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Be Your Own Project Advocate

May 19, 2016 Leave a comment

ID-10081312If there’s one challenge for production/creative managers in the enterprise space, it’s the struggle to define, implement and operate a new technology system for their productions. Many communications leaders are specialists in the creation and development of high-value video and audio content. They are well versed in scriptwriting, lighting, shooting, pacing and the other key aspects of film production.

Where many of these managers get tripped up is in the proper implementation of the increasingly complex delivery systems available to share their creations online. Whether the system is homebuilt or vendor-driven, leaders suddenly find themselves in complicated discussions of bandwidth, streaming protocols, ideal bitrates, transcoding and every other detail of properly instituting systems for delivering video content. There’s a tendency on the creative side to defer these questions to the “experts” – let the IT guys work that stuff out, I just have to focus on providing the content.

That kind of attitude is understandable, but can do enormous damage to the project and possibly kill it altogether. It’s imperative for even the least technical manager to get both interested and informed about these details as if the project depends on the managers understanding and discussing them intelligently. There are a number of reasons for this, but it boils down to your advocacy is the only one that will focus completely on the project meeting its goals successfully.

The first driver of project success is focus – the team needs to define goals to meet the business needs, layout essential functionality and see that the project stays on track. Ostensibly the Project Manager assigned by the IT department for the project will handle those efforts. In reality, my experience has demonstrated that even the most well-intentioned and skilled PM is juggling at least a half-dozen projects at once. Yours may not be the most complicated or the most high-profile, and by definition it will settle down to the bottom of his list. The tech team doing the initial due diligence is likewise swamped, and broadly speaking are unlikely to be experts at first in the details of streaming video. Moreover, there’s often a distance placed between the project’s business owners and the guys in the trenches, and every layer in between guarantees details will be lost in translation. The high-level sponsors of projects are fire-and-forget – they stand up to support a project, but they usually don’t want to know anything until it’s all done (or they have to yell at someone). The vendors are focused on many things – they want you to use and love their products, but often they have limited staff trying to manage multiple clients and thus their goals are different. In the end, you’re the only one invested enough to keep pointing like a laser at getting a working product that you’ll be living with for the foreseeable future.

Another key concern for these projects is the distance between the promise and reality. Again, you’re the one that has to work with these tools daily. Everything always sounds good at the kickoff meetings, but too many of the stakeholders there don’t have to deal with the actual day-to-day function. Practically it makes no difference to a VP that it takes 14 steps to deliver each piece of video out to the audience – but your team is going to lose productivity in massive chunks if the design doesn’t take your processes into consideration. Something as critical as metrics can be a major stumbling block if it’s not considered early – can they deliver what you actually need to know and report out to the stakeholders?

In the end, no one should know the needs and the uses better than the direct owner of the systems. These concepts may  be foreign to you, but it behooves you to learn them and be able to discuss them intelligently. No one will show more concern for the success of your project than you will, and the more you can direct it, prod your partners and shape the final results the better it will turn out.

Image courtesy of stockimages at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

A Tale of Two Video Projects

March 27, 2014 Leave a comment

Image courtesy of suphakit73/ FreeDigitalPhotos.net

I’ve gotten involved recently with two separate video projects and the two efforts couldn’t be farther apart in approach. The purposes are different and the end products need to accomplish separate things. There’s also two very different approval chains involved and that changes things dramatically.

The processes of these efforts, however, are the most different of them all and the most instructive about success and failure with a video project. One project has been multiple months in the discussion, planning, back and forth, delays and consultations. The end products are supposed to be extremely short teasers to provide a brief visual and an enticement to the readers to continue on with a text piece. It provides a welcome sense of the writers and a chance to associate names & personalities with their thinking. It should, frankly, be a slam dunk of an easy exercise to settle on a basic approach both technically and content-wise and get some samples in the can and ready for publication. And yet months later we’re still discussing.

On the other project, there was an almost passing request from a colleague to shoot some video for an online tool he’s developed. We arranged a day, I borrowed some equipment, and over the course of a single day we shot what turned into 35 short segments for him to add to the tool. In less than a week I had it all edited to his satisfaction and back over to him. I am by no means a cinematographer and these talking head pieces may not be the most brilliant ever, but we accomplished everything he needed to do in a very short space of time.

It’s no surprise which I consider the appropriate way to get a video together, but it’s not always possible. There are many good reasons to work by committee and often the final product needs the input of many people. There are certainly times when a professional quality videographer, a formal script and trained actors are necessary for the production to reach the level it needs to reach.

But there are also times when programs can overthink themselves into doing nothing. The old 80/20 rule, or the perfect being the enemy of the good really needs to come into play when projects get out of hand. A simple idea often needs a simple solution, even if it doesn’t entirely match expectations. The months spent on doing demos and passing them around and writing slide presentations would probably be better used cranking out short pieces and improving as we go.

As the cost curve on video production continues to bend in favor of cheaper, better video there’s no reason not to take the fast route through. If the end product is short and very targeted it’s really not worth the expense of very high end production when you get extremely good results with basic equipment and a decent understanding of basic videography. Get the lighting decent and the sound great and your average talking head video doesn’t need a ton of work. Even basic b-roll can be added with the same equipment, so why overexert yourself.

I’ve said numerous times during this process there’s a time and place for everything. Bring on the best when the best is needed, and bring on the good when it will do the trick in half the time and a tenth of the cost.

Image courtesy of suphakit73 / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Managing Risks in Video Content

January 13, 2014 Leave a comment

Day to day life in content production in my current industry involves a large amount of risk management. Every piece that works its way through the process is vetted for risky content—are we overstating the case? Are we mentioning private information that we shouldn’t? Are we using language that we shouldn’t use? It got me thinking about risk concerns during the creation and distribution of video – what are some of the things we need to think about?

Some industries are more risk-conscious than others. Consulting/Advisory (where I am now), Healthcare (where I’ve been), Financial Services/Banking (haven’t gotten to this one so far) are among the most risk-aware fields out there. A lot of this is driven by the extreme sensitivity of the information companies in these fields possess—critical proprietary business information, your private health information or your money. Some is driven by the need for consumer protection—government regulations abound to make sure the information these organizations hold is protected and safe from prying eyes and that companies do not make promises they can’t keep. 

If you’re in one of those industries, the safeguards on language and information are likely in place. It’s possible there’s a whole department with responsibility for making sure the videos you produce comply with regulations & company policies. As a producer you should be aware of the organization’s needs and anticipate the pitfalls. If you’re writing a script, think about the messages you’re delivering, and how they fit the company’s risk profile. You can save yourselves and the risk reviewers a lot of time and effort by keeping it front and center at every step of the way. Even if it’s not required, think about having the risk people review the script before you schedule recording—if you can spot potential issues ahead of time it can save messy re-shoots later.

If you’re interviewing people (as opposed to a scripted shoot) have a conversation with your talent before the camera rolls about the kinds of things to avoid. While it can get crowded and certainly take some of the energy out of an interview, consider having a risk-aware person in the room with you during the shoot to keep an ear out for risk problems. It may not be ideal from a production standpoint, but it can head off the kinds of problems that will force a re-shoot later to clean it up.

If you’re in another industry where the risk management effort gets less attention, it’s still good practice to think about these concerns. What kinds of language might reflect poorly on the organization? What statements might disturb or offend your key audiences? What private information—including proprietary to your company—should not be shared with a general audience? Even without a formal risk review process, your company’s leadership is likely to be concerned about what gets shared on video. If you can demonstrate to them an awareness and respect for this important consideration you’ll go a long way towards earning their trust to get the job done the right way.

Video is Coming! Now What?

July 30, 2013 Leave a comment

I woke up in a curmudgeonly mood to begin with, and it wasn’t helped by seeing yet another twitter posting pointing out that video is on the rise. “Guess what?” says headline #2,367 – “we see video as taking over the internet!”

So what?

The key to trends is turning that into actionable strategy. I’ve seen multiple trends articles saying video is The Next Big Thing™, but what does this mean practically to the owner of a video service line? The big media producers and distributors know this already, and probably know a lot more about it than the experts making these predictions. The independent producers and small distributors may need the information about how to monetize their content, but that’s a relatively small portion of the overall video universe. What do these articles say to the companies that create and distribute video as only a part of their overall communications and marketing strategies?

Not much, which of course is why I blog about this in the first place – I’m filling that niche to help people make sense of their video efforts when it’s only a part of what their companies do. That’s really the problem these trend articles hold – there’s really nothing there to help video managers drive their video strategy towards overall organizational goals. That’s the critical part of a video program in most organizational settings, other than major content producers and advertisers who are in the business of selling video.

The job for an in-house video/media manager is to further the overall business goals of the organization, whether that’s selling widgets, curing patients or educating students. Your first and most critical question when creating content, building infrastructure or making partnership deals is “what is this contributing to the overall goals of the company, and how is it doing it?” If you can’t provide an answer to that it’s likely time to re-evaluate your plans. If you read the financial news at all you know that companies are sitting on cash – mounds of it in some cases. They’re not hiring, they’re not spending on capital improvements and they’re certainly trying to avoid spending it on unnecessary projects. If you’re going to a CIO, CFO or CEO these days to ask for funds you’d better have a strong business case to explain how this either makes them or saves them a lot of money.

Your video projects have to meet business criteria, and general trend information is at best a small part of an overall defense of a project’s value to the company. It’s nice to know, but all it does is underline the competitive landscape for your content. Take these trends for what they’re worth – confirmation of the power and reach of online video. Then move on to explain how video helps your organization do what it does better, more efficiently and more cost-effectively.

Preparation Can Make All the Difference

February 14, 2013 Leave a comment

Producer Anthony Burokas posted an excellent breakdown of, well, breakdowns and how to avoid them:

Streamline Your Production Pipeline

There’s really no question that the event he worked on could’ve run more quickly, efficiently and of course cheaply if the producers had taken the time to sit down and map out what they needed to do and how to best set up their tools and personnel to make that work as smoothly as possible.

The same is really true of any video production – it doesn’t need to be a 7-camera setup in a major event space. A one or two camera shoot can be equally complicated and taking some time beforehand to walk through it can really make a big difference. If you’re planning a video involving senior executives, their time is extremely valuable and hard to schedule. Do you really want to sit down with the CEO and realize as he’s getting in place that the lighting is unacceptable, or the background is inappropriate, or you’ve scheduled someone else at the same time?

I had a conversation recently about a new effort to deliver live events via online video. What’s become clear to them is that rules will have to be set down and adhered to if the effort is going to succeed. Some of this involves developing those rules for preparation and requiring their content partners to provide their materials well in advance of the event getting underway. For the end user, especially during a live event, the fumbling and stumbling as presenters get situated is torture – by getting all of that in place with time to spare, the event can begin without delay, showing off the presenters in their best light and making it a better experience for the viewers.

None of this is rocket science of course, and with experience and the right team the processes will become more natural. But the process of production usually has a lot of moving parts and the more you can think through and get in place before you start the better it will come off.

It’s All About the Metrics

July 18, 2012 Leave a comment

More focus is being brought on the issue of metrics in online video:

As Online Video Campaigns Ramp Up, Metrics Present a Challenge

This particular article is focused on the advertising marketplace and the impact video has on marketers. Needless to say it’s critical there – you make your living off how well your ads do, and that’s hard to figure out if you don’t know what you’re measuring.

It applies to non-advertising video as well, of course, and I think it remains one of the greatest challenges to video production and delivery across industries and sectors.  There are some key components to the challenge:

  • What information do you collect?
  • Is it even collectable?
  • Are you affected by inevitable comparisons to the metrics available for non-media content?
  • Are you tracking what you want to know or what the business owner wants?
  • What do you do with it all once you’ve got the data?

Streaming media doesn’t offer the same types of metrics as text-based internet content. The technical details are less important than the fact that text content has both a track record and a support system.  There are any number of metrics available, and major providers offer suites of software to help the content owner slice and dice the numbers in multiple ways. Video is trickier – major formats like flash lack certain key information on the users viewing it; unlike text, there are fewer agreed standards that providers are offering – they tend to provide unique metric packages that only work with their broader delivery offerings. The inevitable result is that content owners want to know the same things they can learn about text content and it’s often not available; what is available may be more technical than the content owners want.

All of this is overshadowed  by the general lack of understanding of the concept of metrics by content owner and media manager both. People get focused on having numbers without figuring out what it is those numbers are telling them. It’s all very helpful to find out you had 1,000 views on a piece and on average they watched 25% of the video, but how are you interpreting that information? More importantly, now that you know this, what do you do next? Make the video shorter? Place it more prominently on your page? Speed up the pace of the piece?

All of these may be needed, or none of them. Partly because you may not have any idea who those people watching are. Again, if on average they gave up partway through, but 15% of the users watched till the end – and those people were your key target audience, and it led them to reach out and your company made sales – why on earth would you shorten the piece? If on the other hand your important audience left partway through, you really do want it shorter to keep their attention and again have the success you intended with the video.

Unfortunately I don’t have great answers to this, and only partly because video metrics are still maturing as a concept. The most I can say is to take some time to understand what you can track and then be realistic about making sense of it. You’ll always be somewhat limited in what you can tell from the raw numbers, but you can tweak the circumstances to help judge the effectiveness of your media. Drop in calls to action if you can – YouTube for one allows for clickable popups within a video; don’t go crazy, but a short message at the beginning or end of a piece will connect interested users back to a website or email to learn more. Track your sales via video – ask the call center to ask callers where they learned about a product or service, or place a field in an online form with video as a choice for the source. It’s by no means perfect, but you’ll get a sense as to the impact it’s having.

There’s an art and alchemy to tracking use of online video, and it has a long way to go; keep your expectations reasonable, stay focused on meeting business needs and make the most intelligent use of the data you can.

Categories: Process Management Tags: ,

Videoconferencing Security

January 24, 2012 Leave a comment

Ran across this story the other day in the New York Times.  I’m often amazed how much time people will spend trying to break the law and steal things – one can only imagine what they could accomplish if they tried to contribute something useful.

Cameras May Open Up the Board Room to Hackers

Needless to say this becomes one more item that organizations and their media teams need to worry about. Technically I think the scariest part of this is even if one’s own network is secure, partner organizations may end up sharing information about your network if theirs is not secured. There are obviously many reasons hackers would be delighted to sneak into unsecured cameras at all kinds of companies, which means there are that many reasons companies need to protect their conferencing systems. Practically speaking there are concrete steps companies can take to protect their VTC networks; as the article indicates some steps are complicated, but certainly doable.

The bigger issue I think for many managers is the convenience vs. security discussion.  Like most technology applications, the critical (i.e. C-suite) users generally want things to be quick and easy. Obviously those folks can have a technician available immediately to resolve issues and get them communicating, but I think many users don’t even want that kind of experience. Like the phone, they want to turn it on, dial out or receive a call, and proceed with their business. So how does a media manager prepare an argument in favor of tighter restrictions?

The easy part of the argument is the negative – “if we don’t do this, our most secure information could become vulnerable and cost us business/put us into litigation/embarrass us publicly.” For some that argument will be enough, and lucky you if it gets you the resources and effort you need. The harder arguments to make are the positive ones – benefits that will occur if they secure their network.

The truth is I’m hard pressed myself to come up with strong, positive arguments that will help make a sale to senior executives.  The consequences of unsecured data are pretty stark to me, and carry the most weight.  The one I can think of at the moment is the organization’s reputation – partners that do business with you will want to know you respect their privacy and data security, and it’s one more thing you can assure them about.  It’s good business practice, and it shows you understand the environment the company lives in.

I grant you that’s hardly the strongest positive argument, so let me open it up to you – what do you think is the best case you can make to an executive for securing your videoconferencing network?

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