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APRIL 7, 2020 //     

Creating Content in Quarantine, Hard Truths and Great Opportunities

By: Owen Clark

We are in the middle of one of the most frightening, complex and important chapters in modern history. It’s not a narrative landscape for the timid. But for brands with the right mix of courage and execution, there has never been a more important time to tell your story.

Before we get to the production realities of creating story content in a lockdown environment, it’s important to acknowledge a few key truths. It’s never been more important that everyone in your organization works off the same proverbial, and sometimes literal, script. And you must take advantage of all the tools at your disposal.

This means being cleared-eyed and diligent about establishing the right tone for your narrative and ensuring you understand what stage of the Disruption Life Cycle we are currently in.

Understanding your audience is also crucial. Quick “pulse surveys” to gauge audience sentiment and an increased reliance on data to inform, measure and adjust your content are critical to avoid coming across as tone deaf within the current landscape. 

Finally, everyone needs to be brutally honest about the work required for good storytelling in these times. Minor tweaks to the same brand narrative you’ve used for the past few years probably isn’t enough to reflect how drastically the world has changed in the past few months. Your company’s vision and values, or even your origin story, are more relevant than ever but will also be pressure tested for their authenticity in ways you’ve never seen before, both internally and externally. 

At a minimum, crafting a good Story Brief that defines style, tone and content and gets buy-in from all stakeholders is essential to creating effective content right now. Even better, brand and story workshops gain extra importance in this climate and can be done easily over video conference.

Having worked with hundreds of execs on storytelling over the past decade, a huge takeaway for me is we all have the biggest blind spots when it comes to our own narrative. Often a CEO will be so proud of a specific talking point they wrote the night before, but truthfully it just sounds like jargon. Then over a lunch break, they will tell an amazing, off-hand story that ends up being the foundation for a truly powerful presentation. We all need feedback and collective discussion to uncover, refine and point ourselves down the right road for effective storytelling – whether that’s personal thought leadership or at a brand level.

Since I’d argue another key element in good content is brevity, I will try to keep the following short. But I think it’s valuable to share a few key learnings our team has uncovered in the content projects we’ve undertaken since the pandemic began:

  • The good news is anyone with a smartphone or a laptop has access to a high-quality camera. But that doesn’t mean you can expect them to be good delivering on-camera without help. Emoting without an audience is a difficult skill that requires coaching. As do framing, lighting and audio – which gain extra importance when you can’t use traditional editing tricks like cutting to B-roll. Anyone who gives a testimonial or interview should have access to a remote content and technical director to make sure they look and sound their best.
  • Podcasts are another great content opportunity in the current climate, but they are consistently misunderstood. While technically you can just record a phone call and turn it into a podcast, the landscape is incredibly crowded and your audience will skip to the next thing if they tune in and your audio quality is terrible. Again, the good news is we can use remote applications that allow for localized, high-quality recording and specialized (and affordable) microphones can be shipped to participants. Here again you need experienced engineers and directors to enable everyone to succeed.
  • The rise in video content captured over the past years has created a massive video library that many brands may not even realize they have. For every finished video you create, there are hours of unused footage that hit the cutting room floor. Plus, access to stock video libraries, like Getty, offer a whole other world of visual storytelling. With a skilled editor and creative text treatment, this existing footage can gain amazing new life to move your narrative wherever it needs to go, without sending a crew anywhere.
  • No one knows exactly when we’ll turn the page to the next the next chapter of this pandemic story, but the last few weeks have certainly illustrated how fast things can change. And it’s important to remember video production is often a four- to six-week process. If you want a killer sales video to be done as soon as your teams began ramping back up outreach, you need to work backwards to start that process a month prior. The first few weeks of story development, concepting and storyboarding can all be done remotely and give you a jump-start ahead of the competition.

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Owen Clark is a senior director who leads the Allison+Partners Storytelling Studio and agency Media and Speaker Training offering. A former TV journalist, Owen has been with Allison+Partners for a decade and in that time has coached everyone from global CEOs, to regional non-profit directors (and a couple of rappers) on how to uncover and deliver an impactful story.

 

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