The case for video content

10 December 2018

Michael Kleiman argues that “video is now a critical part of any comprehensive think tank communications strategy that seeks to have an impact on policy decisions and public opinion.”

But who exactly is in charge of incorporating video (or any comms element, really) into this ‘comprehensive communications strategy’? The obvious answer is someone from a communications team- be it a director, a manager or an associate. However, this answer assumes that there is a team (of more than one person) – yet we know this is not the reality of all organisations.

In new, smaller, think tanks it is likely that traditional communication roles will be lacking, and communication responsibilities will be absorbed within the roles of other team members. Enrique Mendizabal argues that a new researcher needs at least 3 skills: they must be good researchers, good managers, and good communicators. These new researchers will have to have to develop a set of communication skills, and be prepared to hire specialised communication practitioners when needed.

This isn’t necessarily a bad thing- nor a new reality. Most of us have had to adjust and add to our skill-set throughout our careers… even more so in recent years.

It does, however, introduce a new filter for those who produce specialised content, such as filmmakers. In large organisations their direct client will most likely be part of a dedicated communications team and, more often than not, will understand the value of audiovisual content to communicate the work of their organisation. However, these ‘new’ researchers tasked with communicating their own research might need a bit more convincing. They won’t be expert communicators, but they will certainly be knowledgeable: of their public, of their content, of their relevance and of the impact they want to have. They will likely be exploring other outputs, and be wary of investing their [often tight] budgets on flashy content they are not convinced will result in the desired impact.

As a communicator, I have always incorporated video into the strategies I’ve worked on. Perhaps it was that early on in my career someone made a solid case for it, or perhaps it’s just a personal preference to how stories can be better told. The OTT comms strategy is not an exception: in the past few years we’ve invested in producing video content, and we are creating new partnerships to produce a lot more in the next two years.

The case for video content

Back in October we did a project for an external client which required us to work simultaneously with four filmmakers in five cities in four countries in Latin America. After the project was done, I asked the team to make a case for their work:  

  • How can video be an effective tool to help communicate evidence and, consequently, influence public policy?
  • What do you think is the biggest advantage video can offer over other, more traditional, communication tools?

Here’s what they said:

Miguel García, 2d animator

New media allows us to witness and consume audiovisual content in different ways- be it through GIFs, memes or testimonies of realities distant to our own. New generations have adopted the fast-paced language of short videos- often in square format- and knowledge experts shouldn’t stay away from this reality. They have to be aware of the strength that audiovisual content has to communicate in a faster and more concise way. This can, in turn, have an impact on better decision-making processes for public policies.

Video is a platform that can bring together different tools, like film, graphic design, photography and music. Presenting information in a structured manner or with a good script allows you to be concise and efficient. This is why we are witnessing that, when it comes to new digital media, video is the most developed outlet.   

Sofía Álvarez, filmmaker, DocuPerú

Audiovisual tools are a great vehicle of communication not only because they respond to the context we are living in, but because they create a sense of empathy in viewers. Seeing people on screen in their own contexts and listening to their stories helps us realise that they are people just like us. Video provides a closeness to subject matters which allows for reflection, commentary, debate and, often, self-recognition. Through video, those in front of the camera can feel they are in dialogue with their viewers and this, in turn, can have a long-lasting impact on these viewers.  

Nicolás Braguinsky, filmmaker

The appearance of radio, photography and television ended the rule of the written word as the ultimate communications vehicle. But it was only with the arrival of the internet that this change was complete, becoming both a qualitative and conceptual transformation. The internet is today’s main vehicle of communication and, in places with advanced infrastructure, we experience this transformation in our daily lives.

We still read, watch videos or listen to the radio on the internet. But reading on the internet is not like reading a book, nor is watching TV, or seeing a painting or photograph, or listening to audio or watching a movie, etc. Today’s content is layered, and video stands out against its other forms.

“The thing you’re doing now, reading prose on a screen, is going out of fashion” and then the New York Times adds, “the defining narrative of our online moment concerns the decline of text, and the exploding reach and power of audio and video”.

Video has become one of the main tools to transmit content, and this has influence both on who wants to emit content and how the receptor wants to be approached.  An organisation that wants to transmit a message and with it influence public policy must consider which platform best meets its requirements within the internet- but they must not doubt the value of producing audiovisual content and its strategic importance.

(read the full article, in Spanish).

Jake Price, filmmaker

Good research lays the foundation from which stories are given credibility. With the foundation of credibility laid down viewers will then be more willing to trust the stories that are being told. However it’s supplementing the evidence with compelling voices and stories that really makes an audience care in a way that is immediate- and film provides this immediacy because it is such an engrossing medium. For example, earlier this year I traveled to Bangladesh to document survivor testimony from the Rohingya population who fled their homes in Myanmar when an ethnic cleansing was carried out against them. I knew the evidence detailing the crimes committed against them backwards and forwards before I left, but to hear their stories- to know what haunts their dreams and influences their lives on a day to day basis- gave resonance to the facts that facts on their own could not achieve.

Individual testimony, whether it’s about something as harrowing as an ethnic cleansing or a series on economic development, is what makes an audience care for those they see on the screen and their voices. By being moved by voices and the stories they tell, people are then influenced to push for policy changes.

Pigu Gómez, filmmaker

Gathering testimony from people involved in the development of public policy can give a quick overview of how its implementation is progressing: if there were advances or setbacks, where we were standing when it began and where we are now.

Along with testimonies, images and music, video con also include comparative graphs, which helps viewers get a clear idea of the progress of implementation processes. Finally, one video can encompass realities from different cities and countries, bringing these images closer to us which would otherwise be left to our imagination. The power of the images allows us to grasp concepts better, and a well-resolved video facilitates effective communication.

To conclude

It is natural to defend our areas of expertise as ‘extremely relevant’. Talk to a designer, and they will tell you that everything is design (and they are right- although I admit I might be biased). Talk to an editor and they will say that without them a publication will fail and be considered sloppy, which will inevitably influence an organisation’s credibility. Talk to a photographer, and they will say that without their skill, their understanding of the medium and approach to a subject matter, images are nothing but hipstamic bluff. Digital designers will argue that without their input, their skill and their capability to spend endless hours behind the screen, ANYTHING the aforementioned artists produce would not have a [modern] output.  Most communicators are ready to defend their realm: we are here to stay because you need us.

As a personal blog turned organisation, On Think Tanks is constantly stepping into new territory. This means we have to assess the decisions we are making, what these mean for us as an organisation, and if and how these affect our long-term sustainability. We are ready to invest but, how much? where? when? Enrique is often the first to admit: we are learning as we go. How do we minimise or risk? We consult. We ask a lot of questions, we rely on our mentors, our colleagues, and on feedback.

Are we sold on video as an effective tool to communicate research? Yes. It has taken us a while to design our own comprehensive communications strategy-and it’s taking us a little while longer to fully implement it. But what we do know is that video has its space and we are ready to form new partnerships to ensure our videos have a wider impact.