Archive for the ‘Uncategorized’ Category

College Humor spoofs College Videos

June 20, 2008

A well-placed set of barbs really raises the question: does any college really need a video? Certainly, not, if it ain’t authentic and substantive. Enjoy.

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Taking out the good lines

February 6, 2008

Hillman Curtis is one clear-thinking web designer, who has evolved into video production. (I am a video producer, who has evolved into web design and branding). In his book, MTIV, he quotes Hemingway: “Write the story. Then take out all the good lines, and see if it still works.”

That’s the key to effective storytelling. The good lines too often get in the way of the story, and I think the main reason why “college video” has become a term of derision is that most of the videos focus on delivering “good lines” rather than authentic stories.

A video I really saw by Chapman University is a case in point. It starts with a long shot of the President, who addresses the camera and talks about the 4 pillars of Chapman as the camera pulls back to reveal the literal pillars of the administration building. There’s a good line that needs to be killed off because it is deadly to viewership. He’s followed by a student who’s obviously reading a teleprompter. More good lines that get the talking points in, but kill the authenticity and completely fail to establish a story.

The only way to tell a story is to let a person talk about something they care about — usually their own experience. If after a few seconds we sense that their story is interesting to us, we may watch.

That’s it. Take out ALL the good lines, and see if it works. Because in college video, it definitely WILL NOT work if the lines are left in there.

Back from travels

January 30, 2008

Florida. Never never land. Chicago. I’m back from far away places and have a thing or two to report.

orkbeck.jpg1. Swimming with the Manatees is still the best vacation activity I’ve ever experienced. Go to Bird’s Underwater in Crystal River, Florida.

2. Best beach restaurant I’ve ever tried is The Sandbar on Anna Maria Island. Right on the sand, facing the gulf. Great servers, including Oliver from Dublin, Ohio.

Sandbar Restaurant

3. New nest for the last bird. Lyd byd, my last fledgling, flew the coup and is now nested with some other great girls in Chicagoland.

Mom, Shel, & Lyd

Great MLK week music

January 22, 2008

Nice Flash typography. The music and the obvious personality of the performer are the story.

Authentic authenticity

December 31, 2007

Over the last few weeks I’ve kept coming back to the issue of authenticity, as discussed on YouTube and as advocated by Andy Beedle.

Authenticity is my mantra, my corporate compass, but YouTube’s shock-schlock and Beedle’s quest for viral humor seem to me to be cheap substitutes for the real thing. Here’s a year-end reflection on authentic authenticity.

I still subscribe to the “3 gates” view of communication I learned as a kid: “Is it true, necessary, and kind?”

YouTube as an Institutional Platform

It’s almost laughable to look at YouTube through that prism.

The authenticity question deals with “Is it true?” But is anyone on YouTube asking the other 2 questions? Some are; most, it seems to me, are not. It’s a commons, and the least common denominator now defines the YouTube brand.

Is it necessary to see most of the garbage on YouTube? Objectively, no.

Is it kind to folks like Miss Teen South Carolina or other YouTube laughingstocks at their worst, caught doing silly, foolish, or degrading things? Obviously not, but then again, there may be times when seeing a window into the darker parts of the soul of a football coach or politician may be a public service.

But if I’m charged with protecting an institutional brand, and I want to compete for attention in that marketplace with representatives of my college, my answer is “No.” No, I’m not going to put up 2nd rate hubris, which most college videos tend to be, and no, I’m not going to intentionally put my President wiping out on water skis or my dean of students in drag. Such a visual might be viral, but that kind of viral is a disease, not desirable publicity.

It’s a free country. Kids and faculty members are going to post stuff on YouTube. A lot of it will be embarrassing, and some of it will actually be a credit to the institution. But as a rule I’d say try to live in a way as an institution that avoids YouTube. Practice authenticity and transparency in both public and private … expect  your administrators and faculty to be the same people all the time … and then there won’t be much ugly, yukyuk junk to get skewered by on YouTube.
The YouTube phenomenon demonstrates, not the need for censorship, but the desirability of individual self-censorship.

While authenticity is a value I subscribe to, in my view it is not the highest value. Necessary and Kind are equally important values. Openness and authenticity are only a virtue when admirable, humane qualities are at the core of each person’s value system. Honor toward others, humility and kindness and other-centered nobility … these are the aspirational virtues that all institutional leaders should exemplify. Isn’t that one reason we call this biz “Higher Education”?

At its best, YouTube is a tribute to the human spirit; at its worst, it is a searchable, accessible latrine. You can’t stop people from reading about your school in a magazine they take into the bathroom. But you don’t have to paint your institutional tributes on the bathroom walls.
So my advice is to be cautious about relying on YouTube as a repository of your college’s reputation and messages.

Beedle-style Humor 

Humor — sarcastic, sophomoric humor as practiced by Andy Beedle and others, is not quite so easy to dislike. Wielded in an institutional setting, as part of an email campaign or website presence, this kind of humor can certainly distinguish your institution from the marketplace at the present time. Few colleges are willing to risk it, and the ones that do have perhaps enough to gain that they’re willing to take the risks that go with the territory.

Consider two examples from 2007 — the  Kettering Stickman series and the George Mason mascot series. Is that sort of humor “authentic”? Does breaking the mold, stepping out of the “dignified” and “moderate” speech patterns that colleges have always practiced, constitute a positive step toward honesty, authenticity, openness?  Obviously some folks think so, and there are some short term gains, it appears, at institutions that move in that direction.

Humor is fun, and I love humor. It’s a great way to get at truth in an accessible way. In fact, humor is essential to credibility, authenticity, accessibility.

I don’t think it’s possible to construct an effective fundraising or recruiting piece without authentic moments of self-effacing, natural humor.

Where I think humor can become dangerous is when it becomes sarcastic, caustic, or disrespectful. In my view this line may at times be difficult to recognize, but generally a cross-section of the institution’s members can see it if they give the matter a day or two to settle. For example, once I was working on a fundraising video and included a line from an interview that joked about how the college’s alumni are productive citizens, not landing in jail. It seemed innocent enough, and felt to me and most of the college’s review committee like an authentic moment of organic humor… and helped create a mood that turned warm and motivational just a few seconds later. But one member of the committee was unsure about it. She admitted it was funny, but it somehow didn’t feel right to her. The next day she called me and was able to verbalize why this wasn’t just a PC issue. Turns out the month before one of the college’s alums had been indicted and was awaiting trial in connection with the Enron scandal. So the joke would have gone sour in the minds of some alumni in the audience who knew and felt sorry for their discredited friend.

As a rule, humor that would burn someone should be thought of as acid humor. It should be avoided, or used with extreme care, because it is ultimately cut from the same cloth that produces disrespect, anarchism, nihilism, hate speech.

The kind of humor that works well is often confessional in nature. It doesn’t hurt anyone, and represents a refreshing candor on the part of the speaker, which many in the audience can relate to. For example in the current Cedarville admissions DVD, which won a Silver award in last year’s national Admissions Marketing Awards competition, after a series of short reasons as to why students chose Cedarville, I included a hesitant admission by one interviewee that she came there because her dad made her go there for a year. The whole comment is there; the double take, the moment of reflection, then the the smiling confession that she didn’t want to come there at all. When she was interviewed, she was still in the first year and had not yet decided whether to return. But I stuck it in the video because I knew it would be a chuckle moment for both students and parents, an acknowledgment that a lot of kids who want to gain the freedom of a college experience are pressured by their parents to attend a school with more structure and supervision.

In a fundraising video for the United Way, I included a humorous moment in which a guy said, “It don’t make a difference how much they take out of my pay… I mean, you know, as long as they don’t take too much…  Is that going to be on tape?”  It brought a sense of the reality that everyone struggles with finding a balance between their altruism and their personal and family goals.

Humor that works is refreshing, feels honest, doesn’t hurt anyone, and doesn’t cheapen or degrade either the people involved or the institution they represent. Humor that works may not be PC, but it also avoids throwing acid at other institutions or at the values and virtues that colleges and humanitarian organizations stand for. And that’s why I would urge colleges to be cautious before using some of the methods that seem to be proliferating right now.

Bottom line, humor that works well establishes an authentic brand of authenticity for the college. It remains true to the aspirational virtues and strengths of the college, while acknowledging the inconsistencies, diversity, and humanity that make that college as accessible and likable as it is strong and idealistic.

Whats your story by Dan Pink

December 22, 2007

Found this nearly decade-old article from Fast Company by one of my favorite writers. It’s about Dana Winslow Atchley IIIDana Winslow Atchley III, who by 1998 was developing a business client list by promoting brand identity with a combination of one-man theatre and digital video storytelling. Mr. Atchley founded a digital storytelling film festival in Colorado, which lasted 5 years. Mr. Atchley died in 2000 of complications of a bone marrow transplant.

Lovemarks are for alumni

November 1, 2007

Here’s my take on how to apply lovemarks theory to college admissions or advancement. The X and Y axes increase in value as you go up and to the right. ORK’s Lovemarks diagramIf a college does promotions, creates buzz, projects hipness, starts fads, engages in window-dressing, etc., the students who respond will be showing love in the Saatchi sense: commitment without logical basis.

On the other hand, if the college emphasizes reasons, traditions, points of distinction… all the logical basis for selecting one school over another, and staking its brand claims on particular areas of excellence … then it would be building respect, or brand identity, in its prospects. In admissions marketing, the reality is that both approaches are probably necessary. Some students decide on the basis of a feeling, and some make spreadsheets and weigh the facts. Each college knows what it wants to hang its hat on — the traditions and values and facts, or the post-modernistic ethos that resonates with a certain mind-set. Using the principle of different strokes for different folks, build respect for your distinctives and traditions, while at the same time fostering buzz, Facebook networks, emotional tie-ins to various interest groups.

For alumni, the reality of your school experience is your ticket to a lovemark. In four years, a lovemark can develop. Every graduate who feels they got their money’s worth, they came of age, they met the love of their life, they were challenged beyond measure, or made life-long friends … will graduate with a loyalty that goes well beyond reason, and can guarantee the stability of the institution for years to come.

Welcome. Let the Ztories begin!

October 27, 2007

Welcome to the new Ztories branding blog by Ork the Caveman on WordPress.com. My goal is to spark creative thought on the best practices for college communication. And the communication challenges are daunting — distinct audiences who inhabit entirely different worlds: Millennials for admissions, alumni from Silent Generation to Gen X for advancement. In a time when the stakes have never been higher and for the first time in history, the supremacy of American higher education is being questioned. I welcome your comments and look forward to vigorous dialog, sharing of media, and lots of laughs.