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HR Magazine, February 2001: Is a Video In Your Vision?

By Betty Sosnin  2/1/2001
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HR Magazine, February 2001Vol. 46, No. 2

Here's a way to tell your story exactly as you want it--every time.

For HR departments hoping to spice up their recruitment, orientation or training programs, a good video can be worth thousands of words. And you won’t have to study scriptwriting, get behind the camera or understand computerized editing to produce a good one. But you will need to assemble a team of talented professionals and make sure they understand your goals and corporate culture. With their help, you can produce a blockbuster.

Before embarking on your video venture, however, you need to decide if it’s the right format for what you want to communicate and whether it makes sense, dollarwise.

“Videos work best when you’re trying to convey emotions or generate excitement,” says Jim Carr, an Emmy and Peabody award-winning producer with Carr Communications in Atlanta.

Video also works well if you want to standardize your messages and the tone of their delivery. “Time and other factors may get trainers off track and result in an inconsistent message, but videos deliver the same message time and again,” says Diana Osinski, a manager with KPMG Consulting and chair of the Society for Human Resource Management’s Human Resource Development Committee.

For example, golf car manufacturer Club Car of Augusta, Ga., has a videographer record its corporate meetings and add a short “leader” in front that describes what the video is and where it was shot. The footage then is sent out unedited to branch locations. “This lets us personally welcome members and keep them in the loop without spending a lot of money,” says HR manager Gary Holley.

Video also works well for conveying compliance issues, adds Osinski. For example, DSM Chemicals North America in Augusta, Ga., uses a video to meet the requirement to present a basic safety orientation to everyone entering its manufacturing area.

Recent technological advances also have broadened the use of video. In addition to being shown on televisions, videos can be downloaded to CDs, used in computer-based training and webcast via the Internet. This lets you add an interactive element through chat rooms, message boards and online question-and-answer sessions.

Carr cautions, however, that videos “work poorly when you’re trying to convey a large list of facts and figures. Print materials are better here because they can be read and reread.” One way around this is to combine the two formats—kicking off a session with a video to garner interest and using print materials to provide the details.

Cost Considerations

Assuming you’ve decided that video is the right format, expect to pay, on average, between $1,000 to $3,000 per finished minute for a high-end, script-to-screen project. With most videos running between five and 10 minutes, that’s a budget range of $5,000 to $30,000. If you work with an independent scriptwriter, expect to pay between $100 to $150 per finished minute of script, along with shooting and editing costs.

Even if you have deep pockets, shorter is generally better. At the outside, your video should be no longer than 15 minutes, no matter how much you can afford.

But if producing your own is beyond your means, consider generic videos, which are available on a variety of topics and can be considerably less expensive than customized productions. Holley says he often can buy a 20-minute video for $500, “which compares pretty favorably to a $1,000-a-minute customized production.”

However, generic videos have drawbacks. “Each corporate culture is unique, and generic videos that try to be appropriate for many audiences are generally watered down,” says Osinski. Moreover, you won’t really know if the video is effective until you’ve purchased and reviewed it.

Whatever the case, don’t try to shoot your own video. Even a digital camera and a high-tech editing program will not give you a polished final product. You need a professional to produce a video that reflects a viable corporate image.

Taking the Plunge

Begin planning your video at least four to six months before you will need it. This time frame will allow you to think through what you want to convey and the image you want to project. You want to be able to clearly state the purpose of the project. Don’t try to produce a one-size-fits-all video and use it for everything. You’ll end up with an unfocused production that doesn’t work.

If your budget requires you to be more things to more people, consider producing more than one video at the same time. Don Mathews, a producer with Mass Media Marketing in Augusta, Ga., calls it the modular approach. “You can have the camera crew do all the shooting at once and use the same sections in more than one video when the information overlaps. There will be additional charges for writing and editing, but it’ll be much less expensive than doing two or more entirely separate videos.”

Being selective in your search for writers and producers is important because your video’s success will depend largely on the experience and intelligence of the crew that produces it, especially the scriptwriter. Look for seasoned professionals, whether you use a production house for the entire project or hire a freelance writer to do the script separately. Most production houses and some television stations offer script-to-screen services for a fixed fee and employ narrators or work with radio personnel who freelance.

Once you’ve identified prospective writers and producers, interview them, review samples of their work and check their references. Ask the writers for samples of scripts they’ve written and screen them for crisp, clear writing done in a conversational tone.

Production people generally will show you a “demonstration” reel of samples, but Mathews says to be wary of these. “They may have been made by people who left the company several years back.” He suggests asking for samples produced by the team that will work on your project.

If you decide to go with the crew of a television station, make sure the writer is experienced in doing video-length scripts. Many stations do not employ professional video scriptwriters; they often assign the work to someone accustomed to writing 30-second commercials. Or, the station may expect production people to cobble together a script. Don’t let this happen.

“The script is the most important component of any video project,” Carr says. It is the blueprint for the entire production.

When checking references, ask if the candidates finished the project on time and on budget, if they were easy to work with and if the client was happy with the final product. You don’t want prima donnas who become defensive when you offer constructive criticism.

Once you’ve decided on your team, establish a production schedule that includes deadlines for the first and final drafts of the script, a pre-production meeting, shooting and a due date for the final video. Make sure everyone involved understands the schedule and can meet it.

Working with the Creative Team

To ensure success, make sure the writer and production team know where the video will be shown, the size and type of audience, what you want it to accomplish and how it fits into the big picture of your organization. Is it one component of your safety training, the backbone of your recruitment program or an introduction to diversity training?

DSM Chemical uses its safety-orientation video to deliver only basic safety information, such as procedures for entering its plants, emergency evacuation rules and required personal protective equipment. The writer and producer understood that more detailed information would be presented in a classroom setting and set the stage for that in the video.

Finally, discuss your corporate culture with the team and provide as much information as you can on the topic and the intended audience to help them understand the tone and style the video should have. An edgy e-commerce company and a conservative brokerage firm would probably take very different approaches to an orientation video for new employees.

Once the parameters are established, ask the writer for a treatment you can review. Treatments are brief descriptions that establish a conceptual framework for the video and outline its content. They state the purpose of the video, describe the audience, discuss the opening and closing shots, list important points to be covered and set the tone of the video, which is reflected in pacing, narration and music.

Pay particular attention to the pacing and make sure it matches the topic. If you’re celebrating the introduction of a new product, you might want a fast pace that generates excitement. If you’re producing a recruitment piece highlighting the natural beauty of your area, a slower pace might be more appropriate.

After you’ve agreed on a treatment, the writer will begin drafting the script, coordinating with production personnel as she works. The script also should describe the shots that will accompany each section of the narration—what the viewer will see as the narrator is speaking.

The final script should be clear, concise and flowing, with smooth transitions between topics. It should mention a topic once, cover it as needed and move on. It should not depend on humor or game show gimmicks or use non-actors to deliver dialogue. They usually come off as stilted and unprofessional.

As you read the script, ask yourself why you need each section of the video. Many videos open with a statement from the organization’s CEO or president. These segments generally do little but slow the pace and bore the viewer. They also date the video if the person leaves. Such “talking heads,” as they are known in the trade, should be avoided altogether unless the speaker has something truly interesting to say.

Other common video problems include the following:

  • The script was not clear, concise and well structured.
  • The video tried to convey too many facts and figures.
  • The video lacked a thematic context that made the material more interesting.
  • The video tried to accomplish too many missions.

Bringing the Script to Life

Limit the number of people who will review the script to those whose approval is required. (But, remember that it’s much easier and less expensive to fix a paragraph of text than 30 seconds of video.) Have the writer make the necessary changes and submit a revised script.

Before shooting begins, your producer should hold a pre-production meeting to review the site, determine lighting needs, decide the sequence of shots and identify any potential problems. “A two-hour pre-production meeting can save a full day of expensive shooting,” Mathews says.

Make sure a professional narrates the script, and let the topic determine whether you use a male or female narrator. When Canadian company PCS Nitrogen Fertilizer Ltd. of Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, produced a video on how those who live near its plants should respond to a chemical release, a female narrator was used to soften the impact of the message.

Also, make sure that any music used adds texture to your production. “If the music will play under narration, avoid melodic selections that induce humming,” Mathews says.

Accompany the producer throughout the shooting period. Shots need not be taken in the order of their appearance in the final video. They are edited later to fit the script.

Adding Visual Interest

Much of the magic of a video takes place during editing. Sophisticated new equipment makes it easier to add special effects that help maintain viewer interest.

You also can enhance visual interest by shooting at related locations outside the workplace. If you are in an urban setting, a new employee orientation video can show scenes of your organization’s immediate surroundings by taking the audience on a visual stroll around the block.

The Florida Times-Union in Jacksonville shot segments of its community-outreach video in a local classroom, at performances of various arts groups it sponsors and on a fishing pier. These images added human interest and linked the company to the community. This technique can be particularly useful to manufacturing companies that want to avoid a cold, industrial tone.

Updating Your Video

When editing was done on tape, it was difficult to change a video without affecting everything that came after the change. New editing systems make it much easier to change and update videos. When the production company presents the edited video for your review, minor changes or corrections usually can be made without additional cost, as long as the original scope of the work remains unchanged and no new shooting is required.

Also, it’s wise to think about possible updates, even as you begin the project. Try to omit details that might change or date the video. If you must include material that might change, script it in segments that can easily be removed and replaced.

If you think you’ll want to update the video, consider storing the raw footage on a CD or DVD or even paying the production company to keep it for you. “This may seem like an unnecessary expense up front, but it can save you lots of money down the road,” says video-producer Carr.

Once the video is ready, pop some corn, open a few sodas and invite your colleagues to the premier. With good planning and a talented production team, your video should win rave reviews.

Betty Sosnin is a freelance writer based in Augusta, Ga.

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