Video: the world’s favourite form of storytelling

No other area of comms has developed faster in recent years than video production. Video is a powerful tool that can connect with audiences on a deep emotional level, and it’s becoming increasingly easy to produce with the ongoing evolution of phone cameras, editing apps and social media platforms.

Let’s start off with some stats. You’ll have heard all of these before, but they demonstrate why video is completely essential to any serious PR strategy:

I could go on – but I won’t, because you don’t need me to tell you that video is a big deal. All the major platforms are scrambling to double down on their video offering. Video is the world’s favourite form of storytelling, and telling a story is what good PR is all about.

Producing video content in the 2020s is like having a website in the 2010s.

If you don’t, it’s just a bit weird. People expect it. That said, please don’t start creating video simply because you feel like you need to.

Hopefully by the time you’ve finished reading this, you’ll understand why video content is a valuable comms channel, what sort of video content you could be making, and how you can get started with producing it.

Trends in video marketing

During the COVID pandemic, the video content industry (like most industries) has undergone fairly seismic changes. Here are three big trends you need to be aware of:

Cause marketing

This can be a really hard sell sometimes, but the content you put out shouldn’t always be about the product you’re trying to sell. In times like this, consumers want to invest in brands that care about the things they care about. In fact, two out of three people say they would “choose, switch, avoid or boycott a brand based on where it stands on the political or social issues they care about”.

It’s little wonder, then, that throughout the pandemic we have seen countless examples of brands posting video content about what they believe in, not necessarily about the wares they sell.

Democratisation

With the rise of platforms like TikTok, and with existing channels like YouTube and Instagram providing sophisticated video editing tools, everyone is a creator now. Everyone is a camera operator, an editor, a journalist and a presenter. Is there a way you can harness that desire to create content and make it work for your organisation?

On platforms like LinkedIn, business owners and C-suite members are increasingly finding the confidence to put themselves out there in video form. Some of the most successful posts have been relatively personal and vulnerable in nature, challenging the idea that LinkedIn content must always be ‘professional’.

Unsurprisingly, these days we expect in-house comms and marketing teams to have an enormous skillset. They’re somehow meant to be Hollywood directors as well as knowing their traditional PR and marketing onions. Thankfully, the restrictions brought about by the pandemic have meant that consumers are much more forgiving of content with lower production values. We’ve seen several TV ads shot on phones, and even a feature film made on Zoom – and yet I’ve heard nobody complain about the poor resolution, the wobbly shots, or the mixture of portrait and landscape. Professional quality video production still has a huge impact, but self-shot material can too as long as it feels authentic and tells an engaging story.

Live

With so many ‘real life’ events forced to take a back seat, huge numbers of people have turned to streaming to try and replicate the buzz of a live experience. According to Restream, across the main three streaming platforms, “viewership increased from 3.89 billion hours in Q3 2019 to 7.46 billion hours in Q3 2020.”

One the on hand, people are more accepting of virtual events than ever before – just as they are with those self-shot TV ads. At the same time, though, there’s a growing sense of fatigue with online life. This appetite for live streaming might not continue for long once we’re all vaccinated and able to mingle in person again.

Video content strategy

Before diving into creating video content, it’s essential to think about why you’re doing it, what sort of content you’re going to produce and who’s going to watch it. You should be thinking about these five questions every time you put out a piece of video, as well as when devising your overall content strategy.

Why are you using video?

This gets overlooked surprisingly often, but it’s a really basic question that should inform every stage of the production process. Think about the end goal, and work backwards from there. For example, a charity might be looking to spark debate, drum up donations or raise awareness. Whatever the objective is, everything from the tone of voice to the visual style should serve that goal.

Who will the audience be?

In the same way as you produce video content with the end goal in mind, you should also have the target audience in mind. That could be existing customers, prospects, staff, or someone else. In 2020 I created a series of six videos for St Ann’s Hospice to promote their Manchester Midnight Walk, and the tone of each video was tailored to a specific audience. Compare this video aimed at existing supporters, with this one aimed at people wanting to keep fit. Just as a side note, the Manchester Midnight Walk inevitably didn’t go ahead due to the pandemic, but I was able to reversion the existing content to help promote their Virtual Walk instead.

How do you want people to feel?

Provoking a strong emotional reaction is a proven way to get people to engage with and act on your video. Despite what we might want to believe, most decisions are driven by feelings rather than logic. At the start of the production process, decide what emotional response you’re aiming for, and go all-in on it. Humour, sadness, anger, surprise – all of these and a thousand others are powerful tools for making your content stick in the viewer’s mind.

What will set your content apart?

Standing out from the crowd can feel like an impossible task. Especially in the days when 500 hours of video get uploaded to YouTube every single minute. But it’s well worth thinking about how your video content will be heard amongst the noise. It might be that your brand has a really specific tone of voice that you can apply to your videos. Maybe you give people a clear incentive to watch, like in this brilliant boohooMAN competition devised by Social Chain. One simple way to stand out is to target a very specific niche, or appeal to an audience in a single locality.

Back in 2019 I was building my own brand – trying to build a reputation out of thin air, having previously been comfortably employed by the BBC. I wanted to put some content out there that would show off my skills, make a big impact and give my social channels a boost.

Using Google Earth Studio, I created a series of four videos showing stunning aerial views of different northern cities. There were two main things that set these videos apart. As the technology was new, I knew people wouldn’t have seen anything like it before. I also knew that targeting a specific local area is a surefire way to gain traction, simply because there’s less competition than if you’re going up against the entire internet. The result? Each video received hundreds of thousands across Facebook and Twitter, I gained hundreds of followers (from next to zero) and the Manchester video was shared by Manchester Evening News.

When/where will you publish it?

There are lots of things to consider here: how frequently you want to publish video, how frequently you want to publish non-video content, how much you want to spend, whether there’s a topical event you can peg your content to. Will you be making it yourself or will it be professionally shot and edited? There’s often a balance to strike here: could you upload DIY content on a regular basis, and more polished pieces less frequently?

Remember that not every piece of video content will work on every platform. Each social network has its own quirks in terms of what content performs best, what format your video should be in, and the demographics of the user base.

Practical tips for content creation and publishing

We live in a world where most of us have a video production studio nestled in our pocket. Phone cameras are still no match for professional sound and video recording equipment, but they can work brilliantly for everyday social media content. Here are a few simple ways to get the most out of your phone. Some of these tips will also apply to DSLRs and other digital cameras, but I will focus on phones because you can also use them to edit and publish your content.

5 tips for filming yourself or other people

  1. Set up in an area with plenty of natural light. You (or the subject) should be facing the light or at a slight angle. If the sun is so bright that your face is overexposed, move away from the window or use the curtains. Be intentional about what time of day you film, thinking about how much sun there will be and from what direction.
  2. Consider whether you/the subject should be looking straight at the lens, or off to one side at an interviewer. Keep this consistent.
  3. If you’re filming yourself, still try to use the back camera (not the selfie camera) if you can. Not only is this probably a better camera, it also takes away the distraction of the screen and helps you focus on the lens. You will need to make sure the shot is framed right first – e.g. by taking some test footage.
  4. Minimise all background noise. Before you start, be quiet. Listen for any noise, even if it’s just a low background hum, and see if you can identify it and eliminate it.
  5. Think about your framing. Should your phone be landscape or portrait? There’s no right or wrong answer, it mainly comes down to what platform/s you’re using. Get a tripod or find some other way to get the camera to head height; low angles rarely look good!

5 tips for filming other subjects (B-roll footage)

  1. Always shoot more than you need.
  2. Experiment with slow motion. It will smooth out your shots and give them an arty quality.
  3. Time lapses can be incredibly effective and incredibly easy, either on your native phone camera or using third-party apps. Think about what would make an engaging relevant time lapse for your brand – from sunsets to setting up for events.
  4. If you need to stitch lots of shots together (e.g. for an event highlights film) make sure you get a mixture of different types of shot. Close-ups, wide shots, and maybe some slow motion or time lapse.
  5. Don’t feel like you need to move the camera unless there’s a specific reason to do so. Static shots, framed and edited well, will look dynamic and professional. Random wobbly panning will not!

5 tips for publishing video content

  1. Take your time at the upload stage! Otherwise you’re wasting all the time and money you’ve spent on producing the content itself.
  2. Consider creating different versions of the video for different platforms.
  3. Choose a suitable thumbnail, title and description that grabs people’s attention and accurately reflects what the video is about.
  4. Consider whether you need to add subtitles – I’ve linked to a couple of great tools for that below.
  5. If your video is going on a website, add plenty of supporting copy to give search engines a fighting chance of taking notice.

5 apps I recommend for video

  1. Adobe Spark Video – online and on iOS. A really intuitive way of pulling footage and photos together into a video, with the ability to add text, music and stock assets.
  2. Lumen5 – online, iOS, Android. This is perfect if you generate a lot of blogs, press releases or other written content. It turns your text into a really nice-looking video automatically. You can tweak it to your heart’s content, but honestly you’ll be amazed by what it does on its own.
  3. Rev – online. Upload a video and a human transcriber will create subtitles for you. I use this service all the time – staggeringly cheap and generally very accurate.
  4. MixCaptions – iOS and Mac. Like Rev but automatic, so it’s quicker and cheaper but less accurate.
  5. FiLMiC Pro – iOS and Android. If you’re serious about filming with a phone, this app is essential. It gives you manual control over all the things your native camera does automatically, which means you can fine tune things like focus, exposure, white balance and audio.

Over the past year, we have seen massive changes in the way video is made and consumed. The power and prominence of video is only going to grow over the coming decade. Just in the start of the year we’ve seen once again how even the simplest, most amateurish video content can take pop culture by storm.

It’s important to remember, though, that video isn’t the be all and end all. It’s just one method of communication. It’s arguably the one with the most potential impact, but it’s also one of the most expensive. Your PR and marketing strategy should involve several different touchpoints, which all complement each other and have a consistent tone of voice. And one of those touchpoints, of course, should be video.

Ben Horrigan,  Studio 91

Read more about the new partnership between Hough Bellis and Studio 91 here