Once, not that long ago, communicating effectively meant pushing out news via press releases, e-blasts, and items on the bar website. Not anymore, said Rick DeBruhl, chief communications officer for the State Bar of Arizona.
“If you don’t do video, there’s a segment of your audience that you’re not reaching,” he believes. And it’s not strictly a generational phenomenon, DeBruhl noted, speaking at the NABE Communications Section Workshop in Nashville this past October. People of all ages have come to expect the quick hit of information a video can provide, he explained, and sometimes video is simply the best way to tell a particular story.
The good news is that if you’re not currently shooting and posting videos for your bar association, getting started can be simpler and more affordable than you think. Even a smartphone can do a bare-minimum job of shooting a simple video that you can quickly upload, DeBruhl said, and there may be times when you want to keep things that basic—particularly if you’re just getting started and want to add video to your toolbox right away.
What do you need?
What kind of investment is required in order to move up from the basic, low-quality result you can get from a smartphone? As with so many other purchases, the higher the quality, the higher the cost, DeBruhl said, and before you buy, you need to think about what it is you plan to achieve with video.
“If you spend $10,000 and only 12 people watch it on YouTube, it’s not worth it,” he said; on the other hand, he added, if you put up a low-quality video, it can make your bar look bad even if only a few people watch it. The trick is to find the point along the quality continuum that makes sense for your bar.
For the Arizona bar, that meant a $600 Canon HD camcorder (whose price has since dropped to $400). The bar spent another $600 on a wireless microphone system from Sennheiser. Why spend as much on that as on the camera itself? “Frankly,” DeBruhl explained, “if you don’t have great audio, people are going to look down on your video.” The built-in microphone on a camcorder or webcam results in audio that sounds “hollow,” he said.
“Whatever camera you get, make sure it has an external microphone jack,” he stressed, noting that you can’t assume that it does, particularly at the lower end of the price scale. Spend enough on the camera to reach the level where it does have this jack, he advised, so you won’t be stuck with tinny sound.
You needn’t go as high-end as the Arizona bar, though; in fact, a lower-tech option might work better for you than a fancier one, said Stephanie Beougher, communications and online media associate for the Ohio State Bar Association. Her bar initially spent a couple of hundred dollars on a BlueTooth wireless mic, she said, but recently switched to a nonwireless lapel mic. Why? For one thing, she explained, the BlueTooth mic had a blue light that was visible in the resulting videos.
Editing software is another area where you might want to invest, Beougher noted; her bar spent around $600 on Sony Vegas Pro software to go with its Handycam, also from Sony.
Another important investment, albeit a much smaller one, is a tripod, DeBruhl and Beougher agreed; even with today’s camcorders, and even if the person shooting believes he or she has a steady hand, a tripod is essential for a completely stable result. Some are quite advanced, DeBruhl noted, but it’s likely that you can find what you really need in the $20-$25 range.
One piece of equipment that might be more optional is a light with a box around it. “Lighting is critical,” DeBruhl said, and you never know what less-than-ideal situation you might encounter if you rely just on whatever light is available at the location. Beougher noted, though, that today’s cameras adapt well to different light conditions—provided it isn’t too harsh. DeBruhl added that it’s also possible to experiment with whatever’s on hand: For a recent video series, someone’s desk lamp was used as additional lighting and was moved around as needed.
One bar that has made a significant investment in video is the North Carolina Bar Association, which has a full-scale video center in-house. Anne Strickland, the bar’s assistant director of communications for publications and print media, acknowledged that something this advanced required a lot more expense than what DeBruhl and Beougher reported from their bars, but the NCBA wanted to get heavily involved in video and has found it to be a good investment.
Whether minimal or full-scale, most bar associations that are using video now seem to mainly handle it in-house, rather than outsourcing to a video production company. Having a videographer on staff lends consistency, Beougher said: “We really have a lot of control over what we want to say and how we want to say it.”
For bar communicators who become de facto videographers, the editing process can seem intimidating at first, DeBruhl said. Stick with it, and expect that your first few videos might be a bit rough around the edges, he advised: “Once you start editing, it gets easier and better.” If you can’t ease into it, though, and your first project has to be highly polished, DeBruhl recommended seeking a student in the video program at a community college or even a high school. You’ll save significantly that way, as opposed to taking your raw footage to a postproduction facility, he said, and chances are, the student will be up on the latest technology and will aim to impress you.
So, what do you use it for?
Say you’ve invested at whatever level is best for you. Now … what are you going to shoot, exactly? Here’s how some bar organizations are using video:
· The OSBA aims to do one new video each week, all produced in- house by Beougher and a videographer. Some of the videos highlight lawyers’ interests outside of the law. Others are media releases or president’s messages. Still others highlight the bar’s various programs and services. At big events, such as the bar’s annual convention, there’s real-time reporting.
· At the NCBA, the communications department works closely with the recently hired videographer to create public service announcements and commercials. Video is also used to highlight various programs such as lawyer referral. The different departments within the bar know they’re welcome to approach the videographer if they believe they have a story that’s best told this way, Strickland said.
· Besides external communication, his bar uses video for internal messages as well, DeBruhl noted. As an example, he played a clip from a series of videos used to train CLE presenters and guide them all the way from planning to the actual presentation. DeBruhl, a former newscaster, is the on-camera host.
· At the Illinois State Bar Association, Director of Legislative Affairs Jim Covington does a weekly review that summarizes legislative action that’s of interest to bar members. DeBruhl used this series as an example of how a few little tweaks can greatly improve the quality, with no fancy editing required. In an earlier installment, he noted, Covington is in front of a window, which casts harsh shadows, and is relying only on the mic from his webcam. In a video just a couple of weeks later, he is in front of a photo of the Illinois statehouse and has added a lapel mic. Just these two small changes, DeBruhl noted, made the result much more polished.
The South Carolina Bar Foundation has an ongoing series in which bar members express why they’re “proud to be a lawyer.” As with the ISBA, DeBruhl noted, this is another case where those producing the videos started out simply and became more sophisticated over time. Earlier videos were “off the cuff,” but the more recent ones are more tightly scripted and sometimes use a teleprompter, he said.
Writing for video
If you’ll be involved in writing the videos, you should know that it’s a lot different from other types of writing, the speakers said; it can be difficult to train yourself to think visually. “For every sentence you write, you need to think about what picture will go with it,” DeBruhl said, noting that you can add variety by editing in some graphics, such as an agenda for an event that’s discussed in the video.
Transitions are also key, he said; it’s visually jarring to move directly from one interview subject to another. A dissolve, in which one image fades out as another comes on, is one way to create a transition. But there are other, better ways, DeBruhl believes. For example, the video for CLE presenters shows him walking into and out of a staff member’s office to begin and end one portion. Another option, he added, is to change the camera angle, the position, and the type of shot (e.g., close-up or long shot).
Many people believe they can add transitions during the editing step, DeBruhl noted, but this gives a false sense of security—good transitions actually require a lot more planning than that. “While you’re doing your writing process, you need to think about this,” he stressed. “By the time you get to editing, it’s too late.”
One low-tech tool that can be very helpful, Strickland said, is a storyboard. This is a piece of paper with squares on it that helps you plan the video shot by shot as you sketch your ideas in the squares and write notes under each one. Strickland said she usually does a detailed storyboard first to aid in the writing and planning process and then simplifies it for the videographer so he has the basic road map.
As for the script itself, make sure that whoever is in the video is comfortable with the words themselves. For example, DeBruhl said he doesn’t use the word meantime much, so if he encountered it in a video script, there might be a brief, uncomfortable moment on air as he tried to keep himself from saying meanwhile instead.
And if you’re going to use cue cards or a teleprompter, he added, tell your subject to look either at the words or at the lens, but not both; if the subject’s eyes are always moving from one to the other, he or she will look “shifty.”
YouTube: Perils and potential
These days, video and YouTube are almost synonymous. But is it really a good idea to put your bar videos up for all to see—and comment on?
It depends, the speakers said. For some videos, such as the CLE speaker preparation series, it’s clear that there’s no broader audience in mind. For others, though, you might want to consider YouTube—yes, that land of Justin Bieber and cat videos.
The OSBA has some videos posted on its own site, Beougher said, but mostly posts its videos (which range from two to five minutes each) on YouTube and embeds the YouTube player on the bar website. Why? The “vast potential audience,” she said. To reach that audience, she noted, you need to make sure your videos are interesting and contain keywords that will help people find them. Another plus, Beougher noted, is that there are now easy-to-use video editing tools in YouTube.
The NCBA hosts its videos on its own site, Strickland said, and promotes them via Twitter and Facebook, with the intention of driving viewers to the bar website. The videos used to be on YouTube as well, she said; this was discontinued because of negative feedback but may soon resume.
The great advantage of YouTube is the ability to share, DeBruhl said. When you link to a video that’s not on YouTube, the link might take the viewer directly to the video—or it might take him or her to some other place on the website and require him or her to hunt for it.
But we all know where “sharing” can lead: What do you do about negative comments? Beougher said it bothered her when a video got a “dislike” once, but she had to relax and let it go. Strickland pointed out that some negative comments can be useful, too. DeBruhl agreed that the best response is to leave the comments alone, rather than picking and choosing which ones to take down.
“You don’t want to set the expectation that the comments are monitored,” he explained; as with other aspects of online communication, it might be better to be philosophical and realize that the fans your bar gains through its videos more than offset the trolls.