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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!

 

 

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.

Hacking Video Interviews

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LyndaAmyInterviewingCoupleYou’re on deadline and need a great sound bite from your boss for the new podcast. Or you’re building a long-form documentary and are interviewing an expert. Or you’ve got five minutes till broadcast and are trying to get a moment with a VIP. Whatever kind of interview you are producing can be made a little easier with a few simple techniques.

  1. Make Your Subject Comfortable. It seems obvious, but often the interviewer is distracted by the crew chatting, the room getting uncomfortably warm, and the fact that, oh, a Camera is Pointed at Their Head. New low-heat lights prevent sweating, thank goodness. But there are many other little touches to keep an interviewee comfortable: hide as much equipment as necessary (I use silks in larger spaces, or just put things away in cases or adjacent hallways in smaller ones); place water on a small table at arm’s reach; Smile when you ask questions (unless you’re on 60 Minutes). And–not for the faint of heart–consider interviewing the person while they are doing something (working, driving, walking), since most people don’t just sit still and talk. These little things will go a long way towards making your subject feel and speak more naturally on camera.
  2. Familiarize Yourself With Content. Again, it seems obvious. But I can’t tell you how many times I hear an interviewer ask a basic question that they should have researched in advance. The result is your subject now thinks you’re an idiot, and you aren’t going to get the story you really wanted. Oh, and stop looking at your notes! Memorize them. Focus on making eye contact.
  3. Find Out Your Subject’s Learning Style. With a few quick questions in your warm-up chit-chat, or by watching previous interview footage, you may be able to discern whether or not your interviewee is a visual, auditory or kinesthetic learner. Why does this matter? Because the way you ask questions to each should be slightly different, and the kinds of answers you will get will be much richer and more useful when you do. More on this in my Lynda course The Art of the Interview.
  4. Plan a Story Arc, Be Prepared for Something Else. Ideally, your interview will follow a narrative arc. Within this arc, you’ll be gently guiding your subject along the path of the central story for your video—the introduction, the central theme or challenge, and the conclusion. Along the way, there will be meanderings, of course. But if you map out the story – not just bullet points for questions–you’ll be that much closer to building a better final video.

If you’re attending NAB this year, I’ll be presenting an In-Depth Session with the talented Director of Photography and Producer Eduardo Angel on How to Capture Great Interviews.  We’ll cover equipment, lighting, camera position, as well as interview techniques. We hope to see you there!

 

Do Tag Lines Matter?

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Labyrinth_HigherEdAmyDeLouiseBlogIn a word, yes. Especially in a hashtag- and keyword-based world. Of course, not every organization needs a tag line. The American Red Cross does not use one. But then, you know what they do and how they do it. Sometimes, the very best tag lines tell you why an organization does what it does.  In consultant-speak, this is called the “Vision” of the organization (as opposed to the Mission, which is the what and the how). So, your mission might be to feed the homeless, but your vision is a world without homelessness.  And that premise–and your passion about it–should underly your tag line.

The Salvation Army has a tagline:

Doing the Most Good®

It’s a little generic. But my guess is they decided to have this because the words “salvation” and “army” both carry heavy negative connotations. The word “good” by contrast, has a very warm and fuzzy feel to it. “Doing” demonstrates an active stance. “Doing good” could describe pretty much any nonprofit. By adding in “most” they are communicating effectiveness and efficiency–the best use of your money.

Many nonprofits less well known than The Salvation Army use a tag line to enhance identity and market positioning in a crowded space. Particularly if the name does not provide full clarity about their Mission or Vision.  One of my favorites is the tag for Common Cause: Holding Power Accountable.

When developing a tag line, there are three steps you can take to help you:

1. Define Your Brand Personality (smart, young, respected, edgy, etc.)

2. Define Your Vision (the way the world would be if you succeeded 100% in your mission) and what makes you so passionate about it.

3. Determine Your “Gap”–that is, the gap that might exist between what your name says and who you are, which is often the gap between what people know about you and what you WANT them to know about you.

Defining your message in just a few words can be a challenge, but a tag line can go a long way towards helping you define your identity in an ever-crowded marketplace.

Amy DeLouise consults on nonprofit branding, and produces digital content to promote those brands.

Fall Checklist

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Coming up next month, I’ll be speaking on two topics near to my heart: how to develop a personal “brand,” and how to design video projects for a longer, multi-platform life span.  Both of these issues are front and center as we all launch back into fall busy-ness. I find the need to re-assess my workflows and systems, to accommodate new technologies and new platforms for production and distribution. It’s also important to  keep building our professional reputations–often across those same social media platforms.

I’m also excited about my upcoming class The Art of the Interview, to be available on Lynda.com. Watch this space for more details and free preview links!

October 9 – Brand U: The Art of Personal Branding Networking Consortium, Washington, D.C.

October 17 –  Repurposing Your Video Content: Efficient Workflows & Strategies Interagency Visual Media Group, Bolling Airforce Base IVMG Conference

Budget Branding

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Nautilus-1 To quote @ScottMonty Global Head of Social Media at Ford Motor Company, “What’s the ROI of not putting your pants on in the morning?” He’s talking about social media marketing. But the same applies to branding. In other words, you can’t afford not to brand.

So if the ROI of good branding is huge, how do you minimize the costs?  Here are three cost-effective tools you can start using right away.

1. Email is Free Ad Space!

I often receive emails without any “signature” –what a lost opportunity! A signature line doesn’t just give you a chance to tell your name and title, it gives you space for a blog link, twitter hashtag for an upcoming event, or YouTube link to your latest video.  This simple free advertising can be employed unilaterally—and uniformly–across your organization. (Send a “signature of the week” email to everyone with easily copied info.)

2. Mine Your Own Content!

A tool everyone has, but rarely maximizes—is your own media library. Maybe because it’s not so much a library as a pile, a box, a series of files that no one can find.  Graphics, photographs, audio interviews or videotape footage–these all have sunk costs, and can be re-purposed for much less than the initial investment. The key is to use metatags and an archiving and workflow system that makes sense to everyone in your organization. Avoid those awful automatic names (IMG_001) by batch renaming–but always maintain the original name in the data. (Adobe Bridge is a handy tool for this, though there are many others. Here’s a “how to” video by my friend @richardharrington on how to do this.) But whether you use a sophisticated archiving system or a spreadsheet,   the ultimate cost savings to promote your brand is large, since you will avoid re-shooting or re-acquiring images or footage where something from your own “stock” library would work to tell the story.

3. Video Sells!

According to IndieGogo, “Crowdfunding pitches with video content raise 112% more than those without.” Video certainly is one of the top-most searched items on the web. But producing a branding video in-house can be daunting, and commissioning one to be made can be costly. So consider starting small, with a podcast. With just the investment in a digital audio recorder or a small digital camera, and some basic audio recording/mixing software (here),  you can give out some useful information, and cross-promote your organization’s other content–books, websites, conferences, upcoming events.

Just using these three low-cost or free tools can help you gain ground with your brand, which in turn can help you increase fundraising, sales, visibility, memberships or issue awareness.

4 Essential Tools for Your Brand Story

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Sky at Sunset 1. Compelling Images.  Photos have been proven to increase click-through rates, and video is a highly searched medium on the web. And most organizations have access to digital photography, and even can make their own video clips. But one of the downsides of the digital revolution is Volume. When helping organizations produce effective multimedia outreach, I’m often faced with trolling through literally millions of photos that an organization has taken during various events in order to find the ones that might be effective in a marketing or fundraising video. Try to have someone go through images as soon as they are shot—or have the photographer curate them and only send you the best selects. Consider opportunities to crop and focus on what really conveys your mission, who you serve and how you do it. Here’s a great resource on how to design and use still images more effectively, from Georgetown University’s Center for Social Impact Communication (CSIC)

2. Compelling People. Personal stories are one of the best ways to connect an audience to your content. But getting authentic video interviews can often be challenging, even for experienced interviewers, if you are forced to conduct interviews in a conference room or other impersonal space. So your interview technique is critical. In my Art of the Interview classes, I go in depth on some of the tools of the trade, but here are a few areas to focus on:

-Build rapport at the start of the interview—preferably before the person walks in, by conducting a phone pre-interview. But worst case, chat with them before they come into the room with all the lighting and cameras.

-Memorize your questions so you can maintain eye contact at all times with your subject

-Create a “story arc” so that there is a beginning, middle and end to your questions, and both you and your interviewee have a satisfying conversation

-Don’t interrupt—with your voice. Rather, if an interviewee is going on too long, you can break eye contact and get a little squirmy. This will let them know they need to stop, without ruining your audio track for editing.

4. Cross-platform Story Strategy. When starting a communications project, consider different iterations that could help different communities you can reach through different mediums. You might tweet a great photo of a successful well-digging project in Africa. A video clip of the same project can be posted to Youtube and your Vimeo channel.  If you can boil your story down to 6 seconds, consider Vine–the new app for iPhone (promising to be released soon for Android) that allows you to make and post mini-videos. (Here’s a good explanation of how to make this platform work from @Mashable.)  An extended video of how the project came about, with interview clips from the well-users can be showcased at your annual meeting. A teaser 20-second clip can become an email embed for a fundraising campaign. The list is as endless as your imagination and your ability to organize and plan at the Outset of production. You can make a planning form like this ADeLouiseStoryPlanDoc when mulling all the possibilities for a project.

4. Organized Media Assets. Cross-platform storytelling is all well and good, but the problem is often wrangling all those image assets from multiple sources throughout your organization. Most DSLR’s (and even many prosumer video cameras) will create non-unique and sort of gobbledegook (technical term) labels for your images that don’t tell you anything about them. Lovely stuff like IMG_4033 and DSC1050.MOV. You can use a number of software systems to batch rename your files so that they include the original name, but also some useful information such as the date shot and the initials of the photographer/videographer.

Adobe Bridge is a handy batch renaming and organizing tool. It comes with Adobe Creative Suite and can work with your photo and video assets too.

If you need something free, you can try the Amok Exif Sorter, which I haven’t personally used but comes with high marks from the “Mythbusters” guys.

Guns, “Nones” and $1’s: 6 Things You Should Know About Millennials

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Here are two stats about Milliennials that strike me as worth mentioning. #1: the under-30 crowd increasingly does not associate itself with any formal religion. (Pew Research 10/12 ).  #2 This same under-30 crowd has the lowest gun ownership, compared with all other age cohorts. (General Social Survey). Gallup-None-NPRGraphic2

ImageNow, a social scientist might say these trends are unrelated.  Ahh, but that’s where the storyteller/ branding aficionado in me begs to differ!   Rather than clinging to their guns and religion, it seems Millennials don’t particularly like associating themselves with the brands and organized institutions of the past.   They like to be independent thinkers. In fact, Millennials identify themselves politically as Independents, rather than D’s or R’s (another study).  

And while they don’t need any formal institution like a political party telling them what to believe or say, Millennials definitely keep up with their peers through social media. No, not Facebook you old boomer people.  I mean  Instagram, Tumblr, Reddit and Twitter.

But here’s another interesting stat: 71% of Millennials have raised money for/on behalf of a nonprofit. And for those who haven’t, the main reason is that NOBODY ASKED. Shouting, sorry. Image

What that says to me is Nobody Asked in a Medium They Pay Attention to, anyway. Also, they like learning about nonprofit opportunities from their peers. And they like to know that what they do or give will Actually Make a Difference (see my other posts on showing nonprofit impact w/video stories!)Image

So….if you want to reach Millennials, remember that they…

  1. probably won’t shoot you
  2. nor will they pray for you (at least, not in a formal place of worship)
  3. do like to think for themselves
  4. don’t necessarily like being Official Members of Organized Groups
  5. and if you want their time and money, please have one of their peers ask them nicely for it
  6. Oh, and show them your results please!

Brand on Fire: Congress Less Popular Than Head Lice

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3 Glass Bottles-1b sWhen a national opinion poll shows you’re less popular than root canals and head lice, you know your brand is in trouble.  Public Policy Polling’s just released poll on Congress found just that.

If your own brand is in trouble, what are some emergency measures you can take?

  1. Own it, don’t avoid it. “Yes we made a mistake, yes we’re going to fix it” has been proven time and again to work better than avoidance. Remember the famous Jeffrey Jarvis Dell Sucks fiasco.
  2. Use social media. If a customer calls you out on a mistake through social channels (i.e. comments on your website, Facebook page or Twitter), apologize directly through the same social channel and explain how you will solve the problem. That way, other customers see you take action. Take a page from the best online retailers here (Zappos, for example).
  3. Let authentic positive voices drown out negative ones. If you are being hammered by an outlier unhappy or even vengeful voice, engage your supporters to drown them out, rather than trying to take them on yourself. This can include encouraging (through other channels like email) your supporters to post positive comments, or even upload positive videos about their experiences with your product or organization.

Of course all of these suggestions only apply when the individual/company/organization takes responsibility for the quality of its work. Much as I love my hardworking friends who are staffers on the Hill, this may or may not apply to Congress as a whole.

Santorum Accidentally Boosts Higher Ed Brand

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Mr. Santorum’s “snob” remark about higher education is getting push back from surprising quarters.  That’s because millions of Americans look to higher education as a way to pull their families forward both economically, and in increased job satisfaction. While fewer than one third of Americans hold a B.A. or higher, 75% of Americans polled believe that a college education is “very important” in today’s economy. And 92 percent of public school parents believe that their children will go to college. (Both stats from Phi Delta Kappa/Gallup Poll, September 2010) That’s because they know intuitively the what many of us in my region show students through a program called Achievement Counts (AC), created by the  Maryland Business Roundtable for Education (yup, a group of business executives). That is, that with every year of schooling you get beyond high school, your job opportunities and income level increase. Despite his rhetoric, Mr. Santorum knows this, given the millions he’s made as a Washington, D.C. consultant with his B.A., J.D. and M.B.A.  When I’ve led these brief AC classes at my local high schools, I always poll the kids about what they want to be when they graduate. Many of them plan to play in the NBA or NFL.  “What if you get injured?” I ask, knowing it’s hopeless to make the case that a tiny fraction of American athletes could ever even qualify.  That’s when a light-bulb goes off for a few of the kids. If you like the science of the body and athletics, I say, consider getting trained in Physical Therapy, one of the fastest-growing careers in the country. (This requires a minimum Associates Dgree to be an Assistant, and a full B.A. and post-graduate work to become a PT.) Maybe it’s worth getting an accounting degree (B.A. and CPA license required), so you could help those NFL guys manage their millions. Maybe you might even want to go into business for yourself—so you could buy your own team one day!

Mr. Santorum’s father was an Italian immigrant. My dad’s grandparents immigrated from Italy a generation earlier.  And while my grandmother completed junior high and my grandfather elementary school, it was a point of great pride that they were able to send their son to college. He worked the entire time he attended Fordham University (run by the Jesuits, hardly the bastion of radicalism Santorum paints for campus life), driving a laundry truck to deliver linens to the fancy yachts at the docks on the river.  He told me once that while it was tough to get up so early to make his deliveries and still stay awake for classes, the job reminded him of the tedium he could avoid by getting that college degree. He went on to get a graduate degree from Columbia in Economics and worked as an economist his entire life.

The road through high school is hard for many kids. College is not for everyone. But getting a foothold in 21st century life requires more training than a high school degree can offer. Mr. Santorum knows it. And those of us who care about and work in the education field need to keep reminding Americans that higher education is a brand worth celebrating.