"Don't use guys in ties." That's a newsroom saying from my TV days that still resonates whenever I see a company video with an executive as the main character.
"Guys in ties" is newsroom-speak for the kinds of stories that focus on officials — male or female — rather than real people. Need some examples? Interviewing the fire chief instead of the firefighter who saved three kids or the father whose home just burned down. Interviewing a police officer or the police spokesperson about a neighborhood crime alert instead of the scared homeowners. And the most classic "guys in ties" stories feature elected officials — mayors, governors, legislators — talking about laws, taxes, or policies, rather than the real people who are most affected by those policies.
What's wrong with "guys in ties?"
Unfortunately, most officials are boring. They may be well-spoken, but they aren't close to the real story — so they're usually conveying information rather than emotion.
In fact, everything that makes them "official" — the nice clothes, the fancy office, the controlled setting — actually separates them from the real story. That's why an interview with an official in his or her office is almost always a story killer. And c-level execs are the same. They look and feel just as official, and they will bring down your video business stories just as quickly.
How do you avoid using officials? The same way TV reporters do when they're trying to avoid using "guys in ties." Ask yourself some extra questions, push yourself to identify the real story, find the most interesting angle. And then interview the people who are closest to that angle, not the CEO.
Remember, your interview should be with the face of the story, not the face of the company.
Good stories need good characters.
The best stories usually include some kind of conflict or drama and a key character or a hero — which is why we all love features about people overcoming obstacles.
For non-profits, this should be pretty easy — although you've probably seen plenty of videos that break these rules. Skip the executive director and focus on people the charity has helped. Or show the heroes who help those people, but be careful to focus on the real stories and the real people, rather than an overview of the organization.
For example, Catholic Charities of St. Paul and Minneapolis used the power of real characters to tell their story. We produced "Karl's Story" (above) to spearhead their fundraising drive for a new facility in St. Paul. “Our purpose for the video was to create a sense of experience," said Mary Huss, Catholic Charities Marketing and Communications Manager. "We wanted to put the viewer in the shoes of a homeless person.”
Karl's Story was a critical success, winning a Midwest Regional Emmy® Award, but it was also a tactical success. The video was shared and viewed thousands of times, and it was such an important part of their fundraising success that Catholic Charities commissioned three more "real stories" for the next stage of their fundraising effort.
Businesses have stories and characters, too.
You can (and should) use the same storytelling techniques to bring your business stories to life.
Think your company is boring? Act like a reporter, and ask yourself more questions.
- What pain point do we solve?
- Why did the founder start the company in the first place?
- Why do people choose to work here?
- What makes the company unique?
Remember, you're looking for the most interesting angles, the most engaging stories, the reasons people choose to work with you. We recently produced a video for Midwest Industrial Tool Grinding, Inc. (MITGI), a Minnesota company that specializes in manufacturing micro cutting tools.
Their unique story is that they have high-tech customized manufacturing with quicker turnarounds and tighter tolerances than their competitors, and their employees are proud to meet those challenges. So, they used employees to tell the story, with video that takes you onto the manufacturing floor to see for yourself. Since their leaders really are a part of this story, they're included, but they are interviewed on the manufacturing floor, adding to the story rather than distracting from it.
Want an example from a bigger company? How about Google? Instead of an executive or a spokesperson talking about the power of search, Google used the story of two real people, separated by the India-Pakistan partition in 1947. The story of Google Search helping reunite the two old friends after decades of separation is more interesting, compelling and memorable than anything the company itself could say.
Can you imagine the same video with an official? Nobody wants to see a Google technician sitting in front of the camera talking about how the team decides what ranks on the homepage of Google, but when you show people the power of connection it can have an amazing impact.
So, the next time you see a company video with an executive interviewed in the office, remember there is a better way.