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MTV, CNN or PBS? making business sense of video.

Hold on to your remote control for just a moment. We want to discuss the communication benefits of using sight, sound and motion -- the benefits of using video. After more than 20 years employing television for all kinds of organizations, we've learned a few things -- things we'd like to share because, no doubt, you are either a producer or audience member of some sort of business-related video. So, here are four 'frames' for thinking about how to make business sense of video:

Audiences expect video to gain their attention -- immediately -- to move them along -- quickly. That's simply a fact of everyday viewer life.

Regardless of audience or topic, faster-paced formats and shorter segments of information are the "cultural conditioning" of our times. Keep in mind how captivating CNN and MTV are, the influence they've had, the trends they've set, the popularity they enjoy.

So what's the lesson?

If you can incorporate the look and "feel" of today's (and tomorrow's) successful programming styles into your business videos, you'll find yourself with a proven, audience-pleasing format. And, as a communicator, you know how critical format, or packaging, is to gaining and maintaining attention.

Examples? You may want to show the benefits of a new manufacturing or distribution process from the customer's perspective with a music video. Or present the business profile of an incoming manager through a concise CNN-type feature. If more detailed information must be conveyed -- for instance, the complexities of a major organizational change -- think about breaking the information into a "Masterpiece Theater" style mini-series. All these hold potential for the good use of video. And all complement rather than confront contemporary viewing habits.

* Video is great for:

- presenting highlights

- evoking emotion

- demonstrating products or services

- showing a process

Video is best used to introduce rather than implement. Consider video if you wish to highlight the most important aspects of your subject -- how it works, who is using it, what they feel about it. Involve people (preferably real people) wherever possible. The medium relates amazingly well to people. In fact, the TV screen is scaled perfectly to show faces in one-on-one or small group dialogue (no doubt why most television shots are people in close-up).

By contrast, the most common misuse of video in business is to over-detail with words and pictures. Company content experts (and those notorious management script reviewers) frequently pile on too much information for audiences to absorb.

It's the typical problem of thinking every communication must say (and, in video's case, show) everything -- all of the time.

Examples from the video "Hall of Shame" include: showing how to fill in a purchase order form -- line by line; the 15 steps of a quality improvement program; names and ranks on an organization chart; and, the most deadly of the dead, the CEO giving his annual, 45-minute, state-of-the-business address.

The short lesson to be learned -- television means moving pictures and making pictures that move us.

* While audiences expect quality productions, video need not be elaborate or outrageously expensive to produce.

Whether prime time, day time, news time or sports time, people watch television to be informed, motivated and, most of all, entertained. You can do that in some very direct, reasonably priced ways. The price may even compare quite favorably to other communication methods when you evaluate the cost per audience member, the immediacy of hearing and seeing "real people say real things" and the ability to transport many people to many places, or experience significant events, by simply pressing a "Play" button.

Through a systematic front-end analysis that looks at objectives, topic, audience predispositions, approval process and distribution, you can decide if video is the best medium to meet your business needs. This evaluation is the first and most important step. From it, you'll gain a realistic perspective of potential effectiveness (audience understanding, acceptance and support), creative approaches and the resources (time and money!) necessary to produce and distribute a finished tape.

* Finally, it's important to remember that video should never be used as a "stand-alone" medium.

Used correctly, video is a terrific lead-in or supplement to an accompanying print package or an in-person presentation. Too often, however, video is considered a communication panacea. For whatever reason, we seem to convert the medium's star-making, news-making abilities into an illusion that can explain and resolve the most serious business concerns. Perhaps we expect successful outcomes through television because we routinely see all the problems of a family, or a city, fixed in a half-hour sitcom or an hour-long drama.

In any event, it's been proved time and time again -- through elections, events, ratings and buying habits -- video has the distinctive power to move mass audiences certain ways. To ensure that these are desirable ways, video must be planned, produced and distributed in concert with other communication efforts, and as part of an overall communication strategy. Only then can you make good business sense of the most popular medium ever created.

Thanks for tuning in!

David Skolnick is a principal at Peterson Skolnick & Dodge, San Francisco.
COPYRIGHT 1992 International Association of Business Communicators
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1992, Gale Group. All rights reserved. Gale Group is a Thomson Corporation Company.

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Author:Skolnick, David
Publication:Communication World
Date:Nov 1, 1992
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