How to make better promo videos for your church or charity

…start at the end!

The first step in creating any successful promo video is to project yourself into the hearts and minds of those who you hope will watch it. That’s it. You start at the end of the video production process, and almost work backwards. Ask yourself the who, what, how, when, where questions now and you’ll save yourself time and money in the production process. In an initial planning meeting, before you even approach external professionals or decide on a theme and tone for the video, ask:

  • who is my target audience? Look at your membership/supporter data to help profiling if needed – are they young and hip, or old and wise….and/or hip too!
  • when do you want them to watch it (deadline for finishing production)? e.g. a campaign deadline, an event launch, a product launch etc.
  • where will your audience view this video? e.g. on YouTube, embedded on your website, on Twitter/Facebook etc.
  • how will they view this video? e.g. on a tablet, TV, mobile – this can affect your decisions on video format etc.
  • what do I want them to do? e.g. donate, subscribe etc.
  • how will they do that? e.g. a link below in embedded in your video taking them to a webpage
  • what key performance indicators should we set for this video when reviewing its success?
  • how else could we use the footage left over from some of the promo filming (or what else could we get from the filming trips)?
  • what other questions have you now thought of?

It’s important to remember that making a promo video isn’t just about making a mini moving picture; it’s part of a bigger media marketing process you need to think about. To read more about media production strategies see the blog post Journey, Experience, Memorability – a new triad of reference for media production.

Budget, time and resources

You’ll need to decide what budget and resources you have and will need. This is often proportional to the quality and effectiveness of your finished product. However, remember that quality and effectiveness aren’t always of a similar standard. You may spend tens of thousands on a video marketing campaign, hiring in expensive contractors and burning a huge production budget for a great looking video, but if there’s no effective ROI you need to ask yourself what you have achieved. Conversely you may put out a video shot and edited on a mobile phone with some really quirky content that gets huge attention and great ROI however little that investment was. Usually this second, no to low budget option is too tough to pull off. It’s about finding a happy medium – and much of that can be down to you and your planning, before you even consider which if any contractors you will bring in to produce the video.

If you decide to make the video in-house there are a number of factors to consider, including what kit to buy, who will use the kit and what level of training do they have or will need. Remember, if you go down this route you may sacrifice some quality and efficiency from not using external contractors, but you will be utilising your own workforce and the talent and creativity they have. Also, if you’re going in-house it can be more sustainable. By training up members of your workforce to operate a camera, produce and edit then it can allow managers to take more control of how and when videos are produced, you have less of a problem communicating a message that’s already ingrained in staff and it may even be cheaper in the long run (especially if video making is just part of a team member’s role). Lots to think about here.

What kit?

Many low to medium budget promo videos are actually shot on cameras with perhaps cheaper price tags than you thought. Remember, we’re no longer just shooting for broadcast TV, we’re mostly shooting for the web (YouTube, Vimeo, Facebook etc.). So don’t be too alarmed at the prospect of buying a good video camera. Many DSLR stills cameras shoot great video too (often better than pro camcorders). See this blog post from ReelMarketer for a good summary of reasons to use a DSLR. They do have their limitations, but for simple footage gathering and interviews (which are the bare bones of many promos) they can do a good job. Check your local camera site for the best online deals.

You’ll also need the following: a good lens or two (e.g. a 50mm prime lens for interviews and a telephoto lens like the Canon 17-55mm f/2.8 or the Tamron 18-270mm f/3.5-6.3 enabling you to get a variety of shots with image stabilisation); a tripod, several memory cards, an external audio recorder, a lapel mic, a top mounted mini shotgun mic (for when gathering extra footage or b-roll), and when adding to your kit make sure you do good research and get advice from web videos and pros you know or come across. You’ll also need some editing software. Loads to choose from here, the pro ones we like at WVM being Adobe CS6 (Production Premium) and Final Cut Pro X. To learn how to use these we recommend video training and there are others. Get yourself a YouTube and Vimeo account and you’re good to go.

Defining the message

Based on your earlier research as to the end point of your video, you should have some idea of what factors will affect your message. A good technique for defining a message is to do a casual interview with those people who will have the greatest grasp of what this video should achieve. Speak to the CEO or Pastor and chat to him or her about what’s really at the heart of the message you’re trying to get across. A good tip is to take notes or record the audio from these fact-finding chats, with the aim being that you nail down what the soundbites will be that shape your video. An expectation or target for the video isn’t usually that refined early on, so you need to narrow it down. Perhaps at the end of this process you have two or three good soundbites/idea bites that can then be used to form the backbone of the promo. Then, based on your budget, time and resources you can begin to sketch out what sort of video will be possible.

Script and sketch

So you have nailed down the message/s you need to get across in your video. You’ve also ascertained what sort of promo you may be able to make. Now you need to do perhaps the hardest part of the whole process: scripting and sketching your ideas into workable plans. Who will you need to interview? What sort of things would you like them to say? Start writing down the ideal soundbites from each person and then the questions you’ll need to ask them to produce such similar soundbites.

As you’re scripting and sketching soundbites, you also need to think visually. What shots or graphics will I need at each point to visualise the subject being spoken of. This will help you no end with your planning. This is when scripting and sketching your promo comes into its own. You’ll save time and money by working out in advance what key message, soundbite and extra content you need before you get on the road filming.

Gather (and log)

So, you know what you need – the constituent parts to make up your promo. It’s time to start planning a production schedule. When and where can you interview your subjects? When and where will you get your extra footage (b-roll)? Where will you source your graphics and or images for the promo? How does all this fit in with your production deadline? Remember you’ll need to leave time to edit your video as well as time for your CEO or Pastor to review and if necessary ask for changes – leave yourself time for this!

As you get on the road, don’t forget the basics. A kit check and charged batteries are not only useful, they’re essential. Simple things like checking focus and exposure as well as correct audio recording can make or break a shoot. Also remember to keep health and safety protocols and don’t do anything which could harm you or your subjects – that includes refusing to take breaks, you don’t want to have a brilliant day’s filming and then end up so tired you can’t drive back safely, for example.

When you’re interviewing you may need to interview your subjects for 20 mins or so on a variety of topics related to your brief, in order to get that magic soundbite. Try not to rely on autocues and voice overs all the time. We recommend you keep it natural, as best you can. Soundbites never work well scripted. Try and chat conversationally around the topic. Keep a mental log of good content, but don’t let this distract you from getting the basics right. In other words, don’t be so excited at getting a smashing soundbite that you forget to press record for the next section of filming. These things can happen.

Another good tip is to think what other content you can get from your subject while you’re with them – content not related to the brief in hand, but which may be useful another time. After all, you’ve set up all this kit and gained a good interview – what else could you use this opportunity with your subject for? A general endorsement for your church or charity? Think.

Once you’ve gathered your footage log it. There are many methods for logging but most involve renaming clips in your project bin in your editing software of choice. At this stage you can review your footage and start to make basic edits – all the time keeping in mind your overall brief and messaging structure of the promo, but also with respect to how much time you have to work with.

Getting it together

Remember those first few seconds of the video are vital. You need to make them memorable. Think outside the box. Perhaps start with your strongest shot or soundbite, even if it’s not a linear telling of the story. It used to be the case that people would only have the patience to watch a YouTube video for 5 mins max. Now it’s less than 2 mins in many cases. Consider this in your editing. Don’t forget the call to action at the end of the video. There’s no point producing a promo video if the viewer isn’t encouraged to do something at the end. It could be as simple as a link to your website and/or a phone number.

Try and get a decent draft out early to be reviewed by those who will eventually sign it off. Make them aware it’s just a draft, but use this as an opportunity to check you’re on the right path before you make to many finer detailed adjustments. Again, this can save you time and money. Once you have your feedback, work on being faithful to it. Get a final draft out for checking and signing off. This may end up being the final version. Good news if it is.

Now back to your original research: what format do you need this video to be in? H264? Mov? FLV? 3Gp? Get encoding and uploading. You’re nearing the end of the journey…

Message in a bottle

The video you’re sending out is like a message in a bottle in choppy, crowded waters. You need to do all you can to make sure it’s picked up by the right people. Of course you’re putting in on your Facebook Page and tweeting it, but don’t forget to embed it well on your website and encourage others to blog about it. Put it in your enewsletter, link to it in email signatures, use all your communications outlets. Make it as shareable as possible. Use YouTube’s inbuilt video tagging tools and pop-ups to link to it from another of your videos.

It’s important to monitor your video’s performance using YouTube/Vimeo and Google analytics. Which blogs have picked it up? What was the single biggest referrer to your video? If it was Facebook or Twitter rather than your enewsletter then you need to remember this for future productions – or improve the layout/design/reach of your enewsletter.

Remember there are many hours worth of video content competing for attention. Make your videos better – that involves thinking of the whole marketing process, not just the video itself.



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