Say What? Working with Voiceover Talent

By:  Tom Morse, Principal Multimedia Project Manager, SAS

Your hard work and effort has paid off. The client loves the script. Production is underway: shoot plans and graphics, check – music selects, check – awards speech drafted, check. Now it’s time to hire a narrator and record some voice tracks. What’s the secret to getting the best performance? What does the talent need to know to effectively deliver your creative concept?

Seeking answers, I asked the people who should know, voiceover professionals who were very gracious and shared their thoughts and ideas.

Writing for the Ear – Your video script should not regurgitate existing boilerplate print material that could really be about anything, and which doesn’t make any personal connection with the audience. This post isn’t about the art of scripting, but an effective narrative script is essential if your project is to connect and communicate.

Selecting Talent – Start with what the program is about and the program visuals. If the program is aimed at an ethnic, 20-something youth market, the voice talent needs to build on that tone. When casting, keep this in mind and don’t waste the time of those who are clearly not right to serve as the narrator. Match the style of the narrator to the tone of the project.

Negotiating Rates – Don’t guess or leave this up in the air; after all, this is a business.

  • Does the talent work through an agency or work independently? If an agency is involved, take the ethical high ground and honor the arrangement.
  • Be up-front about the budget available for voice narration. Most talent will work with a producer on price as long as they don’t feel they are the line item on the budget that can be done “on the cheap.” Don’t promise “more work down the road if you’ll do this one for XX dollars.” That’s a red flag for talent.
  • If you plan to use the same talent on multiple projects, negotiate that in advance. Also, if others from your organization intend to use the same talent, the producers should come together on a rate. Don’t leave it to the voice talent to negotiate separate rates with different producers on the same team.

Preparing for the Session – When possible, provide the voice talent in advance with as much detail as possible about the project, the audience, and the content.

  • Be clear about the project objectives and how it will be used. This can help determine pricing, and also help the talent avoid any conflict of interest (already being the voice of a similar company or product type in the same market).
  • If the project requires exclusivity or non-disclosure, discuss this up-front with the talent.
  • Establish a clear understanding of the audience. Is the audience the CEO and a corporate Board? Does the audience understand the subject or will the presentation be new information? What reaction do you want the intended audience to have? This can influence the tone and pace of the read.
  • Provide ample pronunciation guides of brand names, personal names, acronyms, technical/legal/medical terms…even if they’re second-nature to you and your colleagues. Your voice talent needs to sound like they are part of your world…not an outsider reading a script. For example, is it $5.99 five ninety-nine, or five dollars and 99 cents?
  • Provide links to other projects that have a tone/read similar to what’s needed. But expecting talent to sound “just like” someone else is not realistic.
  • If a rough cut of the program is available, share it with the talent in advance.
  • If music selects have already been made, share them. Music often drives the edited pace of visuals and can influence the pace of the narrative.

Keeping the Narrative Flow – If the voice narrative will be intercut with other sound bites, include a transcript of the words the narrator will be leading into and coming out of. Include a short synopsis of the other sound bites so the narrator understands the relationship between the different elements.

Preparing the Script – Leave the split page script with your videographer and editors. Reformat the narrator script for (wait for it…) the narrator.

  • Print scripts on single-sided paper, without staples.
  • Use 12- to 14-point type, double-spaced, in Times Roman.
  • Leave wide margins to allow talent to make notes on the script copy.
  • Limit words per line to 6-8 across; no margin-to-margin printing.
  • Use upper- and lower-case letter, ALL CAPS IS DIFFICULT TO READ.
  • Do not break sentences (even paragraphs) between pages.
  • Numbers take longer to say than to read (try saying 11,273,433,802.47), so if length is an issue be careful about when and how you use numbers.

Creating the Recording Environment – Where will the recording be made? Some voice talent work from their own studios. Sometimes we bring talent into a studio. When producers bring talent into a studio make the environment as comfortable as possible. Voiceover sessions are sometimes quick, but for some programs a recording session can last hours.

  • Ask the talent in advance if they prefer to sit or stand.
  • Provide a soft padded mat to reduce leg and back fatigue for talent who prefer standing.
  • Good lighting, water, and an adjustable copy stand are vital.

Preparing for the Session – Everything is set. The narrator has had your script for a couple of days, enough time to become comfortable with your project. It’s time to record.

  • Let the talent warm up, listen, then adjust. It takes time for the talent to find a rhythm. As a producer you needs time to offer helpful direction. So take a breath before making changes.
  • If you are unsure how to talk with the talent about the tone you are looking for, try this:

Casual (1) ……or…… Formal (10)
Friendly (1) ……or….. Pure business (10)
Matter of fact/neutral (1) … to…… More animated (10)

  • Praise when merited. Constructively redirect.
  • Don’t tell talent to sound like someone else, maybe a celebrity. (If you need Morgan Freeman, hire him!) Instead, describe moods and feelings you want the talent to convey, and how you want the audience to react to the material.
  • You’ve hired professional talent. Let them do their job. Don’t say, “deliver it like this.” If you want it “like this,” get in the booth yourself. Don’t provide the meaningless instruction, “just have fun with it.” That tells the voice talent nothing and wastes time.
  • Be open to an alternative read if the talent asks to try something else. Granted, it’s the talent’s job to deliver the copy as directed first. But, you may cheat yourself out of an enhancement you hadn’t thought of if you disregard your talent’s ideas in the session.

Setting Realistic Deadlines – Media producers are constantly being pushed to deliver faster. In some cases it’s necessary. But not always. Plan in advance and give voice talent the time to deliver the quality your project deserves. Some tracks are recorded in-studio with a director present. But often we hire talent to record and send edited tracks to the producer. This can be efficient all the way around, but remember, everyone is busy and being asked to deliver more, faster. So give your talent time to do it right.

Your project is complete. All the bills have been paid, everyone is happy, and you are on to your next project. But, before closing this post, two final things to keep in mind. First, if you liked working with the talent, hire them again. Second, if the presentation is publicly available, consider sharing the link with the talent so they can use it for their own promotional activity.

Thanks to my panel of experts who offered this great advice. Next time you have a narrative project, consider one of these great voices: Melanie Raskin, Rowell Gormon, Katie McCall, Peter O’Connell, Connie Terwilliger, Kevin Silva, and Debra Stamp. They are all true professionals and it is my honor to call them friends.


The 8 Essential Leadership Skills for Today’s Communications Manager

By:  Tom Morse, Principal Multimedia Project Manager, SAS

What does it take to be an effective leader of a corporate communications team? True leaders embody qualities that enable their team to deliver results and value, while building employee loyalty. At a time when market forces, globalization, and a new generation of employees is changing the workplace, the old command-and-control approach to management no longer works. Corporate communications managers must engage with employees in a way that leads to their success, the success of the department and the corporation.

Leadership and Management
Media_Leadership_QuoteMuch has been written about the differences between leadership and management. In many cases the terms are used interchangeably. While each has their own function and system of actions, there is a difference. Leadership is a broader concept involving strategic vision, while management involves the fundamental skills required to deliver tactical objectives. In most cases communications managers must do both because the relationship between leadership, management, and followers is complex. Experienced leaders understand they don’t have subordinates, because to lead is to have followers, and following is always voluntary.

Thanks to many of my CMMA and MCA-I colleagues for sharing their ideas about leadership. Their thoughts have helped shape my thinking on the eight behaviors central to your success as a corporate communications manager.

1. Vision/Purpose: As the leader of an organization you need set a clear, compelling vision for your team and the work they deliver. It’s about establishing a vision, not necessarily being seen as a visionary. A well-reasoned vision for the work of your team is critical in uniting your people behind a purpose they can feel confident in supporting.
Leaders: Inspire and empower – Managers: Provide resources

2. Character: People follow those they can believe in – leaders who demonstrate integrity, honesty, determination, and respect for others. As a leader it’s important you model the behaviors you want demonstrated by members of your team. Their attitude and work ethos is largely a reflection of your approach to the job. As a leader it’s important to know the skills of the people on your team and delegate accordingly. There are also times you should take the lead. Not to show you are “part of the team,” but to stay grounded in the understanding of their needs and to earn their trust and loyalty.
Leaders: Lead from in front – Managers: Provide structure

3. Listen Courageously: While a manager can establish controls, a leader must do more. To succeed it’s important to be a good listener, remain open to input from all stakeholders and respectful of their ideas. A leader needs to learn how to ask questions and not be afraid to utilize the collective knowledge of those around them. A successful leader must develop the ability to listen carefully and act courageously when called upon to do so.
Leaders: Seek opportunity – Managers: Control risk

4. Communicate Clearly: Interpersonal skills and the ability to motivate people has become a core competency of leadership. As a manager you must communicate effectively with members of your team and serve as the principal ambassador of your organization. Be transparent – those around you will respond positively if your decision-making process is viewed as open, fair, and consistent.
Leaders: Energize and inspire achievement – Managers: Coordinate effort

5. Demonstrate Flexibility: The speed of business requires constant monitoring of business trends, directions, and opportunities. Armed with this information, it’s your job to listen courageously and communicate clearly any change in direction. Consider the best ideas from those around you and formulate goals the team can rally behind. But remain true to your principles and the mission of your organization. Being flexible does not mean constantly changing direction. Your credibility as a leader requires focus and directing the effort of your team on the most promising opportunities.
Leaders: Deal with change – Managers: Deal with status quo

6. Embrace Risk: Guardians of the status quo can never be leaders. It takes courage to seek new and better ways your team can contribute value back to the corporation. As a left-brain, right-brain activity, this is one of the most challenging aspects of being a leader. But, it’s not about taking risk for the sake of doing something different. It’s about developing new ideas that deliver true business value. Be prepared for change and when the opportunity is right, pursue it.
Leaders: Pursue innovation – Managers: Facilitate process integration

7. Technical Competence: As a member of the management team you’re accountable to the organization for delivering business results, not demonstrating technical prowess. As a leader you need to be fully abreast of rapidly changing technology. You need a keen understanding of the issues and the expertise needed to address these challenges while ensuring the success of your team. It does not mean you need to be a technical expert in all aspects of communication, but you must stay informed about the forces shaping our industry.
Leaders: Create a learning culture – Managers: Process control for sustained results

8. Build Your Team: A leader is only as effective as the team they build. Be passionate. Inspire others to dream and provide them the opportunity to achieve. Demonstrate you value them as people, as well as contributors to the organization. Recognize and reward their efforts and that of others to reinforce those actions. As a leader your success will be measured by the success of others.
Leaders: Select talent and mentor – Managers: Guide and provide direction

Leadership Journey
To become a better leader think back to a time in your career when you were a follower. Which leaders inspired you to make your best effort? Each of us possessed strengths, talents, and the wisdom that comes with experience. We also have flaws, something a successful leader never loses sight of – we’re human after all. Some people are born to be leaders; others develop the skills that enable them to lead. If you truly aspire to a leadership position, or want to make the most of your opportunity, work hard at these eight skills. It promises to be a rewarding journey.

The “Small m” of Marketing

A manufacturer’s recall notice and a trip, make that several trips, to the dealership has me thinking about the need to transform employees into brand ambassadors.  It started the day our car went into the shop.  Although we had a scheduled appointment the service advisor told us our car might be in the shop a few days.  He told us there were many vehicles ahead of ours because of multiple recall notices.  Think about that for a moment.  Even if true, is that how a frontline employee should engage with customers?

In the world of marketing there is the Big M of marketing and the “small m.”  The formal process of communicating the value of an organization’s product or service is marketing with a capital M.  What I call the small m is the myriad of little things that “fill in the gaps” between formal marketing activities.  When done well the customer experience is very positive.  But when things fall through the cracks, opportunities are missed and customers can be left with a negative impressions.

After several days in the shop we received a call that our car was ready.  We returned to the dealership happy to have the car back in time for a short weekend trip.  Unfortunately we never got out of the parking lot before realizing the problem still wasn’t fixed.  We spoke again with the service advisor who apologized and offered to make things right.  He also offered us a loaner car to use until ours was repaired.

While our car was in the shop, the dealership’s sales department reached out to us about buying back our car and upgrading to a higher model.  Our car is nearly paid for and it’s in the dealer’s interest to keep the monthly payments coming.  So back at the shop, I’m expecting the service advisor to put us in a great ride for the weekend.  It didn’t happen.  Instead, we were offered a base model – opportunity missed.

Each time customers interact with frontline employees it puts to the test the work done by marketing, PR, and external communications.  But it’s not just frontline employees who are often seen as the “face” of an organization.  The work done by behind-the-scenes employees has the potential to make a customer feel more or less engaged with the company.  The same hold true for “virtual face” of an organization, the online presence that for many organizations is their only connection with customers.

So how can organizations maximize these customer interactions and win in the marketplace?  Organizations need everyone engaged in delivering the brand promise, whether it be face-to-face or through a virtual connection.  To make this work, managers need to be trained and empowered to do what is right for the customer – and for the company’s brand.

Five Steps to Building Effective Brand Ambassadors

1) Sharpen Marketing Message:  Corporate Marketing (Big M) should develop messaging for both managers and frontline employees.  This should include not only key marketing messages, but also the freedoms employees have to independently improve the customer experience.

2) Internal Marketing Communication:  Corporate Marketing must work closely with Employee Communications to keep key marketing messages and initiatives in front of all employees.  Including details of how individual employees, or groups of employees, played a part in major marketing activities is important in helping others model similar behavior.

3) Train and Empower Managers:  First line managers need to be trained in how employees can tailor the corporate message to ways appropriate to their team’s customer engagements.  The message won’t be different, but how the interaction occurs will depend on how the contact happens.  Each department will have different opportunities to improve the customer experience, a responsibility best handled by a manager closest to that engagement.

4) Train and Empower Employees:  Managers need to identify ways their employees can improve the customer experience.  Then, staff needs to be trained in how best to communicate the brand message and the range of authority individual employees have in helping create a positive experience for the customer.

5) Reward and Motivate:  When employees contribute to an improved customer experience it should be celebrated.  Employee Communications is a great channel for sharing success stories and motivating others to embrace the role of brand ambassador.

This process is about living out an organization’s core values and modeling the brand promise.  A great example is the Disney Company, masters of the customer experience.  Visitors to their theme parks are treated as if they are the most important person there.  From online engagement, to the parking lot, ticket gate, refreshment stand, to the closing fireworks, employees understand their role is to make or exceed expectations.  That’s what makes for a great customer experience.

Embrace the small m of marketing and empower your employees as true brand ambassadors.  Capture some of that Disney magic and get the most out of every employee-customer encounter.

Advice from Don Corleone, “Crash” Davis and Others for Todays MediaPros

The lessons in life are learned in many ways. As children we learn from our parents. A solid education teaches us to accept the challenge of learning on our own. But through it all there is one constant, one source as reliable as Don Corleone in The Godfather promising, “I’m going to make him an offer he can’t refuse.” I refer of course to the movies, a source of wisdom for the ages.

Lessons in life are learned in many ways

As media producers the movies have a lot to teach us about how to create effective programs. Some of the best lessons I’ve learned about this business crystalized in my mind hearing movie dialogue. Here is some of what I’ve learned.

Beginning, Middle, End: “If you’re going to become true dodgeballers, then you’ve got to learn the Five D’s of dodgeball: Dodge, Duck, Dip, Dive and Dodge!” DodgeBall: A True Underdog Story – From this small classic art film, dodgeball legend and Coach of the Average Joe’s, Patches O’Houlihan, (Rip Torn) offers great advice. Programs need a beginning (Dodge), a middle (Duck, Dip, Dive), and an ending (Dodge). The beginning and end are usually the easy parts. Avoid the flying wrenches and budget time for the hard work of constructing the middle.

Trust Your Instincts: “You just got lesson number one: don’t think; it can only hurt the ball club.” Bull Durham – When veteran minor league catcher “Crash” Davis (Kevin Costner) gives hotshot rookie pitcher Ebby “Nuke” LaLoosh (Tim Robbins) this advice, he should listen. “Crash” has seen it all, done it all, including life in “The Show.” As media producers we bring our own experiences to every project. Trust your instincts and build upon what you believe. “Crash” believes in, “the hanging curve, high fiber, good scotch… that Lee Harvey Oswald acted alone… and there should be a constitutional amendment outlawing Astroturf and the designated hitter.” What do you believe in?

Own the Project: “We can do that; we don’t even have to have a reason.” Caddyshack – When golf course maintenance is entrusted to Carl Spackler, (Bill Murray) life at the upscale Bushwood Country Club is never the same. In reviewing a client’s messaging needs, what production element inspires your creativity? It could be an idea of how to creatively frame the message. An off-beat narrative style might fit, or contracting a composer for an original score might work. Like gophers on a golf course, ideas pop up constantly. Find something about a project that can get you excited. Than do it. Why, because you can. Ty Webb (Chevy Chase) the club’s resident Zen ace golfer offers this bit of timeless advice, “There’s a force in the universe that makes things happen. And all you have to do is get in touch with it, stop thinking, let things happen, and be the ball.”

Take Creative Risks: “Greatness courts failure.” Tin Cup – Roy McAvoy, (Kevin Costner) former golf prodigy turned driving range pro sees life differently from most people. Never afraid to take a risk, to put it all on line, Tin Cup believes that “When a defining moment comes along you define the moment or the moment defines you.” As media producers there are times to lay up and times to go for it. After losing his chance to win the U.S. Open Tournament by recording a 12 on the last hole, his girlfriend assures him, “Five years from now nobody will remember who won or lost, but they’re gonna remember your 12!” When the project is right, and maybe sometimes when it isn’t, just go for it!

Go with Your Strengths: “Forget about the curve ball Ricky, give him the heater.” Major League – With the game on the line Indian’s Coach Lou Brown (James Gammon) implores Ricky “Wild Thing” Vaughn (Charlie Sheen) to go with his strength. As a media producer you need to know your own strengths. There are projects to push the boundaries and stretch creatively. Then there are those projects that need to be done to keep the lights on and the bills paid. As team catcher Jake Taylor (Tom Berenger) tells prima donna third baseman Roger Dorn, (Corbin Bernsen) “Ya know Dorn, I liked you so much better when you were just a ballplayer. If you wanna be an interior decorator now that’s none of my business. But some of us still need this team.” Remember, the media business is a business, first and foremost. When bills need to be paid, do what you do best.

Share Success: “I did it all, I listened to the voices, I did what they told me, and not once did I ask what’s in it for me!” Field of Dreams – A client comes to you with their project and you produce it. What did you produce? You produced their project. Ray Kinsella (Kevin Costner) learned this lesson and shared all that he had. Sometimes we’re fortunate and can initiate our own work, but more often than not work comes from paying clients. Archibald “Moonlight” Graham (Burt Lancaster) may never had a turn at bat, but discovered his true calling. Much as you have a job to do, so does the client. Production, like baseball, is a team sport. Hold onto your values, never sell the farm, share in the success… and they will come.

Production, like baseball is a team sport

What inspires you? To be successful as a media producer, or in any avenue of life, find what motivates you and pursue it. As communication professionals we’re fortunate to work in a field that opens doors to opportunity for expression. Every project is an opportunity to find ways to overcome obstacles and help others deliver their message. We use equipment people in other professions envy. So make it fun and never, never refuse The Don.

Joy of the Job: Turning Work into Play

As communication professionals, work is often less about where we go than the things we do.  Often our work is done at home, while seated in 23A, on location, or somewhere in the cloud.  Yet how fortunate we are to work in a profession that provides an outlet for creativity and imagination.  If that’s not how you see your work it’s time for a mindset reset.

“We don’t stop playing because we grow old; we grow old because we stop playing.”  This quote from George Bernard Shaw offers the philosophical view.  Business entrepreneur and investor, Sir Richard Branson, puts it into actionable terms, “Create the kind of workplace and company culture that will attract great talent.  If you hire brilliant people, they will make work feel more like play.”

Not part of a company?  Doesn’t matter.  Branson’s analogy still holds.  Communication work is normally done as a team.  Some projects can be done solo, but more often than not our work is done in teams.  What about turning work into play?  It doesn’t mean you don’t work hard or never face boring tasks.  But would you rather be doing something else?

I asked a number of friends and professional peers about their experiences in the business and how they find joy in the work they do.  Here is a quick mindset reset about the Joy of the Job.

Freedom to Create:  There are many ways to structure a communication that meets client objectives.  Once you understand what the client needs to communicate, look for ways to construct the project that will interest you and keep you excited.  “Too often, we operate under the premise that Corporate Video needs to be dull and uninteresting,” suggests Bill Marriott, Sr. Marketing Director – Video Communications & New Media at SAS and CMMA Southeast Region Director.  “Dull and uninteresting are not great differentiators for a business.  As a producer it’s important to find something about a project that pushes you to deliver work that excites.”

Make it a Team Effort:  Last year the Boston Red Sox won baseball’s World Series title.  Some argue they didn’t have the best individual players among teams that made the playoffs.  What they had was an intangible, they played as a team and looked like they were having more fun than every team they played.  While other teams stressed under pressure, the team of “Beards” became more than the sum of its parts.  Gary Shifflet, a former MCA-I President, recently started a new position at Creative Solutions Group as Sr. Project Mgr./Technical Director helping create large scale trade show exhibits.  “I joined the team with the specific goal of helping enhance the interactive experience of visiting an exhibit space.”  Gary hit the ground running because of his experience and skill working with production teams towards a shared goal.  “Every division is responsible for their own tasks, but also empowered to help each other to reach their goals.  It’s an awesome feeling working in a collaborative environment!”  Working with a team of empowered professionals is one of the great joys of working as a MediaPro.

A World to Explore:  How many professions offer the opportunity to learn something about almost everything?  We participate in developing programs on subjects as diverse as our client base.  “As a voice talent, one of the aspects of my job I love the best is the variety of industries I get to voice for,” says Liz de Nesnera, Owner, Reservoir Road Productions and MCA-I Secretary.  “In fact, it was through a narration job that I discovered the wonders of hydraulic cement!  Thanks to what I learned in voicing that job, I was able to fix quite a few leaks in my old basement floor!  Who knew?  Voice a job, fix your basement.  Bonus!”  Whether working as an independent or as an in-house MediaPro, the range of topics we’re exposed to can be fascinating if you really pour yourself into a project.

Tools of the Trade:  We have great, fun tools to work with.  That’s why so many groups across an enterprise want to create their own video productions.  As exciting as it must be to fuse a framersham, it’s much more fun to make a video about it.  Chris Barry, AMM, Sr. Director, Yellow Tag Productions at Best Buy and CMMA President reminds us it’s not cameras, edit systems, and encoders that make great programs – its people.  “Technology has revolutionized our business.  The tools we use today to light, shoot and edit are more accessible and less expensive than ever before.  But, the skill, experience and ability to use these tools to tell great stories can’t be commoditized.”

Opportunity to Show Off:  The projects we deliver are often viewed publically.  To clients, the release of every project is like a Hollywood premiere.  While most corporate projects don’t have credits… we know.  If a program is posted to YouTube, tell me you haven’t sent a link to someone and told them of your role in the project.  “I love making other people look good!  That’s half the battle,” admits Gerry Harriss, Media Services Manager at Asurion, LLC and CMMA Eastern Region Director.  “To be able to craft a message from your work environment and elicit an emotional response is what pushes me toward the next best production.  There is no better feeling than people throughout your company saying, I laughed, I cried, I thought, or I felt proud because of the video you produced.  You made us look great.”

Ours is a fun profession, or it should be.  Golf writer and CBS Sports Analyst Peter Kostis likes to use the phrase, “work like a major leaguer but play like a little leaguer.”  If you’ve played any sport you know that practice is hard, but that’s usually not a problem because practice itself can be fun.  The same should hold true when managing the work of communication project.  It’s work.  Yet if in the process you surround yourself with teammates who make the work fun, amazing things can happen.

5 Tips to Effective Corporate Storytelling with Video

Stop me if you’ve heard this one, “Make me a viral video.”  As media producers that was a frequent request from clients just a few years ago.  The new version, “We need a ‘storytelling’ video.”  If you haven’t had this request yet, just wait it’s coming.

Marketers are always seeking new ways to deliver compelling “stories” to a targeted audience in ways that motivate them to react favorably.  Corporate storytelling is about creating a business narrative that makes messages memorable.  Human beings are intrinsically wired to create relationships based on shared stories.  Since cavemen drew pictures on cave walls, stories have passed knowledge from one generation to the next.  Think of how you relate to family, friends, or business associates.  Bonds are created through shared stories.  There is nothing more powerful than a good story.

The current buzz among marketers, agencies, and the creative community is reinventing the corporate story.  But corporate storytelling is nothing new.  What’s changed is the emphasis on audience engagement.  Today, corporate storytelling means reflecting an organization’s core principles, those that define and establish its’ unique identity.

The communication message cycle is constantly shifting: from messaging directed at C-level executives, to more detailed information aimed at key decision makers, to today’s requests for engaging stories rather than simply shilling detailed product information.  Over the years we’ve all produced videos highlighting product differentiation, exceptional customer service, or value-added differences.  But competitors all claim the same thing.  How can this new emphasis on corporate storytelling break through the cacophony of noise in the marketplace and deliver audience engagement?  Here are a few ideas on how video fits into corporate storytelling.

1. Storytelling is only one technique.  Client requests for storytelling are rising.  While good for business, it is also a producer’s responsibility to evaluate fully the objectives and offer clients the best possible solution.  By its nature, storytelling is a pull, not push communication strategy.  It’s appropriate in some cases, but not in every case.  Sometimes the best solution is a short, technical demo.  Corporate storytelling is a technique for pulling people into a dialogue about an organization’s brand.  Corporate storytelling is to transactional marketing as blogging is to journalism.

2. Storytelling is about creating a bond.  People relate to people through shared experiences.  A great story points the viewer in a desired direction, but gives them the freedom to draw their own conclusion.  A great story is told in a way that grabs and holds attention.  Stay away from long lists of facts and figures.  These are much more difficult to remember than an engaging narrative.  Make the story personal, credible, and compelling.  This can often be done with customer interviews and letting the customer define a business’ product or service.  Rather than lots of marketing chest pounding, let prospects learn about a business through the eyes of its customers.  It’s about piquing interest and curiosity so prospects want to learn more.

3. Storytelling makes a lasting impression.  What are the stories you tell around the dinner table?  People tell stories that touch hearts, generate feelings, and make us think.  Look for ways to connect with viewers on an emotional level.  Employees are a great source of stories that can reflect very directly an organization’s core values.  Viewers can establish an emotional connection with the people that are the company.  Once that relationship develops, viewers are more receptive to the messages and information that need to be communicated.

4. Storytelling establishes a style.  There are many creative ways to tell a story.  Corporate storytelling can establish a unique style of presentation.  How it fits into a larger marketing strategy needs to be clearly understood.  Creating one video in this unique style does little to build new perceptions if the program is not part of a coordinated plan.  Music fans know Johnny Cash as the man in black; golf fans think of Gary Player; tech enthusiasts recall Steve Job’s black turtlenecks; and movie fans remember Will Smith as Agent J telling his partner, “I make this look good.”  All of these became iconic styles closely associated with each person.  A well told corporate story can begin the foundation of a unique identity, but only if delivered with consistency and as part of a coordinated marketing plan.

5. Storytelling opens a dialogue.  When done right, corporate storytelling creates opportunity for an on-going relationship with prospects and customers.  Stories should make viewers ask themselves, “what if?”  Viewers should envision opportunity to move their own organization forward in ways that are both attainable and achievable.  Corporate storytelling is about building long-lasting connections that continue the conversation and deepen relationships.  Look for ways to use video to extend reach across web channels, blogs, and as a tool for sales to reach out to prospects and customers – continuing the dialogue without reverting to an explicit product pitch.  It’s all about building trust and strengthening relationships.

What does this look like when these ideas all come together? A good example is a recent project produced by Todd Johnson of our Corporate Creative team at SAS.  It’s a customer profile of how UPS is using analytics to reduce miles driven and improve service. The entire story is told from the customer’s perspective. The SAS message underlies the story but lets viewers decide for themselves how it relates to their specific situation.

Analytics and Logistics Optimization at UPS

Corporate storytelling is one way media producers can help clients make a strong and lasting impression and help marketers grow relationships that build business.

Behind the Scenes with SAS’ Big Data Guy

The sun was barely over the horizon on a cold Saturday morning when a caravan of vehicles drove across the SAS campus.  The vehicles were full of camera equipment, lights, props, and the all-important catering supplies to keep everyone well fed.  Work was about to begin on shooting of a series of spots featuring Big Data Guy (BDG).  Before the day was done, equipment packed, and food exhausted, a crew from SAS’ Video Communications and New Media (VC&NM) team completed shooing three spots highlighting how SAS can help organizations take advantage of the massive amounts of data they collect.

Long before the last edit was made, before the first scene was shot, before the scripts were even written – there is the back story.  The project started as a challenge issued by Bill Marriott to his VC&NM team.  The challenge, each quarter come up with a unique idea for a project and drive it through to completion.  “We have a lot of highly creative people in our group, but the day-to-day work of the department often demands quick delivery on tight timelines.  This project was an opportunity to empower the team to do what they do best, create compelling content that delivers the SAS message.”

A Visit From Big Data

 As in most things, nothing happens until someone takes ownership.  Taking up Bill’s challenge, Brendan Bailey proposed creating a series of spots using the classic TV formula of Conflict & Resolution.  “Many commercials use this formula.  It provides an opportunity to pose a problem and offer a solution.  The issue of big data fits this model.  It’s a challenge, but also a great opportunity; with the answer being SAS.”

A series of brainstorming meetings followed which resulted in a dozen script treatments.  At that point the team ran into an impasse.  The outlines all treated the BDG character differently.  “We lacked a clear understanding of who we wanted this character to be,” explained Todd Johnson.  “So we spent some time debating the character and wrote a back story detailing who BDG is and how we want him portrayed.”

With a clearer understanding of the character, the question remained, how well would he work?  David Stephenson took the lead and drafted scripts for three initial spots.  “The character somewhat wrote himself.  As the scripts came together the creative team focused more on content and creating spots that were flexible enough to use in different ways.”

Big Data Knows That’s A Stolen Credit Card

 The team continued to debate how long to make each spot and if released to YouTube whether length mattered.  At the suggestion of Bill Marriott the team decided to work toward the length of standard broadcast commercials.  “Building standard length :15, :30, and :60 second spots added structure to the process.  The constraints of a blueprint can often help focus energies on the best way to make something happen.”

Scripts complete – check.  Locations secured – check.  Talent hired – check.  The day of shooting finally arrived.  It was time to see how well BDG would work in delivering the SAS message about big data.  From dawn to dusk the crew and on-camera talent wandered around the SAS campus collecting footage needed to create the spots.  Gary Peterson and Mark Lawrence managed the day-long shoot.  “It certainly wasn’t our usual day of shooting,” said Lawrence.  “Even though the final spots are short, they require a lot of material.  We had only the one day to get all the shots.  We knew we weren’t going to have the chance to grab extra shots later.  It had to be done right the first time.”

Now complete, the spots are posted to the SAS website and in use at customer events.  The response has encouraged the production team to begin work on another round of spots.  Given a blank canvas and creative freedom, it’s amazing what a creative team can deliver.

A Night in the Cellar

There was a couple and their two dogs in Transylvania who moved into an old haunted castle off an isolated road deep in the forest. The house was big and scary. The castle had 16 rooms, one of the rooms is a library, and at the stroke of midnight… comes alive with spirits. The legend of the library is that from midnight until one minute after midnight, anyone entering the library will see the ghosts, but will pay with their life!

Being new innkeepers, they decided to have a housewarming party and offer glasses of brandy to calm the nerves of their visitors. The innkeeper, Frank Freak, in preparation for the party, went into the cellar to gather the brandy. Being a good host Frank decided to sample the brandy. As has been known to happen in the past, Frank enjoyed the sampling, enjoyed it a bit too much. As Frank mellowed and the stresses of the day began to fade, he began to explore the far recesses of the cellar. Little did Frank know, but his every move was being watched, watched very closely by unseen eyes. With brandy bottle in hand, and fueled with the warm glow of the amber elixir, Frank moved deeper and deeper into the gloom of the cellar.

Suddenly a voice startled Frank, “Who are you?” Terrified, Frank dropped to his knees. “Who are you?” In the dimly lit cellar the voice terrified Frank all the more.

“My… my name is Frank.” Silence. “I said my name is Frank.” Frank’s heart was pounding so hard in his chest he was sure he could hear it beating in the stillness of the gloomy cellar. And if he could hear the sound of his beating heart, so could whatever malevolent spirit had spoken to him. “Are… are you there? Is anyone there?’

Looking down, Frank felt a chilling coolness and wet slime surrounding his feet. Frank tried to run.. But, alas, he was stopped in his tracks by the sight of Keith Moon, legendary drummer of the English power rock band The Who. One of the greatest of rock ‘n roll drummers confronted Frank, “Who are you?”

“Are you… I mean, I’m Frank. And you’re Keith Moon. But, you’re dead. Why are you in my cellar?”

“Doing penance for the bad things I said in life about Mick and the boys. I’m condemned for all eternity to rewrite over and over the band’s signature song.”

The cellar was suddenly rocked by an apparition of legendary proportion. Keith strolled to his drum kit to be joined by Jimi Hendricks on guitar, Freddie Mercury and Janis Joplin on vocals, and John Entwistle on bass. Rock music shook the cellar walls as Keith Moon began an unfamiliar rendition of The Who classic.

Who are you
What do you do.
Who are you
My lawyer will sue.

The band played a spirited set with occasional guest artists joining in. The Dead’s dead Jerry Garcia was smok’in, Elvis brought his pelvis, and Michael Jackson his thriller. When the music died it was just Frank and Moon the Loon alone in the quiet of the cellar.

With ears still ringing from the amplified music, Frank thanked Keith for the concert. Still confused, he asked, “Keith, I get the whole penance thing. Still, rewriting a classic over and over, that’s a bitch. But what I don’t get is what are you doing in my cellar?”

Keith’s head dropped to his chest and he sighed. “I’m decomposing.”

Yup, Nope, Maybe Next Year

Be truthful, do you make New Year’s resolutions? I don’t. The whole point of making a list of things guaranteed to make one a better, more complete human being totally eludes me. The entire process seems certain to disappoint or worse, get in the way of living life.

But from time-to-time it’s good to take stock of how things are going. Labor Day is a good time to reflect back on the year and think of what you’ve done, not done, and things best put off until next year. (Maybe the year after next.)

Eat More Corn: It’s been a good year for corn on the cob. My sister taught me how to grill corn in the husk and we’ve cooked our share. The national debate about diverting corn for biofuel misses the point, we need more corn for the grill.

Play Some Golf: It’s been a good year for playing golf on some fun courses. I may not have scored well, but watching the clouds roll through the valleys while playing golf in the mountains is something special.

Go to a Game: The baseball season is coming to a close and I regret not having spent more time at the ballpark. Hanging out with friends, a beer and a dog, catching a foul ball… priceless.

Replace Bulbs: 
Over the past year three of the four bulbs that light our garage have died, leaving only one 60W bulb. Replacing the bulbs has been on the list for a while, but as of Labor Day I can look back and mark this homeowner task complete. Is there a better feeling in the world?

Yin-Yang: Looking back on the year so far I can mark some things complete, a well-illuminated garage, but much yet to do. I’ve started working my way through the A – Z crime novels authored by Sue Grafton. I’m up to “E” is for Evidence, so I have a way to go. The ceiling fan on the back porch got replaced. Waterproofing the back deck… well, I need something to do next year too.

 More Sunsets: Enough said.

Whiteboard Videos in the Crosshairs

Walk the halls of any marketing department and you’re bound to hear someone planning a whiteboard video project. The success of UPS’ advertising campaign has spurred imitators at every turn. If asked to produce such a project, how do you respond? For me, I gather up all the wooden stakes and silver bullets I can find – it’s time to put these requests in the crosshairs

What appears simple in the UPS television commercials is anything but simple. What made these spots work? They were surprising, the operative word being were, past tense. It’s clear when a technique has peaked, just watch for the growing number of parodies. The UPS spots are short, not a 20 minute marketing promotion. The ads make one simple point rather than a bullet list of complex messages best covered in a written white paper. And finally the talent brings just the right combination of presentation and artistic skills to make the commercials interesting.

When one of these project requests crossed my desk, I met with the client and listened, nodded at the appropriate moments, and made all the motions as if taking detailed notes. The marketing prime was using whiteboards as the centerpiece for a series of interactive, small-group meetings. It’s a wonderful meeting format for those participating in person at one of the events. But creating a “whiteboard video” to promote the event series wasn’t going to work. I promised the client I would use some whiteboard techniques, but the promo spot would employ other techniques as well. The production team at SAS included graphic and animation support from Tim Cherry and post production editing was handled by Kevin Alexander. In the end, the client was happy with the results and is using the program to promote the event series.

There are times when a whiteboard video is a good way to approach a project. Our team at SAS has done many such projects. Most are for internal use rather than external marketing. Here are a few things to keep in mind about such projects.

1) Whiteboard or Smart Board – There is a difference. A whiteboard is just that, a flat drawing surface. A smart board offers the advantage of interactivity and the use of computer-generated content. This is one way to create animation which on-camera talent can interact.

2) Pre-Produced Content – With a smart board, content can be pre-produced. It can be graphic animation as in some of the UPS commercials, PowerPoint charts can be presented, or software can be shown and interacted with. Pre-planning content elements minimizes the need for talent to draw upon their inner artist – they can remain focused on the content.

3) Hire an Artist – When a client insists on creating “one of those clever whiteboard videos,” start looking for a graphics professional. Use the search terms: videoscribing or whiteboard animation. The animation does not need to be done on-camera, a voice over can work just as well. Animation can also be pushed to a smart board for the on-camera talent to interact.

4) All Things in Moderation – If one or two coffees, why not eight or ten? As in the example produced for SAS, a little whiteboard animation goes a long way. It takes a very clever production team to make the technique work over an extended project. A better approach is to use it sparingly and build out a program using other complementary techniques.

5) Bang for the Buck – If you use a professional artist for the project, consider making use of the animation separate from the original project. A shortened form of the animation could be used to promote the full-length program. The graphic sequences could be made into short clips that when pulled into PowerPoint can enhance other presentations while strengthening message continuity.

When asked about producing a whiteboard program, take ownership of the project. As a media professional you’re the one most qualified to make the decisions that will delight your client. You can save the wooden crosses and silver bullets for vampires and werewolves.