I once had a phone call with a prospective client and when we started to talk about budget he said, “You’re going to have to help me on this, I don’t know if a video should cost $100 or $100,000.”
At first I was shocked and offended. How could we make a living if we made videos for $100!? But then I realized that he didn’t understand what goes into creating a video, because all anybody sees is the end product.
My business partner and I come from the world of video journalism and documentaries. And in this field, the obvious way to communicate about what you do is to let your work speak for itself; throw a couple videos on your website and call it a day.
We did that for the first few years of our business, but we started to realize that letting our work do all the talking was really hurting us. Yes, our portfolio communicates style, form, and quality, but when we were honest with ourselves about all the work that goes into creating each video from start to finish, the shooting and editing is only half of what we do, yet it’s the only thing we were communicating about.
With the help of our business coach and a branding firm we started to see that the way we were communicating about our work was standing in our way. Here are the three main tips we’ve taken away from the process.
1. Show the work behind the work
The biggest problem with focusing on the final product is that people don’t see the whole picture and don’t understand the value of what you’re offering.
I know this is true for many creatives – so much of the magic happens behind the scenes. And often the internal process that we’ve created is what makes us special and different.
A big “aha” moment for us was when we realized that one characteristic that makes us unique in the marketplace is our strategy and process. We spend weeks, and sometimes months, working closely with clients to understand every aspect of their issue or story before we ever pick up a camera. This process is crucial to narrowing in on a story concept that will be accurate and compelling and accomplish the goals of the project or organization.
This process is so natural to us and it’s part of the fabric of who we are as a company, BUT we weren’t talking about it! We weren’t communicating about all the steps we take to make a project rise above the sea of video content out there.
2. Help your audience see how you’re unique
Word of mouth is one of our main sources of new clients. Much of this comes from happy former clients who can describe what we do based on their own experience. But some recommendations also come from friends, family, and other folks who might follow us on social media – people who know generally that we make videos for mission-driven organizations because they’ve seen us post the videos online.
This is fantastic and we are so grateful. Studies show that people are much more likely to work with someone who has been recommended by a trusted source rather than finding work online.
But one problem that sometimes arises is that if people don’t really understand your work, they will recommend you for things that aren’t at all what you do.
In the world of “video” we are actually very specialized, but we realized that we were relying on our friends and followers to be able to distinguish the nuances between our work and someone else’s just by looking at it.
That’s a tall order!
I’m not a wine expert and it’s hard for me to pick a good wine just based on the label. If I really want to choose a good wine, I need more information to help me make the right choice.
Similarly, we realized that we need to provide more content and context to help potential clients understand what we do and what makes us distinct from other companies to help them make a choice that’s right for them.
3. Share your story
When we were letting our work do the heavy lifting for our brand, the story of who we are, what we value, and how we work was lost. In the beginning this was okay. We were just getting into the groove and figuring out what we were doing.
But after a while we realized that who we are as individuals and how we work together are actually the heart of what we do.
We met in journalism school and became fast friends over a love of storytelling. We worked side by side on every project in a field that can be very solitary and were often criticized for taking this approach. When we graduated, we wanted to tell stories with a social-justice angle, but we didn’t see ourselves in the jobs that were available – so we created our own company. And now, 6 years later, our partnership is still what drives every aspect of our work.
People who’ve worked with us know this very well, but this piece was missing from our brand. We’ve observed that this is the case for a lot of small companies like ours – are we all ashamed of being small? Do we want to appear more professional or more legitimate so we hide behind our business name and portfolio?
Whatever the reason, we’ve found that if your brand doesn’t fit who you really are, there is a disconnect, and a missed opportunity to connect with your audience. In our video work, our biggest goal is to engage viewers on an emotional level, but we weren’t extending this approach to our business brand.
Once we realized that we were missing these three key pieces we got to work. We started to incorporate our process and partnership into all of our messaging — and the result is a brand that is clear, authentic, and true to who we are.
About the Authors
Elena Rue and Catherine Orr are the founders of StoryMine, a company that produces documentary videos for mission-driven organizations. StoryMine believes that listening to people, observing their lives and sharing their stories in an honest and compelling way is key to communicating issues that matter. They both received master’s degrees at the University of North Carolina School of Journalism and Mass Communication, and their individual and collaborative work has been recognized by SXSW Interactive, Vimeo Awards, World Press Photographer, and Picture of the Year International. Some of their clients include Whole Foods, The New York Times, The Center for American Progress, The American Constitution Society, Georgetown University, and Duke University.