Tuesday, February 5, 2008

The General Use Video or Case Statement Video

There are many different uses for video productions for non profit organizations. They can be used internally, externally, for furthering of one’s mission, for fundraising, and beyond. But where is a good place to start entering into the world of moving images for a non profit organization? Obviously, there are as many different answers as there are non profits, but a good point to get started, especially for medium to smaller groups is with what I like to call a General Use Video, also referred to as a Case Statement Video.

This type of video is fairly well defined by its title, but there are many details that help to clarify the multitudinous uses of this type of project. The first thing to understand is that unlike a video created for a single one time event or capital campaign, a General Use Video (let’s call it a GU video), has no specific call to action at the end. It encapsulates a non profit and its mission into one four to seven minute piece that ends on a high note as the story is wrapped up, but doesn’t ask for donations, volunteers, or community support. This allows the video to be used in many contexts and with many different calls to action given alongside the piece.

Some uses I have seen for a GU video include; fundraising, new employee orientation, use at events, presentation to government officials, as part of community outreach, as a video news release or VNR, board cultivation, and to accompany grant proposals. There are a few granting organizations that will not accept videos with submissions due to the theory that organizations with a video will have an unfair advantage during proposal evaluation. But it is actually becoming more common that granting organizations are requesting a copy of a group’s video. This list really scratches the surface, as a well crafted GU video will serve an organization well in many scenarios for approximately five to seven years.

It is possible for a video to be given a longer shelf life than five to seven years, but due to people entering and exiting organizations, increases in success and capacity, and the simple fact of changing fashions of both clothes and storytelling styles, I’d imagine that attempting to use a video for longer than ten years would become self defeating. If this seems too short on first consideration, ponder videos you have seen that were obviously outdated and the impact that has on your opinion. Even though fashions are cycling around faster than ever, an organization presenting itself with a face that is more of a flashback piece than a motivating and compelling story will stop using their videos sooner than they expect. A few poorly timed giggles from an audience due to a hair style reminiscent of the movie 9 to 5 will cause one to throw out that old VHS and start looking for a way to get a new DVD rather quickly.

The reason that GU videos are so flexible is that very few videos are shown or seen with no context at all. Frequently a person is setting up the video, and then continuing to speak after it is shown. The video works as a brief way to not only summarize all of the work the team has put into a case statement or strategic plan, but it provides an opportunity to tell the story of an organization in a compelling and emotionally bonding way. I personally believe that a video is never a substitute for printed, web based, or other text materials, but it is a supplement to them that increases their impact and solidifies the bond between the viewer and the non profit. Video has an immediacy and psychological pull that even the best constructed text can only give when the reader is giving their full attention or is already sympathetic to the cause. Reading a testimonial from a client whose life has been changed by your organization is very compelling, but seeing them say it with the full force of feeling, in the context of their story as told by the client and those who made their change possible, that is something that only video can achieve.

The reason that I think that video can only supplement the written word is due to a variety of factors. Tradition, expectation, and time are the main elements of the explanation. Traditionally, organizations are expected to have printed materials to encapsulate their story for interested parties, and more recently that is being replaced and supplemented by websites. This expectation is logical and does need to be met first. Different people will be looking for different information, as to whether they want to volunteer or financially support a group, or a family decides if they want their loved ones to receive their services. Different people can scan printed materials for the headlines they need at the pace they want. They can ingest every word, or only the headings. Skipping around is easy, and the time commitment is up to the reader. Also, printed materials are generally less expensive to create and distribute than is video, though the internet is changing the price structure for delivery of both.

But, if you create a four to seven minute video it will always last that same amount of time. Sure one can fast forward, but its difficult for a viewer to know when they are reaching the section they want. It is possible and simple to design DVDs that contain short pieces on many different topics, but that generally disrupts the flow and impact of the piece if you are only creating a total of four minutes of video total. Video just takes time. But, that time can communicate so very much. And, when coupled with a groups well designed printed materials, it can become a huge value add.

We all know the strategies surrounding inclusions in direct mail pieces. Potential donors are more likely to open and read those pieces of mail, and more likely to support the organization. Adding a video to printed materials can work that way as well. It’s much easier to add a brochure to the recycling pile with nothing in it, but wouldn’t a DVD stuck in the inside cover give you pause? Might you not throw it next to the TV to watch later, before throwing it away? Not to mention the increase in people who prefer to get their information from video and audio instead of reading. We all know people who can work away at their computers with news streaming in the background. And YouTube is an obvious example of the prevalent place that video media is taking in our modern communication milieu.

Now, when you are thinking about ways to improve and modernize your organization’s communications items, don’t forget that a General Use Video can become one of the strongest tools in the arsenal of people at many levels in a non profit organization. I do strongly believe that the cost of video is not justified for every group, but I will discuss cost issues in future articles. But if you do decide that this is a good path for you, please remember that as with any other creative services vendors that proper vetting is so imperative, and you truly will get what you pay for in video production. There are many fantastic professionals throughout the world in video production, but your board member’s cousin may or may not be the right fit for your group, even if it is at a price that you think you can’t refuse. But a well made and well told General Use Video will work strongly for your organization for years to come as it shows the world the best face you can show, in full color and emotion.


What does a video cost?

The first question on everyone’s mind when considering creating or using a video for the non profit organization is what does a video cost? Well, to have fun with a cliché, this is the million dollar question.

No, a video doesn’t cost a million dollars, but it will cost whatever you are willing to spend on it. My favorite example is that of television commercials. Everyone has seen thousands of television commercials, and whether we know exactly what they cost, we can tell the difference between a $500 local cable commercial for the local car dealer and a $1,000,000 or more commercial shown during the Superbowl. Both commercials last exactly 30 seconds, and both commercials can be effective, but the costs vary widely.

As a video producer, my reply to that question is always “what do you want to spend?” If I know that someone wants to create a 4-7 minute video about their organization to be distributed via DVD and the web, and they were only planning on spending $18-20,000 I already have a tremendous amount of information for my proposal. If someone asks me to just bid for the job and tell them what I think it will cost, I’m lost in a sea of questions.

Should I bid the job as film or video tape? Will I plan on using expensive camera equipment like a crane or Steadicam? How big a crew can I have? How experienced, and therefore expensive, a cameraman can I chose? Can I afford to have a professional make up person? In my work over the past seven years, I have worked on projects ranging from $8,000 to $40,000 on projects of this length. And on each and every one of those, I could have used significantly more money to “put on screen.”

Just like running a non profits budget, creating a video budget is a series of compromises. I have used Steadicam on several projects. Steadicam is a very unique piece of equipment that allows a camera to float on an articulated arm, just away from the operators body. It allows for fluid movements that can have great impact. It was actually invented in the Philadelphia area by a man named Garrett Brown, and first used to much acclaim in the famous “Rocky” steps sequence, where the camera was able to fluidly run up the steps of the Philadelphia Art Museum with Sylvester Stallone. Most recently I took advantage of the Steadicam in a capital campaign video for the University of Pennsylvania Library System. The speed with which we can work out moving camera shots to make a static library much more visually dynamic had a tremendous impact on what could have been a very visually flat video. But, the Steadicam and a good operator and a good assistant are expensive. It probably added $2-3000 to our one day of B-Roll shooting. B-Roll is secondary footage that one uses to cut away to for variety and editing choices within interviews. But without that additional expense, the video would have been far less effective and engaging, and the much larger total budget for the project could have been spent with far less potential for return on investment.

Many of these numbers might sound like they are higher than most people expect. I tend to find that people envision that a video might cost $5-10,000 for a short piece about their organization. My common examples are what I refer to as General Use Videos, which are pieces that can be used in a multitude of situations and describe an organization but don’t include a specific call to action. This makes them the main video brochure for many organizations, and they are often distributed via DVD and the web, amongst other methods. I know that there are people and companies who will work with less funding than mine, but I also know that most video production companies charge at least 2 to 3 times what I do for the same work, and frequently even more. For a 4-7 minute general use video for an organization based in one general geographic area, i.e. no nationwide travel necessary, that the budgets tend to range from $15-25,000 on average, but can easily reach $40 or $50,000. Based on my television commercial example, one can obviously spend much more than that if they choose to, but these are solid sample ranges.

I plan to write an additional article on choosing a video production company and the bidding and proposal process, but I will summarize some main points here. Higher price doesn’t always mean a higher quality, but beware of bargain basement producers. Video in particular is being democratized by the wide availability of inexpensive digital cameras and desktop editing software. There are many very capable producers working with this type of equipment. This is how I started myself, and I still use these tools for projects with greater budget pressures. But, a kid still in film school is like a lottery ticket, and its rare to get a winner. They might be the next Scorcese, but do you really want Goodfellas as a representation of your non profit? This is possibly a bit of hyperbole, but unfortunately in my experience organizations do get what they pay for. How can you expect someone with a full course load and a lack of experience to truly find and tell your story in the most compelling way using college equipment, spare time, and lessons from a book. Professional companies are the way to go. It is possible to find professionals who are willing to work pro bono, or at cost (which may still surprise you if they are used to large corporate budgets), and I always encourage organizations to take advantage of these opportunities. But, again, pro bono work will never be first priority in a for profit shop.

There is an axiom in my industry that I am very fond of, called the rule of thirds. Good, fast, and cheap, choose any two. You can have something produced that will be good and cheap, but it will take a long time to get done. You can have something fast and cheap, but it will definitely not be good. I tend to work on the good, medium speed, and medium budget mode. We take more time to get more from our budgets, but always make certain that we are pleased with the quality.

So, when you are interviewing a potential producer, look at their body of work. Have an idea of what you want to see. But most importantly, have an idea of what you are willing to spend. It doesn’t have to be an exact number, but a range is greatly helpful. If after a meeting I know that an organization was hoping to spend $15,000, but absolutely won’t spend more than $19,000, I’ll usually return a proposal with options. I’ll explain how my $15,000 proposal will get the job done well, but what exactly I would do with one or two higher priced options within that raise. Then the organization’s staff and board can truly evaluate what they are going to get and why.
I like to think that flexibility of that nature demonstrates that my company is dedicated to the project and putting the budget on screen, and not just in our pockets. But don’t misunderstand, most video production is done on a for profit basis, and even when done by non profits it is still expensive. The equipment is expensive, the time is expensive, but mostly talented and skilled artisans and creative people’s time is valuable just like anyone else’s. And talented people with a desire to truly help an organization communicate well can only result in videos that everyone will be proud to show and watch themselves.