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Why It’s Worth Hiring Professionals for your Web Video

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Can you believe it was just 2005 when YouTube was invented? Since then, millions of companies, nonprofits and government agencies have seen the impact of telling their stories through video.  And with so many tools–from iPhone cameras to Videopad Video Editor–you can do it yourself.  So why bother hiring a professional video production team?  Consider these:

1. Time.  Good story-telling and mastering the technical tools to make it possible can be much more time-intensive than most people realize. Typically I spend a minimum of 100 hours on a 5-6 minute video project, but often more. The work starts with developing the concept and script, but also includes selecting the right people to be part of the story and the best technologies to deliver the content. You’ll have more time to do your real job if you are overseeing others doing this work, but not actually doing all the tasks yourself (like logging footage for editing–a real time suck!). You’ll also be in a better position to make the Decisions That Matter–like What are the key values of your organization (your brand story), Who is the target audience you want to reach, What do you hope to achieve with the video and How will you measure your success?

2. Quality. A professional video production team has decades of experience that can maximize impact for budget. Areas of expertise include: creative direction, writing, storyboarding, camera equipment and lens options, sound recording and equipment selection, interviewing techniques, lighting design, set design, casting, makeup, music licensing, voiceover artist selection and direction, editing (absolutely Huge part of good storytelling!), motion or still graphics design, audio mixing, etc.  Every one of the decisions of the team will impact the final production, so choosing the right team leader (the Director/Producer) and the right person on your team to manage that person (your Communications Director, or a point person on your team who can help funnel decision-making) is a big and important decision for your team to make.

3. Dependability. Hiring a professional team should give you a dependable workflow and schedule for your project, even if it means shooting in your office and working around other people’s schedules. By hiring people who must show up for shoots and edits on a certain timetable, rather than depending on colleagues who have other work to deliver, you can ensure you hit your upload deadline on time.

4. Flexibility. A quality professional team should ask a lot of questions at the outset so they understand what the final deliverable format(s) are optimal. If you want flexibility–to put something up on the web as H.264 video, but also compress it for mobile web and Also be able to use it on a big screen at your next annual meeting–you’ll need the team to know that and “bake it in” to the acquisition specs and workflow for the project.

The big downside to hiring an outside production team is, of course, cost. A professionally produced 5-6 minute video costs $2,500 per finished minute on the low end, and goes up from there depending on number of shoot days/locations, complexity of editing and graphics, professional talent, etc. But often people don’t consider the hidden “opportunity cost” of do-it-yourself work.  Such costs can include: not properly formatting video, so it won’t play on your site or on mobile web; not properly licensing music so that you are at risk of being sued or having your video pulled down; having the production take many more hours to create, because the folks creating it have to learn the craft as they do it; losing sight of the goals of the production, because everyone on your team is too busy to consider the big picture. Not to mention losing sight of your actual job!

The upside to do-it-youself is–well–you get to have the fun of creating a great and compelling story and bringing it to a wider audience.

Taking a Page from Downton Abbey

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labyrinth copyright B.DeLouise120 Million viewers worldwide. It’s an enviable demographic, let alone for a PBS show. Downton Abbey has proven to be the most-watched Masterpiece series in history, with fans from China to Norway to Brazil.  What makes it work? According to creator Julian Fellowes, who won the screenplay Oscar for Gosford Park, it’s the universality of its themes. While factually British, “most of the stories are about emotional situations that everyone can understand” he told the New York Times in a recent story.  

When I’m asked what videos work best for social web (and also for live events)—I say the same thing: bring the audience into emotional situations they can relate to, even aspire to. Whether you are promoting a charity or a membership association, a corporate enterprise or a commercial product, your video needs to connect to your viewers/donors/buyers on a personal level. Videos that get the most shares, embeds, likes and forwards are usually those with a first-person storyline, authentic voices, in relatable situations. They don’t include “an introduction from the CEO,” nor are they heavily branded with logos and taglines.

So here are a few Do’s and Don’ts for your 2013 video projects, based on the wildly successful Downton formula:

  1. DO use the number of characters people can follow for the length of viewing. Downton has about 15 characters, but it is a weekly, 90-minute drama; so if your video is only 90-seconds long, don’t include 5 interview subjects! Try no more than 3 people per 120 seconds, for a max of 6 in a 10-minute show (which is too long anyway).
  2. DON’T use your CEO, Board Chair or other head honchos on camera unless they are funny, or willing to be seen in an unconventional or even unflattering light (a la CBS’s “Undercover Boss” or the IBM spoof of The Office “Mainframe: The Art of the Sale”).
  3. DO find compelling “plot lines” that show your organization’s effectiveness in real situations or highlight the reason your product or charity exists.
  4. DO be willing to let your viewers contribute their own ideas and provide opportunities for them to follow your “characters” in other online and offline venues.
  5. DO put as much production value (i.e. budget) into your video as you can possibly afford—people notice, especially in HD.
  6. DON’T be afraid to be traditional—just do it well!

Video Messaging Best Practices

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  1.   Connect Your Videos to Your Brand. That doesn’t mean you have to mention your organization or company every 10 seconds in your next web video. In fact, studies show that indirectly branded video content goes viral at a faster rate. But the stories you create should still be meaningful and connected to your overall brand story. If the video lives somewhere other than your website, such as Vimeo or YouTube, be sure you have some kind of tag and call to action at the end, so people know how to reach you/donate to you/take action on your issue.
  2. Know Your Target Audience. Think about sub-demographics and what kinds of content appeal to them.   Also consider the viewing environment for the video. One size doesn’t fit all, so plan ahead to create multiple versions of your content that are most appropriate for each target and viewing situation. If your story has multiple parts/levels, consider breaking into smaller pieces and placing the content with different headings, links, and keywords in order to attract the right audience.
  3. Invest Now for More Rewards Later. Many organizations make the mistake of thinking that if something is going to appear on the web, it can be produced on a shoestring because it’s a one-use item.  To the contrary, every penny you spend should be powerful, credible, and the source material can be useful downstream. But only if you’ve bothered to a) create it at a decent quality, and b) organize it so that more than one editor/producer can find what they need.  Having transcriptions made of interviews and keeping the PDF’s with the footage is very helpful. So is tagging all “b-roll” with keywords of time, location, and content.
  4. Shorter is Usually Better. In live event or conference environment, audiences can enjoy videos of 5-8 minutes in length. When viewing your video on the web, in a tiny box–most likely while it is competing with other content on the screen–a viewer will only tolerate 1-2 minutes of content. Mobile web viewers actually can be willing to watch content for longer, presumably because they are “stuck” using a mobile device rather than a larger screen. Either way, make every second count, using visuals, music, audio, graphics–everything at your disposal–to make a message with impact.
  5. Measure Impact. Speaking of impact, measure it! So many organizations produce video content without a handle on whether or not it is effective. Plan a way to find out. It could be counting how many venues you can locate posts with a link to your video. It could be a short email survey to a random sampling of people who received your web link via email. At live events, you can ask people to use a hashtag to tweet something about your content. Or you can drill down into data already provided by You Tube, Google, or other online services.  Number of hits is less relevant than what viewers DID after viewing your video.

Ask the Right Questions to Create Web Video with Impact

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With YouTube now the second most-used search engine, plus the exponential rise of mobile web and convergence technologies, organizations realize that producing video content is as important as updating the website. Here are a few key questions you need to answer to be sure your video has impact.

1.  How does the video fit with your brand? You have a great story—someone touched by your organization, or some important piece of information that needs to be disseminated to the public, a hilarious short video sure to get loads of follows. Great. But how does it fit into your overall brand plan? Will your name or the name of a particular product/service be mentioned? Do you want people to take some kind of action, linked to a new product roll-out or campaign? Are you trying to promote organizational recognition? Gain new supporters? Engage the existing ones?  What will support the video content? (i.e. direct mail and/or email campaigns to drive traffic?)  Will there be other lives for this content (see #4)?

2.  Do you know your target audience? Or, as often happens, do you have too many audiences for this video and need to break it up into multiple streams of content?  Think about sub-demographics and what kinds of content appeal to them.   If your story has multiple parts/levels, consider breaking into smaller pieces and placing the content with different headings/links in order to attract the right audience.  If your story has multiple parts or levels of detail, consider breaking into smaller pieces and placing the content with different headings/links in order to attract the right audience.

3.  Can you afford what you need? Can you afford not to produce this well? It’s like what your mother once told you about buying a dining room set–buy the best you can because you want it to last. Many organizations make the mistake of thinking that if something is going to appear on the web, it can be produced on a shoestring because it’s a one-use item.  To the contrary, every penny you spend should be powerful, credible, and the source material should be useful in multiple ways. For example, if you have an interview-driven story, outtakes can be used for other projects. So can the background footage (“b-roll”). My personal preference is to shoot high definition, widescreen video because it makes a bigger impact when it is compressed for the web, since it degrades less.  But whatever your format, a polished production, professionally produced, will also allow you to “multi-purpose” the end-product more reliably, pulling parts for your website, your intranet, an email campaign, or a large-screen projection at a major donor event.   Many organizations have effectively teamed their in-house capabilities with outside vendors to achieve both cost efficiencies and good quality.

4.  Is it short enough? I produce a lot of short form projects for live event venues, but these are not short enough for the web, where the average drop-off comes after 90 seconds. When watching an event production, the audience is engaged together, with a common mission and few distractions. When someone watches your video on their laptop, desktop or mobile device, chances are there are other distractions in the room.   So make every second count. That means using visuals, music, audio, graphics–everything at your disposal–to make a message with impact.  And then cut the length in half.

5.  Are you prepared to measure impact? So many organizations throw video on the web and then have no real method for measuring its impact beyond views.  What is the drop-off rate? Where does it happen? Where do people go next after viewing? Do they return? If you can’t answer these questions, you’re losing valuable insights to help you refine your approach the next time.

Join me for social media and video production workshops at NAB/Las Vegas.

Lowering the Cost of Brand Promotion

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Columns and Arches sPromoting a brand in a recession is a challenge. Budgets are slimmed. Staff are trimmed. And you don’t have much time to pull campaigns together.  But consider trying what wardrobe stylists have recommended for years before spending a lot on new services—“shop in your own closet”!

What do I mean by this? Well, you may already own the best tools to promote your brand:  pre-existing photo and video content. This archival content is a gold mine that can be re-purposed to promote your organization and your brand in advertising campaigns, newsletters, YouTube and website videos.

Finding Your Content

You’re not alone if you are having trouble locating your existing content.  This summer, NASA released its “restoration” of the 1969 moonwalk video–restored because they actually lost or destroyed the original footage of the most important event in the agency’s history.  You probably have video or photographs of important achievements by your organization. But do you know where they are? And are they in a format you can now use?  Here are some ways you can improve this resource so it is just a click away from helping you be cost-efficient in your brand marketing.

Tips to Make Access Easy

  1. Identify key people and events that are essential to your product, service or mission.
  2. Locate photographs of these items.
  3. Scan stills that are not digital. Be sure to scan at high enough resolution (at least 300dpi for video, even higher for print) to use for print and video projects.
  4. Organize photos into folders on your server that are easily accessible to others throughout the organization and share a list of what you have available.
  5. Be sure you own the copyrights to these images, and have the permission of people featured and indicate in the file any photo credits required.
  6. If you want to be able to share photos with outside consultants, ad agencies or press, consider a software package such as Portfolio by Extensis or Cumulus from Canto.
  7. Create an index of your videotapes. Archiving video for in-house editing departments could fill another blog post, so I won’t get into those details here. But even if you don’t edit in house, you may have boxes of tapes you don’t know what to do with. You may only have consumer copies of videos you hired others to produce (i.e. DVDs or VHS). Or you may have some Betacam-SP tapes—a professional format that is just beginning to phase out–hanging around the office.  It’s best to organize these according to Source Footage (the original tapes shot in the field) versus Final Masters (or copies). It’s easier to use source footage to create new products, but sometimes masters or even consumer copies can be used.  At the very least, create a spreadsheet that lists each of your tapes, the date they were made, and a rough idea of the content (i.e. who was interviewed). Even a basic Excel spreadsheet will be searchable. Or you can get more sophisticated with various video archiving software tools, especially if you have an in-house editing system.
  8. If you have the capability, digitize mini-clips of the video footage you are most likely to need, such as an important CEO speech, highlights of a recent event, etc., so folks who might need to access them have a sense of what’s available.

Future-Proofing

  1. Moving forward, make sure you acquire video and photos in the highest possible quality, so they can be multi-purposed easily. Save video masters in digital codecs that are not going to change with the latest technologies (such as loss-less animation codec or MPEG-4) as opposed to tape formats.
  2. Have a process in place so that anyone who acquires video or photos for your organization sends originals or copies to your communications/marketing department so that they can be catalogued and archived for future use.

Your archival media is connected to your brand marketing, and can save you money and help you tell your story.  It’s a resource that sometimes gets overlooked, but is actually worth thousands of dollars that you won’t have to spend again if you keep it up to date and organized.