Bandwidth Busters: Online Video Turns Pro; PR Execs Scramble


"Be assured that video is being used and being viewed online." When Medialink COO Larry Thomas opened up the March 4 Thought Leaders Roundtable on Video 2.0 Communications Strategies with this statement, the 15 senior communications executives in attendance bristled. True, each acknowledged the growing necessity of incorporating Web video into communications strategies, but the collective apprehension and general confusion about how to do so effectively was the not-so-white elephant in the room. "Video has been a double-edged sword," said Nancy Lewis, director of PR for SAE International, in reference to its power to both mobilize stakeholder groups and, if executed without regard to brand identity or the target audience, to have extremely detrimental effects. The roundtable, hosted by PR News and Medialink, got executives talking about how to brandish this proverbial sword in the most strategic, high-impact way. While everyone around the table hailed from very different industries--publishing, hospitality and law, just to name a few--the questions they wanted answered fell on common ground: What are the challenges everyone faces when introducing video into strategic plans? What are the nuts-and-bolts tactics of actually creating and disseminating video? What context is best for using video to connect with various audiences? How can you measure video's influence and tie it back to business goals? Here is a glimpse into the minds of 15 senior communications professionals when online video is the topic du jour. Challenges The roundtable discussion opened with a reference to a Wall Street Journal article that served as a natural segue into a conversation about video challenges. The article discussed the increasingly high percentage of employees who watch online video during work hours, and the congruent amount of bandwidth that these videos suck up. To combat the issue, the article says, many managers are blocking sites like YouTube. But, where does that leave communications professionals, who are becoming more dependent on video-sharing sites to reach stakeholders? "It's very difficult to get access to the things we need to see," said Pat McCrummen, acting SVP, communications and marketing, American Red Cross. "It's a bandwidth issue." Mike Hyland, director of PR for Disneyland Resorts, concurred: "IT is focused on the infrastructure, but we have to go out and explore [these sites]. It's not about having an hour free to play on YouTube. [This platform] isn't becoming mainstream--it is mainstream." Nuts And Bolts While the attendees agreed that reaching a deal with their IT departments will be a hard-won battle, each was more concerned about what exactly makes a good video in the first place. One unanimously agreed-upon quality? Authenticity. "People want authentic video," Hyland said. "It's usually not the CEO they want to talk to." This comment immediately brought up the topic of audiences, both in terms of those creating videos and those consuming them. Said Mary Kimber, CMO of Patton Boggs, "Our challenge is getting the audience to see how the videos are relevant to them." However, getting audiences to see this requires having a comprehensive understanding of them--from their consumption habits to their demographics--in the first place. But, said Kazumi Mechling, EVP, consumer marketing, Waggener Edstrom, "If it doesn't resonate with what your brand stands for, then it doesn't fly." So, then, what does? Based on personal trial and error, many attendees described initiatives and strategies they've used to both positive and negative effect. For example, McCrummen (American Red Cross) is constantly faced with budget constraints, so his team tries "to bridge into the world of citizen journalism" by encouraging volunteers to shoot footage with a handy cam and then pitching these authentic stories to news outlets. "We gave up control," he said. "Volunteers want to tell their stories, so why not let them?" As for the necessary filtering process that citizen journalism requires, he said, "I'd rather have one bad story that we have to fix and 100 good ones, rather than having to control 101 stories in the first place." Facing similar challenges, Goodwill Industries Director of Media Relations, Christine Bragale, explained her strategy of keeping all video footage shot for at least five years so you have a well-stocked library to choose from when the need arises. Medialink's Thomas summarized her point well, saying, "Shoot it once, deploy it often." When it comes to organizations' capacity for creating online video in the first place, attendees agreed that hiring interns from university programs that specialize in video production is a cost-effective way to begin staffing what could become a full-fledged video department. But for those who don't have the resources, freelance production crews are the next best thing. Direct To Consumer Everyone around the table was quick to acknowledge online video's compatibility with social media platforms--something that is still a Wild West for many communicators. "It's a different world," Hyland said. "Now we are going direct to consumers. [At Disneyland Resorts], PR hadn't ever done that before." Hyland described a few of the direct-to-consumer initiatives that have been successful in the past, including an outreach effort to "mommy bloggers" and a joint online contest with CareerBuilder.com to find the first-ever Disney Chief Magic Official (http://www.dreamcmo.com). The key to both of these efforts' success, he said, was taking the "pitching" out of the message and letting the brand speak for itself. Bragale agreed: "It's about differentiating between the key message and the tagline." This key distinction, especially when it must be made in cyberspace, causes concern among executives. With all the video sharing and consumer-generated media floating around, it is impossible to control every discussion about your brand. "Our biggest issue is monitoring [online conversations]," said Francie Schulwolf, VP, corporate communications, Americas, Intercontinental Hotels. "All we can do is keep telling our story. That's something we can control." Size Does Matter Of course, as always, measuring the impact of "revolutionary" communications tools like online video is key to getting senior management buy-in. But measuring video is a nebulous process because, as Navistar VP of communications and reputation Jon Harmon, said, "You can't scan video like a print article." Beyond that, when using video in media relations efforts, "You can't get [reporters] to read an e-mail subject line, let alone watch a video," SAE International's Lewis said. To deal with this challenge, Thomas recommends indexing video segments into brief "chapters" that can be labeled by subject. This allows reporters--and viewers in general--to scan the topics and watch the segments that are most interesting to them. In terms of measurement, metadata can be imbedded into each segment to determine how many people clicked to watch; segments can be watermarked per frame to establish exactly how long each was viewed. McCrummen also suggested allowing online video users to share clips by creating widgets--that is, applications that allow individuals to "grab" the code and place it on their own site, blog or desktop. "Like an RSS, widgets feed you the latest stories and updates," Thomas said. Confusion Loves Company At the end of the two-hour session, the attendees agreed that, while there are no clear answers for using online video most effectively, there certainly is comfort in the fact that no one is in a position to completely outpace the competition. For now, the key is knowing your audiences and staying true to your brand. PRN Video 2.0 Roundtable Attendees David Peikin, Senior Director, Corporate Communications, Choice Hotels International Samantha Trenk, PR Director, American Media Nancy Lewis, Director of PR, Society of Automotive Engineers (SAE) International Benjamin Tatta, SVP, Cablevision Mike Hyland, Director of PR, Disneyland Resorts Patrick McCrummen, Acting SVP, Communications & Marketing, American Red Cross Mary Kimbre, CMO, Patton Boggs Christine Bragale, Director of Media Relations, Goodwill Industries Int'l Martha Brown, Director of PR, The Deal Katherine Miller, Executive Director of Communications, UN Foundation Kazumi Mechling, EVP, Director of Communications, Waggener Edstrom Meg Graham, VP of Corporate Communications, Armstrong World Industries Francis Schulwolf, VP of Corporate Communications, Intercontinental Hotels Judy Aveson, AVP & GM, Vollmer PR Ted Faraone, Principal, Faraone Communications Sue Bohle, Principal, The Bohle Company

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