Brand Journalism

At AHA, we understand the value of using video in communication initiatives. Some of the work we do in brand journalism has video segments as the central communication tool.

One of the challenges that we face is finding the balance between what the client wants to say and what the viewer really wants to see. And sometimes that is harder to do than it should be.

We have had some passionate discussions with clients about the content and length of their videos over this. (For the record, I believe strongly in passionate discussion – even disagreement. As long as it is respectful and focuses on the topic and not on the people, a discussion where not everyone agrees can be of huge value. Done well, it can create an exceptional end product or result.) It can be hard to get someone to move away from what they want to tell and focus on the other side – what people want to hear, how they want to hear it and when they want to hear it.

In working with clients, one of our responsibilities is to provide a strategic perspective. To me, this means that I must represent the perspective of the community, the audience and/or the stakeholder group during the planning, creative and implementation stages of the process.

During planning sessions, I often ask (respectfully, of course): “Why does that matter to this audience? Who will care about that point? Does that need to be included? Does that need to be said in that way?”

For the most part, at AHA we’re not big fans of overly produced, corporate style videos. It always depends on the client’s objectives, of course, but in all of the research we have done, for all of the videos we have made (as AHA and in our prior lives before we found the happiness of AHA), time and time again it comes back to creating compelling content that the target market relates to. That doesn’t mean you don’t need good production value; it does mean that you need to understand how to tell a story that is relevant to the person you are telling it to.

Too often, video becomes overwhelmed with corporate speak, too many messages and even becomes embroiled in the politics of an organization. (If VP Smith is in the video, we have to include VP Jones. If we film at the East Office, we have to also film at the West Office. And the list goes on.) This dilutes the value of the video and moves you away from the objective – to create relevant, compelling content that connects you to the viewer.


When you are producing video for your organization, it’s crucial to take the focus off what you want to say and focus on what your community wants to hear from you.

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At AHA, we’ve known about the value of video for quite some time. Our AHA Fast Take Fridays are popular and have been successful in opening doors to many new opportunities for us. A great deal of the brand journalism work that we do has video components. And, of course, many of our clients have embraced video and make regular and powerful use of it.

Video allows you to tell a story using words and visuals. It is a highly popular medium and it can be quite budget-friendly. People make a different emotional connection with video than they do with an article or other written information. It can be a straightforward message from the CEO or president or a fun lip dub-style video that showcases the people behind the scenes at your organization.

There is a human quality to video that makes us feel like it is more personal and less corporate. You can see the person and what’s going on with their emotions; you get a feeling from their body language and from their tone and style. It is a very effective medium.

Having said all that, it has to be done well. And I am not just talking about production values – a quick Flip-style video done well can create strong results (in the right context). I am talking about the content.

We had a client many years ago that wanted to try video, but they had real challenges in getting it right. I think one of the first mistakes was that they created a committee to provide input on the video creative. Unfortunately, there were a lot of individuals on the committee who wanted to focus on creating a Hollywood movie rather than an internal video and there was a huge shift from how this video was initially planned to how it ended up.

Don’t get me wrong, I think that being inclusive is a good idea and we have client committees that provide incredibly valuable ideas and input in many cases. In this case, however, the professionally developed video idea morphed into something very different. Several people revised the creative to a point where it was almost unrecognizable and the message was getting lost. Unfortunately, many of the people on the committee didn’t fulfill their role of providing feedback and input. There were strong suggestions for dream sequences, more people in the video than should have been in it (to keep it short and entertaining) and more locations than were reasonable given the budget and timeline. When we put forward the concerns and challenges, it became evident that the now smaller committee was committed to their concept. We had lost them – and they had lost the original objective. They also weren’t willing to listen to the professional video producer and our crew.

This video didn’t get traction. It was too long, there were too many people in it, too many locations and the storyline got skewed because of trying to be too inclusive. With all the people and locations, this should have been a different type of video (a lip dub or a flash mob), not one with a linear storyline. But the committee was… well… committed to their concept and wouldn’t consider a revision to the approach.

At the start of the project, it’s really important to outline what you want to achieve with your video. What message are you trying to get across? What do you want to communicate and how will you do that? Does the creative concept meet the communications strategy? How long is your video? (With few exceptions, if it is longer than three minutes, you will lose a large part of your audience.)

It’s important to listen to the people you hire to work with you on the video. They know what they are doing; they have an in-depth understanding of what works and what doesn’t in the medium. If there is something you want to do, talk to them about the best way to do it. It should be a partnership. I always worry if the client wants control of the entire creative concept and how it could be produced.

Video is a great medium – if it is done right and the client-agency team is truly a partnership.

I came across an interesting piece on with tips on how to produce a good video. It’s worth a read.

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Years ago, as a journalist for a national magazine, I had the opportunity to interview music legend Jimmy Buffett. Now, I happen to be a Jimmy Buffett fan (we are affectionately known as Parrot Heads), so this was a pretty special interview for me!

Jimmy Buffett has an incredible business mind and a true entrepreneurial spirit. (There are unsubstantiated rumours that he is related to Warren Buffett, so the business part of his brain kind of makes sense.) He was one of the first in the music business to embrace digital technology; he recognized the coming shift in the music industry and left his big name label to start his own. He has ownership in two successful restaurant chains (Margaritaville and Cheeseburger in Paradise), interests in hotels and he just opened the Margaritaville Casino in Las Vegas. He still performs worldwide, has made over 30 albums, written several books (four made it to the New York Times Bestseller list), and he pilots his own plane… the list of his accomplishments goes on and on. And, of course, above all else, Jimmy is a storyteller. We talked about storytelling a lot in our interview.

I recently pulled out my interview notes and took a look at what Jimmy told me back then. His key points about storytelling are relevant, even for those of us who tell stories in a more corporate environment than Jimmy does.

Please visit our blog to read the rest of the post.

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Once you understand what the story currently being told about your organization focuses on (see last week’s post on “The art and science of telling a great corporate story”), the next step is to identify the storyline that you want to tell. There are many story structures that you can use to tell the story in a way that engages your audience. While, at first glance, some of these approaches may seem a little “Hollywood” – keep in mind that show business is a very successful industry that is based on telling stories.

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Telling your organization’s story isn’t as easy as some would think, but it certainly isn’t hard. It does take some time and effort, but the results provide excellent return on investment.

The fact is, stories are being told about your organization all the time. Whether the stories are good or bad, they are being told by clients or customers, by service providers, employees and contractors (and their families and friends), by competitors, your board members, government officials and by the media.

When we start working with a client, we often do a little bit of research and find some of the stories that are being told about the organization… Please visit our blog to read the rest of the post.

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