Picture Perfect: Web Video Redefines Personal Communications

As the proliferation of online communications continues, the various platforms are morphing into one another and creating a veritable melting pot. If you are looking for tangible proof, just consider multimedia press releases: They combine live links, streaming video and RSS feeds to deliver information to audiences, to forge more personal relationships with individual stakeholders, and to boost brand advocacy. Of all the potential Web vehicles out there, though, online video has seen perhaps the most significant transformation. It went from television footage being repurposed online to original content that engages and influences everyone from consumers to media to investors. "Online video has emotional appeal," says Dan Solomon, CEO of Virilion (formerly Mindshare Interactive). "It's an opportunity to show the positive impact of a story. Video is a tool to go viral. It is incumbent for PR professionals to convey information in ways that use words, pictures and sounds." Consider these best-in-class examples of online video as a strategic communications tool. The Big Mashup "[Video] is one of these really interesting communications vehicles," says Karen Kahn, VP of global communications for Sun Microsystems. "If you are going to engage people, no body wants flat content anymore. Now, almost everything we do has some video content." With this statement, Kahn points to one of the many Sun communications initiatives that launched in the last year with multiple video components: "The Big Mashup," an online experience started in November 2006 that examines how "the world of entertainment and news-gathering blurs the line between audience and entertainer, viewer and newscaster, fan and producer." The effort leveraged video in a number of ways to bring together all stakeholders and engage in a conversation around what execs at Sun refer to as the "Participation Age." For example, a multimedia press release announced The Big Mashup and included video interviews of, among others, Sun Chief Technology Officer Chris Melissinos, Rocketboom Host Joanne Colan and author Douglas Rushkoff. Then, The Big Mashup itself (http://www.sun.com/thebigmashup) features a documentary following media and entertainment thought leaders. But, in addition to evolving their use of online video to start a conversation, Kahn says, the change in perspective has benefited the organization in other ways. "Our press releases now always have multimedia aspects," she says. "We include video that helps bring issues to life. We've cut our press releases down by about 70%." The Big Mashup wasn't Sun's only noteworthy video output, nor was multimedia press releases. For the Oracle OpenWorld 2007 Conference, which took place last week, Sun communications executives imbedded video into their blog coverage. "Blogs have also helped us to reduce the number of press releases we put out," Kahn says. "They are a very immediate way to get the news out, and we're starting to incorporate video into our blogs whenever there is a visual aspect." Project Direct & HP Uncut Sun PR managers aren't alone on the Web video front. The New York 2007 ad:tech Conference highlighted a number of companies at the forefront of video implementation. Daina Middleton, global interactive director, printing and imaging, for HP, described her company's campaign launched in conjunction with YouTube in October to host the platform's first international film festival. Execs are also creating a community for employees to upload videos about customer-relevant topics; not only is it an employee morale booster, but it provides relevant content that starts conversations and, in turn, leads to sales. "We're building a platform where we can syndicate content and use it for customer purposes," Middleton says. "This gives employees an avenue to talk about HP products, making it customer-relevant." Turning Down The Volume Of Crises "Video can be a good [communications] supplement during a crisis," Solomon says. He cites two companies that used video in very different ways to reach stakeholders when times were tough: JetBlue, whose communications executives posted video of the CEO directly on YouTube following national news coverage of the passengers who were stranded on the runway for hours on end last February. It was a strategic move, especially considering what the CEO's video was up against on the video platform; many passengers had taken their own video of their experience "in captivity" and posted it on the site, so JetBlue's footage appeared directly next to these negative messages. However, Solomon says, it was a gutsy and effective move to take the initiative and face the music, no matter how discordant it was. Then there is Mattel, a company that is currently in the throes of a crisis due to the widespread product recalls of many of its toys. As the crisis began to unfold in August, the Mattel team posted video statements from the CEO on the corporate Web site. It was a good way to provide earnest, transparent updates that stemmed from an official location; it's the first place (Mattel hopes) that people will go when they are seeking factual information. "Your Web site is the backbone for all online communications," Solomon says. PRN CONTACTS: Dan Solomon, dsolomon@mindshare.net; Karen Kahn, karen.kahn@sun.com; Greg Verdino, greg@crayonville.com Best Practices for Leveraging Online Video Make sure the product justifies video; don't force video to justify the product. "Don't take any random announcement and invent a video component," says Karen Kahn, VP of global communications for Sun Microsystems. "You'll lose your audience, and you'll waste your money." Don't assume video is "too complicated" for your organization. "Wire services are techie so you don't have to be," Kahn says. "They help you figure out how to imbed the right files. It's so much easier than you'd think." Don't be shortsighted. "YouTube may be the biggest, but it's not the only video-sharing service," says Greg Verdino, chief strategy officer of Crayon. Consider outlets like Brightcove and iTunes as well. Take risks. Communicators may feel strapped for cash when they look at their budgetary allowances, but Kahn urges executives to set ahead a percentage of budgets every quarter to invest in new media experiments. "There's a rule with my team: Every quarter, we take 10-20% of our budget and invest it in pilot programs," she says. "Sometimes they are successful and sometimes they're not, but that's where the best ideas come from." Optimize for search. "If you're building assets, you better know what your metrics are for," says Daina Middleton, global interactive director, printing and imaging, for HP. "In the old days, we spent all of our money to get campaigns out the door. Today we should reserve some funds, get insights, analyze it and make adjustments as you go along. We use search to measure our PR activities. We never did that before. Make sure your press release is search-optimized."

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