. So to properly brand and sell yourself, you need to consider what sets you apart.

Why People Actually Hire You

When pitching yourself, describe the personal attributes and abilities that make you a good problem-solver. It might be your positive attitude, your communications skills, your ability to work with challenging personalities, or your ability to lead a team. This is your unique brand value, and that’s what you need to be promoting!

What About My Portfolio?

More and more, prospective clients want me to show them a video that is pretty much like what they want to hire me to produce. This is a tricky problem. I’d love to show them my skills as a director and concept creator for a wide range of productions. But they might not understand how a 5-minute video about a hospital is relevant to their 1-minute opener for a corporate event. So I post custom links to Vimeo–sometimes even password protected–so they can see just the  projects that connect to the problem they want to solve. And I sometimes have to generate a set of brief storyboards to convey my concept for their project. More on that in a future post!

For more about branding, follow my tweets @brandbuzz or join me at NABShow where I’ll be speaking about Essential Business Skills for Freelancers at Post/ProductionWorldatNAB

Freelancer Tips Amy DeLouise

 

 

 

 

Ram Tough Branding to Women

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Women are Ram tough. That’s the message from Ram Truck’s newest commercial “The Courage is Already Inside” featuring women doing hard things. It’s a well-produced and welcome message in the usually testosterone-obsessed truck segment. (Dodge has even produced some negative portrayals of women, notably in its Charger commercial during Superbowl 2010.)

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tbHGYYD5MFM

As many of you readers of my blog know, I am a car-lovin’ gal, and so whenever there’s a convergence of great branding and car stuff, I’m all ears and eyes.  This new ad from The Richards Group agency caught my attention. Directed by Jaci Judelson, the spot breaks new territory in car marketing to women. Judelson’s images are gritty, nuanced, and human. She has worked on Dove’s “Real Women” series, among other commercial ventures, and directed the new Sundance series Single Stories.  Marketing to women has come a long way.  And by positioning this brand to appeal to strong-minded women and men, Ram is leading the charge.

 

Amy DeLouise is a nonfiction Director/Producer and consults and speaks on branding, marketing, and digital storytelling. Join her with fellow speakers at GVExpo December 1st and 2nd at the Washington DC Convention Center.

Brain Chemical Connects Us to Human Stories

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When we watch cSigning a Checkharacters on the screen, why do they make us laugh or cry? And why does one story make us want to support a charity or social cause? It turns out compelling human stories trigger a chemical response in our brains. Neuroscientist Dr. Paul Zak has been studying the neurochemical oxytocin for years, and learned that humans have a chemical response similar to animals when we find another human trust-worthy: a spike in our oxytocin makes us feel connected to another human being. Even when watching the human on a screen, this response is triggered—what Dr. Zak calls the golden rule response: “if you treat me well, in most cases my brain will synthesize oxytocin and this will motivate me to treat you well in return.”

Most recently, Dr. Zak conducted a study with several short films from St. Jude’s Hospital. When viewers connected with the characters in a short film about a father whose young son is dying of cancer, they had an increase in cortisol and oxytocin. That chemical boost ran parallel to feelings of empathy with the characters, which was increased when there was a strong “narrative arc”—a powerful dramatic rise and climax to the real people story line.

This doesn’t come as a big surprise to those of us working in nonprofit direct response and impact story-telling. We know that to get donors to give and communities to care, we have to tell powerful stories. We know that viewers must connect emotionally with our characters, just as they would with characters in a fiction film. We do this through not just their words and images, but through lighting techniques, music scoring and the pacing of our edits. But building empathy isn’t enough. We have to create a dramatic arc that builds to a climax. We have to create suspense around some kind of obstacle that the characters must overcome, whether it is in their past or present. And our viewers have to relate to that obstacle, even if it is not precisely the same for them.

This is why pre-interviewing potential characters is so essential for documentary-style stories based on real people. Before they go on camera, we need to understand what will be compelling, what will not be relatable, and what will build suspense for our viewers.  And now it turns out that what we’re also doing is triggering those chemical responses in the brain that will make our subjects and their story connect to the brains of our viewers.  In the case of nonprofit storytelling, we need those chemical responses to be strong, because we are usually looking for a response that extends to well after the video ends: we want a viewer to get involved in a cause, donate money, write to their elected officials, or change some previous behavior (stop smoking, lose weight, etc). So it turns out that all these years I thought I was an English major-turned-filmmaker, it turns out that I’m in the neuroscience business: triggering a brain response that helps people act on the golden rule, and do great things for others and the world.

Amy DeLouise is a director and producer who tells real people stories to help viewers connect with causes and take action.

Wrinkles and the Income Gap

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Photo taken at a distance so you can't see the wrinkles!

Photo taken at a distance so you can’t see the wrinkles!

When my husband lost his job in the 2009 recession, we cut all non-essential expenses. But even after he was still looking 9 months later, I held off on cancelling my mail-order wrinkle cream. It seemed like giving up on the dream of staying put in the middle class. (My other dream to get rid of spider veins did go on hold, however, since that would cost thousands not covered by insurance, least of all our only-if-you-get-hit-by-a-bus stop gap plan.) My husband did finally get a job. But now I’m eying the wrinkle cream as a possible budget cut now that our older son is headed to college in a year.

And so, like many other Americans—mostly women—my face tells you my economic story: it’s OK, but it could be a lot better.

Like many families, we are working harder to stay in the same place. According to most statistics (CBO, etc) real family income for the vast percentage of us has been dropping since the 1970’s. During the same period, plastic surgery for the upper income –and even upper middle—group has grown exponentially. More than 14.6 million procedures in 2012, according to the American Society of Plastic Surgeons (ASPS). Americans spend more than $14 billion A YEAR on cosmetic surgeries and procedures. And boomer men are getting in on the action in order to “stay in the game”—i.e. find and keep meaningful work.

But apparently there’s hope for all of us without deep pockets to rejuvenate our looks and keep our visual brand young. Just as you can finance a college education, a house or a car, you can get financing for plastic surgery procedures! More than $1 billion of procedures every year is financed by companies such as medical credit cards (low intro rates, then they hit you with interest and fees), unsecured medical loans or even special doctor payment plans. Maybe there’s a face lift in my future after all?

Amy DeLouise, wrinkles and all, is a multi-media producer and branding consultant.

 

It is Worth Being a Content Creator?

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Amyonthedollyweb2“If you can help it, don’t be a creator. Be the exploiter. They get rich.” That’s the advice of Keith Giffen as told to the New York Times. He’s an artist and author who co-created with Bill Mantlo the Marvel comic character Rocket Raccoon now featured in “Guardians of the Galaxy,” a film that grossed $172 million in its first four days of release. Neither creator was notified that the movie was in production, let alone given a piece of the revenue pie. (And only due to the efforts of fans, his brother and his attorney has Mantlo now received any financial benefit.)

Like comic book artists and writers and a vast majority of my fellow content creators—artists, writers, filmmakers, graphic designers—I often work under contract in work-for-hire arrangements that don’t include residuals for the use of our creations in the future. In the 1970’s, when Giffen and Mantlo created Rocket Raccoon, the only downstream uses for those characters might have been TV or movies. Today, content can appear on dozens of platforms in social media, apps, e-Books, and online videos, to name just a few distribution outlets. And “television” itself has diversified beyond the networks to include Netflix and Hulu to Amazon Prime, alongside myriad cable channels. If you can exploit these distribution channels for content, then yes, there’s a big up-side financially. (And as any investor in a film or book property can tell you, there’s also risk.)

Where I disagree with Giffen is his implicit suggestion that content creators can’t also be the same people who exploit their works. Sure, it’s hard to make such a deal when you’re just getting started. But I know many experienced content creators who’ve developed what I’d call hybrid deals. For example, I work with a composer who is often in a work-for-hire arrangement. For a reduction in fee, we can agree that he may re-work any melodic themes created for my project for one of his future compositions. Depending on the distribution of my show, we might create a “waiting period” before he can do this. So he can exploit his composition more than once, in effect. Another hybrid example is my own content.  I develop workshops, then sometimes get paid a fee to teach a customized version of them at conferences or retreats. I then might rework that content again for publication with a royalty arrangement, such as in my recent course on The Art of the Video Interview for Lynda.com. I am essentially exploiting my own original content for multiple distribution platforms and audiences.

In a multi-platform, multi-media world, we content producers have to become more saavy about exploiting the value of our own creations, talking Raccoons and beyond.

Some of Amy’s work-for-hire and original content can be seen on Vimeo.

Research to Target Content for Better Impact

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3 Glass Bottles-1b sGetting applause for your content isn’t enough. So while Facebook and YouTube likes are nice, it’s more important to know if you are engaging the right community, and causing them to change knowledge, beliefs and attitudes—the precursors to behavior change. You can use embedded polling, an online survey, a focus group or a full-blown pre/post study—anything that will give you some data to make decisions about what kind of content to create, and how to deliver it more effectively.

There are plenty of great tools out there to help you discover what motivates your audience.

—  www.websurveycreator.com

—  http://kwiksurveys.com/

—  www.surveymonkey.com

—  http://www.google.com/drive/apps.html#forms

—  http://www.zoomerang.com/

—  http://www.surveygizmo.com/

—  http://polldaddy.com/

—  http://www.formsite.com/

—  www.constantcontact.com

www.batchgeo.com    also helps you map your data–literally, on a map! (although it wouldn’t let me put US and international locations on the same map, hmm.)

Don’t forget you can also survey in person. For example, here are the results of a quick in-class survey from my workshop on Researching Your Audience for Better Content Impact this morning at #NABShow in Las Vegas. Thanks to my terrific—and, as you’ll see, geographically diverse—participants, we had a great session.

Sample size: 37

Average age: 36

US Geographic Diversity  

Geo Diversity Amy's NAB Research ClassTop reasons for coming to #NAB: Checking out post production technology, trans media, gear: camera, lighting and audio; digital publishing ; how to develop engaging material for internal audience; how to get more views on content; discover what production is like outside our country.

 Amy DeLouise is a content producer who cares about research and speaks at major conferences and events. She tweets @brandbuzz.

 

 

 

4 Easy Ways to Fix This Donor Thank You Video

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Thanking donors through video has become increasingly popular. Too bad this effort from my alma mater falls flat.  Here are 4 ways to improve this student “thank you” from Yale. You can easily incorporate these strategies in your next video project.

1. Authenticity.  If the purpose of the video is to make donors smile, then it’s a fail. That’s because the students have obviously been asked to “look at the camera and say ‘thank you’.” We feel their awkwardness. Even throwing in the mascot dog doeLyndaAmyInterviewingCouplesn’t help. There’s a much better way to coax great performances out of non-performers. Have some conversations before you start filming. Don’t tell them exactly what to say. Give them context. Ask them some other questions first.  Ask questions that elicit the answer you need (“what would you tell a donor who made it possible for you to have heat in your dorm this winter?) rather than asking the subject “when I say go, say thank you”.

For more interview techniques, see my course on Lynda.com (The Art of the Interview). Here’s a snippet about building rapport.

2.Depth of Field. Every shot has students plastered against the same stone wall. What a missed opportunity to show off the campus and the students in their “natural habitat”! Lenses aren’t just fancy add-ons. They are vital storytelling tools. By adding context in the background of a subject, you convey meaning and increase impact on the viewer.Lynda2Amy

3. Energy.  Adding motion to the camera, and multiple camera angles, makes a HUGE difference in the energy and impact of a video.  Who knows why the Yale videographer felt he or she couldn’t move from that one spot. But one easy way to add energy would be following some of the subjects down the walkway (which would automatically create depth of field as we’d see action in the background).  I love having subjects talk while walking (or driving). Having different students pop up in a variety of places–the library, from behind a tree, from inside a classroom–would have added all kinds of energy to this piece. Plus alumns would have had a fun walk down memory lane seeing all these locations.  In this video about a Rabbi, we shot him walking, driving, leading prayer, on the telephone—all things he does in his very busy days.

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_fhEu3JAAiY]

4. Music. Music has a big impact on the impression your video makes. It affects edit pacing and rhythm. While the laid-back guitar vibe of the Yale piece is nice for a Friday afternoon Frisbee game, it doesn’t convey the dynamism of student life.  A catching music theme–and more variety in camera angles– leads to  (millions!) more views of this flash mob video from Ohio State (though I’m guessing they didn’t get music licensing rights for the song)

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HDNOB6TnHSI]

So before you launch into a “quick” video for any purpose, think about how you can use these 4 simple tools to add impact.

Amy DeLouise is a producer and consultant who has created hundreds of videos for fundraising and education.

Five New Year’s Resolutions for Promoting Your Brand

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Yellow Hibiscus, Red Center 7_IGP0786 s.c Is updating your brand part of your 2014 New Year’s resolutions? Here are five ways to boost your brand recognition this year.

 1. Improve Social Media Engagement.  Google’s new algorithm not surprisingly puts the focus on Google +1’s. AccordingWishpond’s James Scherer (@JDScherer) writing for SmartBrief’s social media blog “While links are still incredibly important, equally important (and in the +1’s case, more important) are social endorsements such as Facebook likes and shares, LinkedIn shares, tweets and Pinterest pins.”   Building in ways for your donors, your followers, or your customers to engage with you and create those ever important endorsements is essential. Consider special discounts for conferences and events, or unique content for Twitter or Facebook followers to make the new SMO work for your brand.

2. Bring Your Executive Team on Board in Social Media. Gone are the days when your intern writes your blogs and Facebook posts. Customers and donors expect to follow the CEO’s twitter feed and get an insider perspective. Let the Thought Leaders in your institution–your C-Suite team and your Board leaders–build your brand by engaging in social channels. Sure, you can help them out with suggested themes, samples , and optimal timing around key events and product roll-outs. But their insider perspective and authentic voice is essential. A polished, corporate example is Bill Marriott’s On the Move blog. A slightly more irreverant blog is DuetsBlog, which belongs to a law firm. Ford’s chief digital communicator, Scott Monty, has a twitter feed worth emulating (@ScottMonty). But the examples you can offer are as endless as the kinds of personalities in your leadership circle.

3. Ask Movers and Shakers to Tweet About You. The tweet is the modern equivalent of getting an autograph, but more useful for your brand. When one of my nonprofit clients gave a facility tour to Justin Bieber (and encouraged him to tweet about it, which he did), they got 10,000 new followers in a matter of hours. Find out if any key personalities(or well-connected board members) are already known to your institution and encourage that they will Tweet, post on Facebook or blog about you.  And yes, specifically ask them to do it!

4. Make Your Video Content Multi-Platform Friendly. Right now, H.264 is still the go-to codec, but H.265 is on the way. And yet many organizations are still shooting standard def or stuck in the land of Flash.  If you want your content to be mobile- and web-friendly, make it a priority to upgrade your acquisition and output specs. For new content, shoot in High Def, at 1080p (29.97 frame rate, or 24fps which looks nicer in many cases and saves you some file space) for maximum flexibility and image quality. This larger acquisition size takes up more space, but storage is cheap. Whereas having your fabulous web fundraising video look horrible and pixelated at your annual conference could be an expensive mistake.

5. Multi-cast Your Content. Now it’s easy to share branded videos not just through Facebook, iTunes and YouTube, but also through Podcast Alley, MeFeedia, and more.  You can even reach the television-viewing audience by doing a direct-to-TiVO distribution. This allows you to bring more eyeballs to your content, and syndicate your branded content across multiple delivery platforms.

Merry Branding and a Happy New Year!

Amy is a frequent speaker, workshop leader, and an author on Lynda.com .