As communicators, the disruptive force of the COVID-19 crisis has forced us to adapt rapidly. Here in the Tri-State area, as working from home quickly escalated to state mandated “shelter-in-place” orders within the matter of days, the physical filming of content for our projects were either postponed or quickly shifted to virtual methods.
And suddenly, the messaging tied to other projects was no longer appropriate in a climate of anxiety and uncertainty. For us as service providers, we struggled with how and when to connect with our partners about needs they may have. For many brands, marketing and outreach fell lower on the priority list than more basic business operations. For others, they too needed some time to identify the right tone before re-connecting with their audience under suddenly different circumstances.
And ultimately, finding that tone is the first place any brand needs to start. And by now, many are still finding their way – a mix of promoting your product or service as it’s always been while also leaning in and acknowledging the current crisis. Sometimes there’s clear synergy with these two elements, while other brands have shown tremendous creativity taking what they do best and pitching in on the effort in the way they can bring the most value to the cause.
We’re certainly one of those brands, figuring out our tone, reinventing ourselves in various ways but more interestingly…rediscovering ourselves. For me personally, the coronavirus crisis has forced me to look critically at myself and our business, and ask– what are the unique ways we can add value? Matt and I set out to establish a company that sought out to discover and authentically share personal stories. We’ve always tried to come from that connective perspective in all of our work. We’re at our best when we immerse ourselves and empathize with our subject-matter and discover the best way to have that content unlock audience inspiration and motivation. So in many ways, we’re back to basics, asking ourselves on a daily basis – who are we and how can we (uniquely) help?
As service providers you’re always positioning yourself to clearly answer the latter part of that question for your customers. As script-to-screen filmmakers that produce content for brands in a variety of industries we’re accustomed to finding alternative solutions to create effective digital content when budget, timing or logistics (and sometimes all of the above) don’t allow for on-location filming. Some of these alternate routes work very well, especially now – but they’re really just scratching the surface of how to get messages out to your valued audience.
We’re learning and testing new methods daily, so this post is really part of an ongoing and evolving discussion. But we wanted to at least lay out a couple routes any brand can take…right now…to deliver vital messaging to their desired audience.
MARKETING SIZZLE REEL: We create a few of these every year, whether it’s around a new initiative or to bring press to a milestone event. Typically, they’re at their best when they have a clear objective and rock solid viewpoint that gets their audience hyped and motivated to act. Most of the time they rely on already-existing assets. This may be re-visiting interview footage (previously used or unused), re-purposing b-roll, blending in logos, photos and news coverage (articles, social media, TV coverage, etc.). Then, we tie this diverse content together with fast-paced music and a start-to-finish story; most often delivered through dynamic motion graphics that meet each brand’s unique visual standards. We rarely recommend voice over anymore since we find it typically slows the content down and audiences are more and more accustomed to reading, watching, and absorbing a lot of messaging all at once. That being said, there still are occasions when voice over, recorded remotely by a professional narrator, gives the content that extra umph to assure it resonates with its audiences and gets them to take the desired post-viewing action.
ANIMATED EXPLAINER VIDEOS: As I mentioned above, our team is always looking for ways to connect with the audience on a personal level. We’ve found over time that the best way to do it is to tell them a story about someone — just like them. Empathy finds a way to cut through a crowded messaging marketplace and block out the noise for a couple minutes. When we can’t physically film a narrative or an interesting series of interviews, showcasing animated characters and telling fictional stories that are fun and engaging is a great way to go. And now, more than ever, we have access to so many different kinds of animation software that we can really craft custom content for any brand that feels fresh to its audience.
Here’s two examples of some animated explainers we’ve done in the past, one using iconography and the other full of animated characters navigating a world built using several different animation tools.
REMOTE / VIRTUAL RECORDING: Look at any news coverage right now, and they’re using a myriad of different technologies to get real time interviews with experts on the air with immediacy. The video quality on a lot of this technology is not always ideal, but it seems to be getting better every day. Zoom has been one of these skyrocketing “go-to’s” for the business and education communities these last few weeks. But we feel that platforms like Skype (and others we’re currently testing out) offer better quality.
In terms of recording this content, and using it as the backbone for your message we’ve become adept at remote recording, being able to record not only a speaker but simultaneously a power point presentation they want to guide their audience through. We now can run a teleprompter on our computer to scroll a scripted message for talent watching on another. These tools are particularly helpful for our partners that are in the healthcare and / or the pharmaceutical industries right now that had planned to record a traditional KOL but now have to go virtual while still meeting the same deadline.
After we record speaker and presentation as separate isolated feeds on our end, we can then go back and cut out false takes and supplement this content with branded graphics. This means your audience, whether sales reps, patients or fellow healthcare experts won’t miss any of the critical information you need to convey.
So while we can handle the back-end of the process with ease, we do need a little more help than usual from talent to maximize the content quality. When embarking on any virtual recording, we always advise our partners to remind their talent to follow a few basic, but important rules…
# 1.) Record from a well lit area. But what filmmakers consider well lit isn’t the same thing as the average person. When we refer to “well lit” we’re talking mostly about concentrated and controlled lighting. You want your subject to be facing a key light source that is behind their recording device (preferably a laptop) and not have their back to strong light sources like windows. At the same time we don’t want it to be dark (I know, we’re pretty finicky) unless we want the spooky Halloween vibe. Basic rule of thumb is to have a strong light source centered opposite the talent’s face and to ensure the room behind them isn’t brighter then they are.
# 2.) Frame carefully: My team will laugh when they read this, because I’m notorious for breaking the rule I’m about to write (but as my Dad used to tell me growing up, “Do as I say, not as I do.”) — but you want the recording source to be even with the talent. You don’t want it to be too low so they’re not looking down at it like they’re peering over the edge of a well, and you also don’t want it to be too high either. Dead even is optimal. Then, you want to position the recording source far enough away that you can see the subject’s head, shoulders, and down to at least mid-chest. If they’re a hand talker (guilty) you want to remind them to keep their hands up and narrow. If they’re waving their hands beyond their shoulders – we’re not seeing it and it’ll look disjointed. And finally…and I mean this with every bone in my body…DO…NOT…RECORD…VERTICAL VIDEO. We’re already at a technology disadvantage working on a virtual platform and vertical video will just make it look even more amateurish. Even if that’s the look you’re going for, let’s say because you know you want this to be used primarily in an Instagram story – shoot it horizontally, following the guidelines above and then give it to an expert like us and we’ll crop it for you. I promise it’ll look better and give you added flexibility with the content across other platforms.
# 3.) Don’t forget about the audio! A little love here for all our sound technicians, no doubt meticulously cleaning, organizing or fixing something in their homes (likely their audio gear) all across America as I write this. But yes, please don’t overlook this one, it’s really important. If you can, get yourself a little microphone on a stand. Matt and I have little ones about the size of a jar of Rao’s marinara sauce (clearly I’m getting hungry) that looks like a droid that would be following Luke Skywalker around the ice planet Hoth. These mics don’t have to be fancy, but they do have to stand on their own and plug into your recording device easily. It’ll make a world of difference in giving your audience the ability to hear you and your message clearly. Next, try to record in a quiet environment. Know this one isn’t always easy as we’re all working from home, but try to sequester yourself in a room where you’re by yourself with a door you can close. Shut the windows in that room (if they know you’re filming I promise you landscapers WILL find you and close in, like velociraptors) and turn off things like email and other applications on your computer that tend to interrupt with annoyingly cheerful noise.
# 4.) Maximize your connection. If at all possible, hard wire your recording device directly into your internet source. If you can’t do that, post up somewhere close to your router. Here at home, my wife has banished me to 3 floors away from our wireless router. Sometimes the internet connection up here is clear, and other days it’s infuriatingly unreliable. You want to minimize how many times the video stutters, skips and freezes.
PODCASTS: Now especially, people are thirsty for new content, and lots of it. We all have a little extra time to kill and are looking for either more information about the crisis that uniquely pertains to us, or welcome distractions from each day’s updates. In either scenario, giving your brand a fresh voice via podcasting is a great route to explore – especially because it can be done easily, regularly, and remotely.
We’re grateful to produce a regular series for the outreach team at Breastcancer.org that delivers vital expert information directly to this community. Because their guests are all over the country and very busy people, we’ve never asked them to visit a physical studio. Instead, we have everyone call in from a landline (preferably) and record multi-person conversations. Then, our team edits down the content to make it a concise episode as well as adding in an audio branded intro.
This is a great method to take advantage of if you have a busy physician, executive, or customer testimonial you want to get recorded, but they don’t have access or the energy to set-up a video record. Even if you still want video, we can use some of the techniques listed above (such as showcasing motion graphics, pertinent photos and video clips, and/or a power point presentation) to use the podcast audio as voice over narration.
And with all of these methods and technologies, our Fade In team is learning, testing, and calibrating more and more each day to find the best paths for maximizing content quality. So in conclusion, if you have an idea, or a need that 3-4 weeks ago was supposed to be a traditional video shoot these are just a couple routes we can take to help you meet the messaging need right now.
We’ve always prided ourselves on never shying away from professional challenges, striving to find a customized and seamless solution for any problem our partners present us with. Despite all the ways life is drastically different, we’ve found that our relentless pursuit of solutions hasn’t waned at all. It comes from our belief that in times of prosperity and uncertainty alike, storytelling plays a crucial role in shaping outcomes.
Stories matter. Your story matters. If you have something to say, then let’s work together to find the way.